SPECIAL NOTE: GOLD WEDDING RINGS AND ENGAGEMENT RINGS ARE OUR SPECIALTY, AND WORKING WITH US YOU'LL RECEIVE THE RING OF YOUR DREAMS — CREATED BY ARTISANS WITH DECADES OF EXPERIENCE, AND BACKED BY A LIFETIME GUARANTEE.
Looking to work with an awesome small artisan studio with excellent cred? Call our shop at 888-733-5238 or email info (at) reflectivejewelry.com for a FREE, no-pressure consultation. —Marc Choyt, co-owner
If you’re soon getting married and don’t know much about wedding rings, you’ll probably agree with me that there is a lot of critical knowledge to consider.
You might be wondering:
Is 18K always better than 14K? (Hint: It isn't!)
How do you pair a wedding ring with an engagement ring? Should your wedding band match your partner’s? And, is recycled gold really “eco friendly” or just greenwashing?
Gold content, alloys, allergies, durability, design, weight, cost, width, and especially ethics all matter when purchasing your gold wedding rings.
We’re custom jewelers based in Santa Fe, NM — and the only Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the entire US.
Here’s the bottom line:
This article is the ultimate guide for purchasing wedding rings. It’s packed with fantastic information, from the basics to insider knowledge, which I guarantee you will not find anywhere else!
Gold Wedding Rings 101
1. Karat or Carat?
Let’s start with the basics.
The word “karat” is a variation of the word “carat,” which originated in Greco-Roman cultures and is actually related to carob seeds, which are incredibly uniform in weight.
Carat is used in the measurement of precious stones.
Karat references the percentage of gold in wedding rings or jewelry.
In case you are curious, this is what carob seeds look like! Photo credit.
Now, here’s the deal: the karat represents the percentage of gold. For example, 24K (aka 24 Karat) gold is 99.9% pure gold.
If you want to know what 8K is, you divide 8K by 24K:
8K is 33% gold.
10K is 41.6% gold.
14K is 58.3% gold
18K is 75% gold.
In my 26 years of making jewelry, I’ve only made a ring out of 24K (pure) gold once — as a special request. Pure gold is about as soft as your fingernail.
Here’s what that one-of-a-kind wedding ring project looked like.
To make gold suitable for a fifty-year marriage, gold is typically alloyed (mixed) with other metals.
This video of our jeweler, Michelle, shows her alloying gold along with her dog, Delta — who comes to work with her on Saturdays and finds the whole process rather boring!
In addition to making gold harder, alloys are what change yellow gold into rose or white gold. And, the metals used as alloys are almost always less expensive than gold.
The lower the karat, the less expensive the ring.
2. Choosing Karat: 18K Gold Wedding Rings vs. 14K Gold Wedding Rings
Most wedding rings sold in the US are either 14K or 18K — and the most common gold colors are yellow, white, and rose.
There’s a slightly more yellow tint to the higher karat golds.
Here’s something that you absolutely should know:
If you want white or rose gold, go for 14K! You’ll see more of the white or rose color you want, because there’s more alloy. Plus, the ring will be both more durable and less expensive.
The other advantages of a 14K gold wedding ring over an 18K gold ring is that it will be 1) more hardwearing and 2) less costly.
3. Advantages of an 18K Yellow Gold Wedding Ring
An 18K gold wedding ring’s most important feature is its higher gold content. With more gold, the ring is actually softer, richer, and has more caché.
We make this 7mm-wide flat topped Comfort Fit Wedding Ring in 18K Yellow Gold entirely by hand.
“Fine jewelry,” for example, translates to 18K gold. In contemporary parlance, gold means value, prestige, and achievement.
Some jewelers take advantage of this perception. They will offer 18K white gold wedding rings.
But here's the catch: 18K white gold isn't considered “white enough,” so they are often plated with rhodium, a natural white metal.
The problem is... rhodium plating doesn't last over years. Do you really want to wear a wedding ring that requires maintenence?
Don't fall for it! A 14K white gold ring is white enough, AND more durable, AND less expensive!
4. 18K vs 14K Wedding RIngs? What's The Bottom Line?
Price, metal color, hardness, and personal preference all have to be factored in to your decision.
I never recommend 18K rose gold or white gold — if you want one of those colors, go with 14K.
Yet...18K yellow gold is my personal preference. If you can afford it, and you’re not doing rough activities with your hands, the 18K just has a more beautiful gold color.
