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Engagement Rings, Wedding Rings, Commitment Rings, Eternity Rings, Bridal Jewellery

Atelier Precious Metal and Gemstone Guides

To help you with choosing your engagement rings, wedding rings and commitment rings, we have written some short guides. click on the links for guides to suitable precious metals to use for engagement rings, some facts about diamonds, and other stones suitable for engagement rings or wedding rings, a guide to understanding gemstones and the gemstone lore and wisdom, including birthstones , anniversary and astrological stone guides.

On a more serious note, Atelier has a strong ethical policy when sourcing materials.  Click these links for our ethical policy, and our information guides for blood diamonds and ethical gold and our discussion about "dirty gold" and ethical engagement rings

Precious metals for engagement rings and wedding rings

An important consideration for your choice of wedding or engagement ring is metal. Your choice of metal will be down to colour preferance, durability and budget.  Below are listed the main types of metal used in jewellery, along with come basic facts about them.


Naturally, gold is a soft malleable metal with a rich deep yellow colour.   Although beautiful, it is really too soft to be used commercially, and so is mixed with other metals in various ratios to make it workable and resilient producing "alloys".  Suitable metals for this process which are mainly used are silver, copper, rhodium, nickel and palladium.  All metal for jewellery production in Europe has to comply with the Nickel Directive, which prevents the use of high concentrations of nickel in jewellery, though some gold alloys do contain small amounts of nickel whilst still complying with the Directive.

See our Ethical Policy and our Ethical Engagement Rings discussion

Red 9ct gold has a very coppery look to it due to its heavy concentration of copper.  White 9ct gold is made by adding "bleaching" agents (white metals) to the natural yellow of gold.  Economically, 9ct gold of any colour is the least expensive choice in terms of gold, for a wedding or engagement ring.

There are several colours of commercial alloys of gold in the UK:
Yellow - the natural colour is preserved, the higher the carat the more deep and creamy the yellow colour is.
White - White gold is made by adding "bleaching" agents (white metals) to the natural yellow of gold - the less yellow gold in the mixture the whiter the alloy.  9ct is not dissimilar to silver in colour whilst 18ct is a greyish colour.
Red and Pink - Red 9ct gold has a very coppery look to it due to its heavy concentration of copper and the "rosey" colour is more associated with 18ct red gold (not to be confused with "Crown Gold" which occured when impurities entered into the smelt in ancient times).
Green - less commercial and harder to get supplies, green gold excludes copper from the alloy and sometimes adds cadmium.  It actually is one of the only alloys that occurs naturally; known as "electrum" it was recorded as far back as 860BC.
Other colours - grey, black, purple and blue golds can also be produced but are not usually commercially available

Gold comes in 4 "carats" (carat is defined by the amount of gold in the metal). 

9ct - 9 carat gold has the lowest tensile strength of the gold alloys save for 22ct.  When hallmarked its carries the UK standard mark "375" - which means that the metal is 37.5% gold (the rest of the metal is made of copper, zinc, silver and sometimes nickel).   9ct gold is hard enough to be worn every day, although due to its low gold content it often has a rather brassy pale look.   9ct gold is available in yellow, red and white variants.  Economically, 9ct gold of any colour is the least expensive choice in terms of gold, for a wedding or engagement ring.

14ct - 14 carat gold is mostly known as an overseas standard containing 58.5 % pure gold.  When hallmarked its carries the UK standard mark "585".  14ct gold is also available in yellow, red and white variants and these alloys generally have the highest tensile strength before being worked.  14ct gold is available in red, white or yellow.

18ct - 18 carat gold is a very popular choice for wedding and engagement rings.  Its UK gold standard is "750" which denotes 75% gold combined with other metals.  This means that 18ct gold has a relatively high percentage of gold contetnt and thus it has a pleasing soft deep yellow colour.  Although it is less tensile strenght than 14ct gold before being worked, but after working it has the highest which makes it the hardest of the gold alloys. It also generally wears more pleasingly with age than 9ct or 14ct.   18ct gold, again can be obtained commercially in yellow, red and white, less easily in green although this colour is becoming more popular.

22ct - 22 carat gold is quite soft as it has a very high purity.   Its UK standard is "916"; so is 91.6% gold combined with other metals.  Its high cost and softness means it is not commonly used in wedding rings, although it is used in other jewellery where it receives less wear and so is less likely to sustain damage.  22ct has a deep, mellow, truly "golden" look to it, much like the archeological gold pieces you might see in a museum.  It is only available in yellow.


Platinum is a highly resistant , hard silvery white metal, first discovered and used in decoration by the ancient Egyptians.  Thirty times rarer than gold, it has a high market price, as over a ton of ore must be mined to produce just one ring.  Carrying the UK standard "950", platinum is the most expensive choice for a wedding or engagement ring; but in terms of its purity, hardness and durability, and subtle beauty it is unmatched by any other metal.


