A Pinch of Platinum Could Be Just What Your Silver Jewelry Needs

Before germanium became the miracle anti-tarnish ingredient in silver, a small group of refiners discovered that platinum-group metals could whiten and brighten sterling as well as shield it from fire stain. Today, there are at least half a dozen silver alloys that rely on platinum and palladium to keep tarnish and fire stain at bay. While these alternative alloys are all more ­expensive than germanium-based ones, they are considerably less costly than their white gold counterparts. Moreover, they allow jewelers to sell sterling jewelry that owes its beauty and durability to its ­precious metal content.

As you would expect in a cost-conscious industry, there are fewer users of platinum-group sterling alloys than germanium-based ones. One of this still-small band is Victor Joyner of ­Chicago-based HD Pattern Co., a firm that specializes in new casting technologies using polymers. Last year, Joyner was invited by Stuller in Lafayette, La., to put a new 3 percent palladium-enriched silver alloy trademarked as ­Continuum through its paces in his shop.

“The problem with silver is you have to use a lot of it to get the kind of strength and performance you expect from gold,” Joyner explains. “And even that is no guarantee of ­longevity.” Bulk is needed to keep pieces from going out of round and to hold stones in place. Joyner says that using a palladium-enriched alloy makes it feel like he is ­working with 14k white gold; Continuum in particular has a hardness that he says gives his pieces a heretofore ­difficult-to-attain durability and ­definition. What’s more, he gets long-term shape retention using less than half the alloy he needed when working in more cumbersome traditional sterling.

Less bulk translates into lower ­material costs and helps narrow the price differential between ­palladium- and germanium-based alloys. Let’s do the math: At, say, $30 per ounce, a ­germanium-based alloy will cost about 20 percent more than ­standard sterling, or $36 per ounce. The ­palladium-enriched sterling will cost roughly twice as much—$60 per ounce. But since Joyner needs only half the amount of palladium-enriched alloy compared to standard sterling, the cost is much closer to sterling and germanium-based silver.  

Platinum is another matter, of course. Expect to spend three to four times more for a platinum-enriched silver alloy than traditional sterling. ­Platinum’s prestige factor, ­however, may help offset sticker shock. ­“Platinum-group sterling alloys should be viewed as a ­separate category from germanium-based ­silvers,” Joyner recommends. “We’re talking about an affordable luxury metal that is at least 95 percent ­precious content.”