Here's a 14K yellow gold ring for comparison to the above:
This is the same Comfort Fit Wedding Band shown above, but in 14K Yellow Gold.
If you can't decide, you can even do a two tone ring, mixing carats and metal choices to create a more designer element.
Take a look at these:
Our two-tone wedding rings can be made using combinations of white, yellow, or rose gold. Any of these gold colors can also be combined with silver. This type of work requires jewelers with many years of experience and skills.
[ If you have pressing questions, there's no need to wait! Consultation is always free. Call me at 888-733-5238 or email info (at) reflectivejewelry.com ]
5. What are Alloys & How Do They Make a Ring 14K or 18K Gold?
The gold alloy chart above from Wikipedia shows how metals such as copper and silver in various mixtures impact the color of the gold. But other alloys are used to emphasize certain properties of the metal for jewelry fabrication.
14K yellow gold is typically 58.3% gold, 31.2% copper, 6.3% zinc, and 4% silver.
18K yellow gold is typically 75% gold, 16% silver, and 9% copper.
Certain gold supply houses have their own proprietary mixtures to create colors unique to their particular brands.
Other metals used for alloying white gold include nickel, palladium, and platinum.
6. Allergic Reactions to Gold Wedding Rings
People are not allergic to gold itself. In this regard, it is a relatively human-friendly metal. However, some people are allergic to some alloys used in gold wedding rings.
Very occasionally people do have allergic reactions to white gold wedding rings because of how white gold is alloyed. I say very occasionally because in my 26 years of being a jewelers, nickle allergies in wedding rings I"ve sold occured less than five times.
In the US, nickel is primarily used for whiteness. In the EU, nickel is not allowed. Instead, it’s palladium — a metal in the platinum family.
Palladium is close to the cost of gold, so palladium white gold adds cost.
However: you can still have skin irritation from wearing gold wedding bands — or any ring for that matter.
7. Rashes Due to Wedding Rings
Skin irritation can occur when wedding rings fit too tightly.
If the ring is tight, upsize it.
Sometimes, Gold wedding bands with diamonds or any gemstones can also cause rashes due to bacteria that can multiply in the small holes drilled through the metal behind the gemstone.
Note the small holes behind the diamonds in our Garden Gate Wedding Band. Bacteria can accumulate in the holes, irritating the skin. However, I only get complaints about this once every few years — it’s a rare issue!
In this case, the best option is to clean your ring.
Such skin irritations can usually be resolved by allowing time for your skin to breathe and heal.
Worth its Weight in Gold?
8. Heaviness of a Gold Wedding Ring
Heaviness has to do with the quantity and density of the metal in a ring. The denser the metal, the heavier the ring.
The actual weight of other metals compared to the weight of gold wedding rings are as follows:
Stainless Steel density: 7.5
Sterling Silver density: 10.2
950 Palladium density: 12.0
14K Yellow Gold density: 12.9 to 14.6
18K Yellow Gold density: 15.2 to 15.9
950 Platinum density: 19.1
The density of gold in wedding bands is going to vary slightly according to alloys used.
9. Metal Feel and Tone of Your Gold Wedding Ring
Why do people choose yellow and white gold rings over other metals?
White gold is even chosen over the natural white metals palladium and platinum! Perhaps this has to do with humanity's ancient attraction to gold.
Fairtrade Gold is the most precious and ethically sourced gold in the world. Learn more here.
Gold is the foundation of modern capitalism, and the alchemist's dream.
Gold never tarnishes. It represents wisdom, radiance, and the warm rays of the sun.
[ Are you getting any ideas? Why wait?? Call me at 888-733-5238 or email info (at) reflectivejewelry.com ]
Caring For Your Gold Wedding Band
10. Basic Cleaning and Common Scratches
Gold wedding bands are very easy to clean, simply because gold does not tarnish.
For a basic cleaning: rub a jewelry polishing cloth vigorously on the surface of the ring.
To remove scratches: you’ll need to take the ring to a jeweler.
Taking a Trinity Twist two tone wedding ring to the polishing wheel in our shop. We can make an old ring look new by doing this.
Depending upon the design elements, after taking the ring to a polishing wheel, it can look as good as new.
11. Cleaning Accent Gemstones in Rings
It’s common that after a time your accent gemstones will start to lose their sparkle. This can happen so gradually that you may not even notice it.