The white metal silver is rarely a choice for a wedding or engagement ring, mainly because of its relative softness, compared to other metals.    It is however still chosen by some couples, sometimes simply because they like the look of silver and sometimes because of economic consideration as it is likely to be the cheapest option for a wedding or engagement ring.


Palladium has only just joined the ranks of the precious metals and has become popular due to its relative hardness, similarity to platinum in appearance and comparative price.   Palladium is a good choice for engagement rings or wedding rings if white metal is desired.

Diamonds and your engagement ring or your commitment ring

With their legendary hardness, lustre and brilliance, diamonds have long been the stone of choice in many types or jewellery, not least of all engagement and commitment rings. if you are concerned about environmental or ethical issues regarding modern diamonds , then we can offer you pre-owned and antique loose cut diamonds from which to choose.

What are diamonds?

Their name comes from the ancient greek "Adamas" meaning invincable, and have been traditionally found in the Americas, India, Africa, Australia and Russia.  They are mostly mined from volcanic pipes where the substrate they are found in is called Kimberlite, hence the pipes are called Kimberlite Pipes.  These pipes are traditionally mined using shaft or open cast techniques.  Diamonds are also found in alluvial gravels from river beds and sea beds where they are dredged and sieved.  This is more common in Africa.

The Four C's

We judge diamonds by the "4C's"; Clarity, Cut, Colour and Carat.  Their grades in the 4C's is directly related to their value.


When you are choosing a diamond, a very important point to consider is the diamonds cut as it has a direct correlation to a diamond's appearance.

A diamond with Ideal/Excellent cut grade proportions will return the maximum amount of light to the viewer's eye, the diamond will appear more brilliant and beautiful as a result.  Diamond cut is graded by the Gemologists institute of America /Gemmollogical Assocation of Great Britian as "Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor".  At Atelier we will always endeavour to provide you with diamonds which have excellent or very good cuts - we do cut carry any diamonds which have poor cuts.

Diamond cut affects a diamond's light return properties; also known as scintillation, fire or brilliance.  Brilliance refers to the white light that is reflected up through the surface of a diamond, scintillation is the sparkling pattern on a diamond's surface, and fire describes the flashes of rainbow-coloured light which reflect off a well-cut diamond.   A well-cut diamond will display brilliance throughout.  By contrast, a poorly cut diamond will appear dull or glassy and may have dark areas where light is not optimally returned to the viewer's eye.

Better cut grades are likely to display more fire and brilliance and since their appearance is more desirable, they are priced accordingly.  The cut grade of a diamond also depends on the skill of the diamond cutter.   Cutting a diamond with the degree of precision required to produce an ideal cut stone is a rare and valuable skill, therefore diamonds of this grade are more expensive.


Clarity indicates how "clean" the diamond is, or how many inclusions (i.e. scratches, trace minerals or other tiny characteristics) the diamond has.  Some inclusions are so tiny, that they can only be seen under a very strong jewellers eye glass (loupe). In this case a diamond may be referred to as "eye clean" - this is a diamond that has no visible inclusions to the un-aided eye when viewed from the top down and at arms length.

The clarity of a diamond is based on the number, size, colour, and location of inclusions or blemishes in the stone.  The Flawless (FL) grade is given to a stone in which no imperfections can be seen internally (inclusions) or externally (blemishes) when examined at 10x magnification.   For clarity grading purposes, if an inclusion cannot be seen at 10x magnification, it doesn't exist.  When choosing a diamond, it's a good idea to choose a diamond with as few inclusions as possible, but this is something you may have to sacrifice, for instance, if you are looking for a large diamond but have a tight budget.  Some old diamonds, such as rose cuts, often have inclusions, but this does not necassarily detract from their beauty or brilliance.


Diamonds occur in a variety of colors - steel grey, white, blue, yellow, orange, red, green, pink to purple, brown, and black.  Most commonly we see white diamonds in jewellery, although coloured diamonds known as "fancies" are becoming increasingly popular.  Fancy diamonds often carry a premium in terms of pricing with certain colours being rarer and more desirable than others.  Natual blue, green, red and pink diamonds are extremely sought after and very, very highly priced.  Still highly desirable, but more reasonably priced are yellow and brown diamonds (depending on their shade these are known as champagne or cognac diamonds) and these are becoming increasingly popular in the commercial marketplace.

White diamonds come in a variety of shades, which are catagoriesed by letters.  The normal range of letters (which encompasses yellow/ white diamonds as well as white) , is from Z through to D.  At Z, diamonds are white tinged with yellow - at the opposite end of this spectrum are D & E - the most desirable colours; exceptional white and exceptional white +.  These diamonds appear an intense bright white, and when combined with excellence in the other 3 C's, come together to make some of the worlds finest diamonds.  Price can be affected dramatically through grades D-Z, with LMNOP and Q being greyish and the least desirable then colours R and above moving towards fancy becoming more desirable again.


