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Articles from STERLING SILVER JEWELLERY (863 Articles), GOLD JEWELLERY (681 Articles), STAINLESS STEEL JEWELLERY (158 Articles)


White hot

Across white gold, platinum, palladium, sterling silver, titanium and stainless steel, white metals have an enduring appeal to all lovers of fine jewellery. REBECCA L. STEWART reports.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, white metals have run a distant second to their golden counterpart for years; however, emerging trends indicate that the cool, luminous shade is hotly favoured to seize sales this summer, surfing a wave of demand that should solidify it as a stable proposition for future seasons. Some white metals we are more familiar with, while others are relatively new to the Australian market. But one thing is certain - this cool, luminous shade is currently white hot when it comes to jewellery design.

"People are now insisting upon bright white metals," says Rob Clark, director of the Queensland-based supplier Sunstate Group. Clark recalls bringing out his first tray of white gold rings over a decade ago, and his clients taking a quite a while to catch on.

"Ten years ago you wouldn't even see white chains in shop windows - it was a special order. Here we are now and white metals are the big thing."

Indeed, Sunstate Group specialises in a range of white gold rings, using different alloys - from 9-carat through to 18-carat.

Clark observes that white gold suits many people's skin tone and, as a jeweller, he also finds it easy to work with, durable and scratch-resistant.

A robust metal suited to diamond settings and most types of ring design, white gold is appealing to jewellers and clients alike. And the different forms of the material are seemingly endless.

"I think white gold's interesting, because there's a lot of it around in different varieties," Clark states. "There's one on the market that's very soft, combined with a lot of silver. Then there's one with palladium, it's a medium metal with a really nice strength and colour that looks a lot more like platinum. But when you use nickel, it becomes quite brittle and difficult to work with or resize. And of course you get skin issues with some people."

He notes that the main consumer draw-back to white gold is the necessity of regular rhodium plating, to preserve a consistent eye-catching white tone.

For the past two years, Sunstate Group has worked with a white gold alloy comprising 75 per cent gold, 17 per cent palladium and a mixed silver and zinc remainder.

"Some clients find that a silver alloy gives a yellow colour to white gold jewellery," Clark says. "The palladium alloy keeps that nice white colour, and we've not had any more problems from customers since."

The white gold at Peter W Beck is alloyed with platinum for a clear white tone that is tarnish-resistant and hypoallergenic.

"Platinum is rare and precious, with a strong and durable nature," says marketing services coordinator Laura Sawade. Platinum has a prestigious reputation, with associations of high quality, and above all, purity."

Very hard, heavy and white, it is also one of the strongest metals in the world, and a challenge for jewellers to work with, because of a much higher melting temperature than its white gold cousin.

Unlike white gold, platinum is used in an almost pure form (about 95 per cent), which makes it an elite metal that is also significantly more expensive. Due to its difficulty of use, and costly production aspects, platinum has a limited range of pieces available, usually confined to rings.

"You have to know how to work with it, polish it, and solder it together," Clark observes of the prestigious material. "However, if you worked in it all the time, the prices you can charge would justify the expensive equipment you'd need."

Due to its strength, platinum was declared a strategic metal during WWII and banned in all non-military use. Searching for an alternative, jewellers opted for a related material known as palladium.

Palladium is more expensive than silver or nickel as an alloy, but less expensive than pure platinum.

It does not tarnish and is much lighter, a quality that has many designers intrigued. With a lighter piece comes the opportunity for more elaborate, larger designs and stone settings, as well as lighter earrings and chunky necklaces.

Palladium's rapidly-growing market is set to dominate the competitive wedding ring market - as a pure material, it could be as interesting to consumers as platinum.

Before this can happen, public knowledge must first improve if people are to learn of its appealing qualities, according to Clark. "It's a much nicer metal to work with - it's soft, but also durable," he says. "We have been heavily marketing that fact, as we have been competing with overseas' product and prices."

With the influx of foreign products of differing quality, Clark notes that consumers are not necessarily aware of the differences between some white metals. "Between a nickel-based or palladium-based product, the customer can't visually see the difference in the jewellery store. If the retailer has no idea how to sell the benefits of palladium, then I don't see why consumers will buy it."

The palladium used by Sunstate Group provides a point of difference in the white metal market, and Clark emphasises the distinction of price, weight and permanence.

Sunstate offers a 25-year guarantee on palladium rings, an Australian-based presence and the assurance that they won't need repairs. "When you're selling these metals - some people come in only for the price. Other people appreciate the differences," Clark says. "You can't go overboard with the sale of it. You just have to tell them the benefits of that and the customer will make the decision."