Many jewelers have hydro-sonic cleaners that remove our body oils and dirt from gems to bring gold wedding bands with diamonds or gems back to their original state of shine.
Clean your gold wedding ring regularly to keep it shining like new!
The Fabrication of Gold Wedding Bands
12. Machine-made Process
In most jewelry manufacturing these days, particularly for large companies, gold wedding rings start with computer-rendered CAD/CAM files — from which molds are then created by a modeling machine.
Simple gold wedding bands are also die-struck, and basically punched out of metal the way pots and pans commonly are.
Outside of setting gemstones, if there’s little or no hard work then there’s not a lot of handwork.
So, here’s our editorial comment: we think machine-made mass-produced wedding bands are not the best symbol to wear for your love and marriage, which is unique to you and you alone.
That being said…
Sometimes, pairing the latest technology with an artisan eye can help you achieve exactly what you want. Recently, a widow brought us her husband’s wedding ring. She asked us to combine the gold from his ring and her engagement ring, and reset her engagement diamond in the finished piece. This was the result:
As custom jewelers, one of our specialties is reusing old gold and gems in new designs — allowing you to carry with you the energy of loved ones or ancestors. I Learn more here.
Using CAD/CAM, we went through many iterations of this ring before we came up with exactly what our client wanted. This is a perfect illustration of a creative use of technology! In this case, our client, a women, had lost her husband. We took his wedding ring and her engagement ring and wedding ring and made one new ring (left) that she could wear.
13. Hand Wax Carving
There are still jewelers who are highly skilled wax carvers, creating models by hand which are then cast out using the traditional lost wax casting. Here’s one recent custom gold wedding ring project we completed using wax carving:
14. Makers of Gold Wedding Rings
At our company, we pride ourselves as being artisans, part of the maker’s movement.
We work with metal wire and sheet metal to hand fabricate our gold wedding rings. Our techniques are rooted in the American Southwest, where the metasmithing tradition has been passed down from Spanish, Native, and Anglo jewelers.
Explore more of our unique artisan toolset, including rare and handmade stamps and a cottonwood stump, in this short video.
You can see exactly how we create a gold wedding ring by hand, using skills few jewelers possess today, here.
[ Unsure if CAD/CAM, handwork, or wax carving is best for you? Let’s figure it out! Give me a call at 888-733-5238, or email info (at) reflectivejewelry.com ]
Gold Wedding Bands and Gender
15. Men’s Gold Wedding Bands vs. Women’s Gold Wedding Bands
First, a disclaimer: All this is open to interpretation, and really depends on what you want from your ring!
That being said, here are some guidelines based on what we typically see:
Men’s wedding rings are generally wider than women’s wedding rings, for two reasons: 1) Men generally have larger hands, and thus want a more substantial ring. And 2) Women typically wear their engagement ring and wedding ring together on the same finger, and therefore need both to be thin.
What we’ve found as jewelers over the past 26 years is that typically, mens wedding bands fall within 5mm to 8mm in width. Few men choose under 5mm, with the common exception of perhaps comfort fit wedding bands.
This Comfort Fit Wedding Band with a textured finish is 4mm wide.
Traditionally, men do not wear both a wedding ring and an engagement ring together. However, mens engagement rings are becoming more and more common.
16: What’s Best for LGBTQ+ couples?
For some people, tradition is really important.
However, many LGBTQ+ couples make their own rules.
Here’s the story of our Brand Catalyst Kyle and his husband — who both went with custom non-traditional wedding ring designs for men.
The image below show’s Kyle’s original drawings along with the finished rings, which we made with Fairtrade Gold.
Their Fairtrade Gold Wedding Rings feature Emerald and Purple Sapphire.
What’s the bottom line?
Do what feels right to you!
17. Wide vs Narrow Gold Wedding Bands?
Wearing one gold wedding ring instead of a two, like in bridal ring sets, gives certain beneficial options in context to design.
A wider gold wedding band allows more space on the surface of the rings, which translates to more of a canvas for the jeweler to create a detailed design.
With our Starry Night line of rings the design is more prominent when there is greater space between the borders of the ring. Take a look:
As with many of our rings, our Starry Night Wedding Ring is available in many variations.
If you choose one of the more simple gold wedding bands with no design, how much surface area the ring has for a design or motif is not so much of an issue.
18. How Wide are Women’s Gold Wedding Rings Generally?
Gold wedding bands for women tend to be between 2mm and 5mm wide.
