Circle of Love: the Basics of Rings

December 22, 2013

Bride and groom rings

It’s amazing, the power of a piece of jewelry to convey so much meaning… Engagement rings and wedding bands represent the never-ending love you have for each other, and let the whole world know you are married! Besides the exquisite beauty of wedding rings, there is a lot to know about metals, diamonds, and the care involved. This “Ring Primer” will help you understand all the basics.

Know your metals

  • Gold –  Gold is classic, beautiful and popular. Pure gold is too soft for practical use, so it’s mixed with other metals for jewelry. 14-karat gold retains its brilliant gold color, but is durable enough for daily wear, and can be polished easily.
  • White gold –  White gold is made by mixing pure gold with other white metals such as silver, palladium or zinc. It does have a slightly yellow tint, unless it’s coated with a very white metal called rhodium. This provides a very white metal look, but it’s likely that it will need to be re-coated every one to two years as the rhodium wears away.
  • Platinum –  Extremely popular in the last decade or so, platinum is a very white, heavy (which many people like that substantial feel), and durable metal. It’s a gorgeous, long-lasting compliment to diamonds! Popular demand for this metal has driven the price up quite a bit, and maintenance is more complicated than gold.
  • Palladium –  A “sister” metal to platinum, palladium is a naturally white metal (whiter than white gold), and like platinum, it is strong, non-tarnishing and hypoallergenic. It’s also less expensive than platinum, making it a good metal to consider if you like the white metal look.
  • Titanium and tungsten carbide –  Usually used for men’s wedding bands, both of these metals are extremely durable, 100% hypoallergenic and relatively inexpensive. Titanium can be oxidized to create some brilliant accent colors such as bright blue, purple and so on, creating a very unique and interesting look. Tungsten carbide is twice as hard as steel and almost impossible to scratch, making is a great metal for very active men. These metals cannot be resized once the ring is made, so order the size carefully.

Know your diamond

When shopping for a diamond, you will quickly be introduced to the “Four Cs” – cut, color, clarity and carat. All four features can make a dramatic impact on the quality, and therefore price, of a diamond.

  • Cut –  Cut really refers to the proportions of a diamond and it’s facets, as opposed to its shape, which includes round (brilliant), oval, pear, marquise, emerald, square (princess or radiant), heart and triangle. Regardless of its shape, a diamond gets its brilliancy from the cutting, and maximizing the reflection of light. When a stone is cut too shallow or too deep, the light that enters through the top is allowed to escape through the diamond’s bottom and minimizes its brilliance.
  • Color –  The best color is no color at all (when desiring a white diamond), because it reflects the most light. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) ranks diamonds on a standard 23-grade scale from D through Z. D, the highest rating, indicates a perfectly colorless stone, while Z, the lowest rating, indicates a light yellow stone.
  • Clarity –  Clarity is defined by the number, color, nature, size and position of natural marks, called inclusions, contained in the gem. Inclusions occur naturally during the process of crystallization, when minute traces of minerals are trapped in the diamond. Excellent clarity means light can pass unimpeded through the stone and increases its value. The GIA judges clarity based on a standard 11-point scale from Flawless through Imperfect 3 (see the clarity scale at the end of this article.)
  • Carat –  Diamonds are weighed in carats, which may also be expressed as “points,” where one carat equals 100 points. A diamond of 50 points, for example, equals ½ carat. Diamonds of more than one carat are extremely rare (one in a thousand), and therefore very valuable. But remember that carat weight is only one factor in determining value. Two diamonds of the same size can vary considerably in value depending on the other three factors – cut, color and clarity.

Appraise it

Once rings have been selected and purchased, request an appraisal. This is a written estimate of the value of your jewelry, and should include specific indications of the four Cs. Immediately after purchase, photograph your jewelry for insurance purposes, and make sure your current policy has adequate coverage. If it doesn’t, consult your insurance agent about amending your policy.

Take good care

Although diamonds are the hardest natural substance known to man, a hard blow could still chip one, so don’t wear your ring when doing rough work. You should also avoid direct contact with chlorine bleach and chlorinated pool water, which could pit and discolor the mounting.

To clean your jewelry, regularly soak them for about 30 minutes in either a commercial jewelry cleaner, or a homemade solution comprised of equal parts cold water and ammonia, or a mixture of warm water and mild detergent. Brush the stones gently with an eyebrow brush or soft toothbrush, then rinse thoroughly under warm water and pat dry with a lint-free cloth.

Have you rings checked annually by your jeweler for loose prongs or settings. This is especially important if you have only four prongs, because just one broken prong will cause you to lose your stone. These precautions and gentle care will pay you back with years of enjoyment and pride in this precious symbol of your union.

Diamond Clarity Scale

  • FL & IF: Flawless and internally flawless (inclusions not visible under 10x magnification)
  • VVS1 & VVS2: Very, very slight inclusions (extremely difficult to see under 10x)
  • VS1 & VS2: Very slight inclusions (difficult to see under 10x)
  • SI1 & SI2: Small inclusions (noticeable under 10x)
  • I1, I2 & I3: Imperfect (flaws visible to the unaided eye)

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