Ring fail and the evils of white gold

I was quite excited about this ring… its beginning stages.   Let’s discuss, and then a word on white gold.

Pleased with the profile of the ruby ring I showed you last week, I wanted to play with that look.  I liked the forward thrust of the angled bezel under the roundness of the ruby cabochon,  and wanted to go further with the tapered bezel/cabochon combo.  How about oversizing it a bit, for a more whimsical look?  Maybe mixing yellow and white gold to make a more contemporary piece?  How about we brush the white gold for a satin finish?

The new piece?  It works in some ways, but not in others.

From the front, I’m feeling the love.  Because I was going for a more modern look, I made the bezel quite heavy, and from straight-on I like the look.   The bezel is in balance with the band, the aquamarine a wide, glowing orb shown to its best advantage.  I wouldn’t say I hit the mark on “whimsical,” but from the front this is a balanced, feminine, clean design.

But viewed from the side…..

Fail, for several reasons.

The band is too slight.   I started with a milled, heavy gauge round wire, and wanted to keep that milled, super-symmetrical look.  However, as often is the case with a new design, there were many restarts.  Solder, sand, hate, unsolder, sand, resolder, sand, hate, unsolder…… What with the sanding and hating the band dwindled away a bit, and it now fails to balance the heavy bezel.

Now, the bezel.   It doesn’t have the clean sharpness needed to read as contemporary; it needs a sharper edge in front, a tighter angle in the taper. Lacking that sharpness, it ends up  heavy and  graceless.  Neither here nor there.

As long as this ring is ONLY seen from dead-front, we’re cool.  Sadly, that means we have an overall fail, because if it doesn’t work in every way?  It doesn’t work.

Were I to continue to play with this idea, I could go in either of two directions.   I could lose the tapered bezel, allowing the stone to sit flush with the bezel. Pretty, simple, clean, feminine.   Or, I could do a redo on the contemporary look.   Sharpening up that bezel, bulking up the band, aiming for what I missed this time.

Now, white gold. This is the first time you’ve seen me work with white gold.  That is because white gold is on my axis of evil, although I understand it has its place in goldsmithing.

There are two problems with white gold.  Well, three, if you count  being evil.  So, three problems: evil, finish, malleability.

1. Evil.

2. Finish.  Many are in love with white gold, but the bright white shine they equate with white gold isn’t really white gold.  It’s rhodium.

14k white gold is 14 parts deep yellow gold, and 10 parts alloy.  That’s a lot of deep rich gold, and because of this, white gold will never be brighter white than a steely, silver color.  White gold, at its whitest, is not as white as silver.  That beautiful bright white, shiny finish seen on white gold pieces in jewelry stores?  That’s a rhodium plating on top of the gold, used to make real white gold more attractive. People who love think they love white gold really love white, shiny rhodium plating.

3.  Malleability.  Remember when we talked about alloying?  Yellow gold is allowed with copper and silver, and the intent is to keep as much gold color as possible while adding a bit of hardness.   In aiming for white gold, however, the goal is to lose the whiteness, and so different alloys are used.  Rat bastard alloys.  Evil alloys.

White gold is usually alloyed with nickel or palladium. Palladium yields a more malleable, grayer 14k white gold.  It can discolor over time, it becomes brittle with repeated heating.  It’s a bastard.   Nickel yields a much whiter (the band, above, is 14k nickel-alloyed gold), much, much less malleable white gold.  Much less malleable.  Like, don’t even bother trying to forge it into pretty shapes and curves.

White gold is also less stable than its yellow counterpart.  Heated to melting, yellow will cool to roughly the same work properties it started with.  Melted, white gold will cool to a grainy, brittle mess which needs to be returned to the refiner for chemical processing.

I’m often asked to make my designs in white gold.  White gold, brittle and less ductile, does not take well to the forging techniques I use.  I don’t start with milled  stock, and this is what gives my work its hand-wrought feel.  My pieces are forged; I don’t want the look of machine-milled metal, and with white gold it is best to start with machine-milled stock and go with simple fabrication.

However, I do think white gold has an interesting, steely look, and I can make peace with it if I can work milled bits of it into my designs.  That’s what you see above.  An attempt at making peace with white gold; of having an inclusive studio.   I’m a jewelry diplomat.  I’m like the Ghandi of jewelry, the MLK of bling.

I know.


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