Women generally have smaller hands than men, and they usually wear their engagements rings with their wedding rings as a bridal ring set:
A few examples of Bridal Ring Sets, made up of a gold engagement ring paired with a matching gold wedding ring.
Commonly, women prefer to have a combined width of two rings not beyond 8mm. So, more often than not womens wedding bands are no wider than 5mm.
Our Playa Bridal Ring Set, shown here with a gorgeous center stone Ruby, features two rings that are each 2mm wide.
19. Gold Wedding Ring Sets: How Will They Fit Together?
When considering gold engagement rings, take into consideration how your wedding band will fit alongside it.
Some gold wedding bands are designed to fit smoothly with the engagement ring, as shown with our Garden Gate collection:
Our Garden Gate Bridal Set, shown in 14K Rose Gold.
However, having a design flip around on your finger can become a nuisance to some people.
Guarding against this are designs that interlock, such as these:
On the left, our two tone Flow Bridal Ring Set. This pair is wider than some of our other offerings, allowing more of a “canvas” for the design to take center stage. On the right is our Trinity Twist Bridal Set, which is a total of 8mm wide.
Ultimately: width, weight and design are all very subjective issues. It’s about what feels best to you.
20. To Match or Not to Match?
For some couples, matching some element like design or shape is important to them. Others decide to match metal type and color, while some couples don’t worry about matching at all.
Here’s one example:
This matching wedding band set features bordered and borderless versions of our two tone Rope Wedding Ring.
Again, this is all highly personal and dependent upon what you and your partner feel most comfortable with.
Thickness and Width of Gold Wedding Rings
21. How Thick Should Your Gold Wedding Band Be?
Over the years, we occasionally are asked, particularly from website customers, how thick is your ring? Wedding rings should have a certain heft to them.
Behind that question is: am I going to purchase a ring online that feels light and cheap?
As you can see here, even our thinnest Comfort Fit Wedding Bands (in terms of width) have substantial thickness (or depth) to them, measuring inside to outside.
What you need to know is this:
Although there is no specific standard, a medium thickness is generally in the 1.6mm to 1.8mm range. Our Comfort Fit Wedding Rings are 2mm thick, guaranteeing maximum durability over the years.
[ If you’ve gotten this far into our article, why not contact us about your project? There’s no charge for consultation, and I’ll give you a price quote! Give me a call at 888-733-5238, or email info (at) reflectivejewelry.com ]
Resizing Gold Wedding Rings
22. Any Gold Wedding Ring Can Be Resized
Resizing often involves cutting the ring to either add more metal or remove it. For slight stretching and shrinking this can be done swiftly and mechanically without any cutting of the ring.
Here’s the thing:
Simple gold wedding bands without diamonds or gems are easier to resize than those with them. Nonetheless, rings with gemstones can be resized — it just might require a different process.
The small inset gemstones more often than not loosen during the resizing process — and in some cases, a new ring has to be made in order to obtain the desired size.
A preventative solution to complicated resizings, and in order to have more flexibility, jewelers sometimes put sizing bands on the palm side of the ring:
The sizing band in this gold wedding ring is carefully designed in so as to not interrupt the motif.
However, the disadvantage of the sizing band is that it interrupts the design pattern. If the ring turns on your finger, the sizing band shows instead of the desired motif, and this could become a nuisance.
23. What Accent Gems are Suitable with Gold Wedding Rings?
For wedding rings, diamonds are the best simply because they are the hardest, and most durable, of all gems. Sapphires and rubies also work well and hold up well.
Any gem can be set. But softer gems — such as garnets — will lose their sparkle in a wedding ring over the years.
Sometimes, certain small gems in the 1mm to 2mm cannot be sourced. The best thing is just to talk to your jeweler.
In my studio, we can set just about any gem. We’ll also give you advice about alternative choices.
24. Ethical Gold For Your Gold Wedding Band
I think you’ll agree with me when I say that you wouldn’t want to wear a wedding ring, which symbolizes you and your partner’s love, made with gold that has destroyed communities and ecosystems.
Yet, for the vast majority of people, this unfortunately is the norm.
There are two main concerns for the consumer to consider in order to make an ethical choice in selecting their gold wedding ring:
First: can your jeweler trace the sourcing and production of the gold wedding ring from the mine all the way through the process of production to your finger?
Second: does the sourcing of your gold wedding band create benefit and prevent exploitation for the producer communities?