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In the world of sterling silver however, the options are limitless - if somewhat inclined to tarnish. Design specialist Danish Modern markets a range of sterling silver dress rings and charms, and director Andrew Arnott states that sterling silver is an incredibly accessible white metal, and one that appeals to a wide range of clients.

Silver does not have the hardness of many of the other metals used in fine jewellery, and is usually not used in pieces to be worn every day like wedding rings; however, this adaptable metal is perfect for the sort of price point offered at Danish Modern.

In a well-covered corner of the market, Arnott distinguishes his product with reminders of quality. "The Danes have a long tradition of producing high-quality product and backing it up with great marketing. They cover the selling on all levels."

At Najo, the core range of sterling silver pieces is enhanced twice a year with seasonal forays into new design, themes and materials. Marrying sterling silver with modern metals such as stainless steel, Najo offers a glimpse at the new direction of white metals.

Light-grey stainless steel is an excellent, low-cost alternative to pricier titanium, will not tarnish or rust, and is hypoallergenic. And in the promising men's jewellery market, stainless steel has a sleek, modern image and reputation for durability.

"Married metal is where you fuse one metal against another," says Jo Tory, director, Najo. "So you can have a stripe of silver fused with a stripe of stainless steel. We're looking to do that with aluminium and titanium as well."

Najo's upcoming range incorporates clean lines, playful designs and shapes, and bold modern colours in aluminium. It seems that the future of white metals undoubtedly lies in this mix of old and new, and the challenges of materials uncommon to fine jewellery traditions.

Leading the pack for fresh, innovative metals is titanium, which has actually been a mainstay in the men's watch category for years, and is ideal for newly-married men unused to wearing rings.

Used in its pure form, gleaming-white titanium is most adaptable. It can be brushed to a matte finish or highly polished. It is the only white metal that can be anodised to create startling colours, giving it a unique selling point.

"Titanium is amazing in its own right - it's incredibly light, it looks so big and heavy but it feels great on,"says Tory.

Another difficult metal to work with, titanium cannot be used to make a prong setting. This adds a design challenge to the jeweller's job, and creates opportunities for marrying bezel settings in different metals or parallel bands.

Even further into the realms of super-dense, tough metals is tungsten-carbide. Tungsten-carbide has an extremely high melting point, and has been used for decades for such diverse uses as light bulb filaments, gold club heads and even weapons.

Harder than titanium, tungsten-carbide has a limited range of styles and designs available, but with a sporty, indestructible image, tungsten-carbide is a new direction in the men's watch and ring market.

With the huge range of materials and alloys available, white metals have the capacity to appeal to all markets in the upcoming season.

Choosing a white metal is not a question of determining which is better than the other, as each one brings different attributes and benefits. Instead, it is a process of matching the individual features and benefits of each to the personalised needs and lifestyle of the consumer. However, with the large range of materials and alloys available, white metals have the capacity to appeal to all markets.

As to whether the current trend for gleaming white metals will continue to shine, there is no doubt that the stylish allure and versatility white can offer will make for one white hot summer, and endure for seasons to come.

Whitewash: caring for white metals

The most important concern for the care of white gold is rhodium plating. Rhodium is a platinum/palladium metal that gives white gold a bright shiny finish. Most clients will have to have this surface re-plated between 12 to 18 months, depending on the frequency of wear. Lower-carat white gold will tarnish more easily, and should be cleaned regularly with a polishing cloth or scrubbed gently with warm, soapy water. Other than that, white gold is easily maintained in the same way as yellow gold pieces.

Pure platinum and palladium keep a naturally white colour, and as a result require no rhodium plating. Both metals can be cleaned in the same way as white gold, with warm soapy water and the gentle scrub of an old toothbrush.

Sterling silver is a far softer white metal than white gold, platinum, palladium and titanium, and should be treated with care. Never allow it to come into contact with chlorine. It is prone to oxidise with air, and should be cleaned with a silver jewellery cleaner, or professionally polished in store.

Customers can clean stainless steel at home with a cloth moistened with undiluted white or cider vinegar.

Titanium cannot be resized, so ensure consumers select a good fit. Most forms of titanium can be cut off in an emergency, but consumers should be made aware that this is not possible with 'aircraft grade' titanium.

Some varieties of tungsten-carbide may be processed using cobalt or nickel, which could create allergies in some people.

Rebecca Stewart
Diamonds on Call

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