These days, particularly in North America, recycled gemstones and recycled gold are unfortunately considered the ethical choice.
Below is an illustration which shows how recycled gold is merely greenwashing. It’s dirty gold that is processed through a refinery and rebranded as “eco-friendly.”
Read this article to discover why “eco-friendly” recycled gold is BS.
Using recycled gold does not decrease the activities of profit-driven multinational gold mining corporations.
Nor does the use of recycled gold create any benefit for the small-scale miners in developing countries who are simply attempting to feed their families.
Our view is this: jewelers should use recycled materials only when there are no options to support supply chains that create strong economies in impoverished producer gold communities around the world.
We feel so strongly about this that since 2015, we have been the only Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the entire USA, even though there are over 300 in the UK alone.
25. What about Ethical Gemstones?
People often choose to adorn their wedding rings with colored gemstones.
Upwards of 70% of colored gemstones are supplied by small-scale miners around the world. Unlike diamonds, conflict gemstones are not much of an issue. The reason is because the value of polished and cut diamonds are much more transactional and standardized on the international market than other gems.
Tanzanian miners using recycled water at a small-scale ruby mine. Learn about our ethical ruby sources here.
Ethical gemstone sourcing is based on the gems’ traceability and transparency back to the mine. We also need to consider the conditions at the mine, the cutting facility, and the business practices of the supplier.
Ideally, we would source our gems from a cooperative mining community that follows fair trade principles and standards, and is third-party certified. The polishing of a gem from that mine would be based in the actual mining community, adding to the downstream economy. Plus, there would be a premium generated from the sale of the gem, which would benefit the broader community development.
These days, only a few gemstone traders among the tens of thousands satisfy even a few aspects of the "ideal world" scenario. Still, there are some options out there — and as ethical jewelers, we have connections!
You can learn more about our ethical gemstone sourcing here, but if you have any specific questions I encourage you to email me at info(at)reflectivejewelry.com.
26. Setting Diamonds in a Wedding Ring
The truth is, there are no perfect solutions. The ideal, a fair trade diamond, does not exist.
Our diamonds are either Canadian mined, lab grown, or recycled. Each has its pros and cons.
Melee diamonds under 2.5mm are available from Canadian diamond mines are the most ethical natural choice, but also the most expensive.
Diamonds that have been recycled off old wedding rings are widely available, but the disadvantage is that you do not know where they came from.
These days, lab grown diamonds for wedding rings are becoming more popular. Lab diamonds are real diamonds, simply made by machines. They are definitely the least expensive option.
If you want to dig more deeply into these issues, read this article here.
A selection of white gold diamond engagement rings and wedding rings.
27. Ethics of the Gold in Gold Wedding Rings
The most ethical gold to use in your wedding ring is Fairtrade Gold, which offers the best chance for small-scale miners to work their way out of exploitation and poverty.
Learn all about why you should choose Fairtrade Gold here.
The Fairtrade Gold certification is an independently-audited set of benchmarks created by Fairtrade International. The commercial platform with its standards and principles connects retailers to miners through a transparent and traceable supply chain.
Artisanal and small-scale miners are empowered to improve their livelihoods. Retailers and consumers are given assurances that the miners are fairly compensated for their efforts and that the environment around the mine is not contaminated with mercury or cyanide.
The families of miners at Macdesa also benefit from fair wages and community premiums.
Just as Fairtrade has changed how consumers view and buy coffee and chocolate, Fairtrade gold will one day alter how people view and buy jewelry.
Learn more about Fairtrade Gold here.
By buying a Fairtrade Gold wedding ring, you will be part of the global Fairtrade movement that reduces poverty and mercury pollution while empowering small-scale miners throughout the world.
Marc Choyt is president of Reflective Jewelry, a designer jewelry company founded in 1995. He pioneered the ethical sourcing movement in North America and is also the only certified Fairtrade Gold jeweler in the United States. He is a regular contributor to Canada’s top jewelry trade magazine, Jewelry Business, writing on ethical jewelry issues. Choyt’s company was named Santa Fe New Mexico’s Green Business of the Year in 2019, and he has been honored with several awards for his efforts to support ethical jewelry. His ebook, Ethical Jewelry Exposé: Lies, Damn Lies and Conflict Free Diamonds, is available online. Choyt can be reached on Twitter at @Circlemanifesto or by email at marc(at)reflectivejewelry.com.