Carat weight is the weight by which diamonds are measured.  The word "carat" is taken from the carob seeds that people once used in ancient times to balance scales.  So uniform in shape and weight are these little seeds that even today's sophisticated instruments cannot detect more than three one-thousandths of a difference between them.  Carat's are broken down into units of measurement called "points", and there are 100 points to a carat - so a diamond may be measured as, for instance, 50 points (1/2 a carat), 25 points (1/4 of a carat), etc.   At Atelier , we will always tell you what any diamond you purchase weighs, to the nearest point.

What if I don't want diamonds in my ring - what other choices do I have ?

The world is your oyster when it comes to choosing a stone for your engagement ring.  If you don't want or like diamonds, there are lots of other options, but some stones are not suitable for use in rings that will be worn every day - we can guide you through some choices that will be suitable and also suggest less obvious choices.  See our guide to understanding gemstones below.

if you want diamonds, but don't want bling, you might like to think about the subtle softness of a rose cut diamond, or even a rough diamond instead of a cut one.

Rubies, emeralds and sapphires are great choices for engagement rings, and you can choose traditional cuts, or if you want lots of stone for your money, we have some fabulous cabochon cut stones to choose from including star rubies and star sapphires, amongst some of the rarest stones in the world.   Whatever your budget or taste, we have a wealth of gem dealers with whom we have close relationashiips, who we can scour to find a stone you will love for always !

Understanding Gemstones

How durable is my gemstone?

Gemstones are graded in a scale of 1 to 10, known as Moh's Scale, after the German mineralogist Friedrich Moh, who devised it.  Moh took 10 ordinary minerals and listed them all in terms of "scratchability" - i.e each one will scratch those below it on the scale, but will be scratched by those above it.

Moh's List:

9 - CORUNDUM (Ruby, Sapphire)
7 - QUARTZ (Agate, Amythest, Chalcedony, Cornelian)
6 - ORTHOCLASE (Moonstone)
1 - TALC

Which gemstones are good choices for engagement rings?

When you buy a gemstone, its always a good idea to ask about how hard the stone is, and also how durable it is in day to day wear.  One reason why engagement rings nearly always have diamonds in them is because diamonds are so hard and durable they will last a lifetime and beyond. Closely behind them are rubies and sapphires.  Topaz follows this, and then quartz, together with Emeralds.  At no 6 is moonstone and at 5 the green gemstone apatite.  All gemstones of 6 and above are suitable for day to day wear, although obviously one should bear in mind that all jewellery has an inherent fragility and care should be taken when wearing it.

Which gemstones are not good choices for engagement rings?

Below 6 extra care should be taken.  Flourite is an attractive and popular gemstone for beads and cut in cabochon's , but its relative softness means it will lose its polish easily if not cared for, and may chip or break if treated roughly.

Below 4 , gemstones are simply too soft for day to day wear.

Are there any exceptions to this rule?

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, however care should be taken if these choices are used.

Amber is an organic fossilised tree resin which has a hardness on Moh's scale of 2.5 - although soft, its crystal structure (the way the atoms inside the amber are placed) makes it durable and compact, so less likely to break or chip.   Although an amber necklace, earrings or bracelet is very durable, care should still be taken to avoid wearing your amber doing the gardening for example.  Amber rings should be worn largely for special occasions, not in every day situations.

Pearls have a hardness of 3 on Moh's scale, but a tough nacre coating and spherical composition means that they have a degree of durability that extends way beyond heir hardness.  Again, this does not mean that pearls should not be worn without due care - refer to our pearl care and cleaning articles for more information.

We are the leading pearl specialist in the East Midlands.  We carry extensive stocks of pearls of all varieties and sizes, including Akoya, freshwater, saltwater Tahitian, South Sea and Broome, and many more.  Bring along a swatch from a wedding dress or special occasion outfit and we'll match pearls to the colour, no matter what shade or tone.  We also offer a full restringing and pearl cleaning service to bring life back into your more mature jewels.

Some stones, although they have a relatively good hardness, have other qualities which render them more succeptible to damage when worn.  For instance, Tanzanite is a stone which has become increasingly popular over the last few years, and which has a hardnes of 6.5 to 7, but a propensity to brittleness which means that when worn on a day to day basis, the stone may chip and wear, which is why tanzanite should not be worn as an engagement or everyday ring.   .

Another stone with which great care should be taken in wear is Opal. Opal has a hardness of 5.5. to 6.6, but because of its chemical composition, part of which is water, Opals are succeptable to drying out, and also can be easily damaged when knocked or dropped.  Its still possible to enjoy opal jewellery as long as a suitably durable setting is chosen in fact, its always   advisable to ask your jeweller when buying an unsual gemstone about its hardness and durability.

At Atelier we try to use stones which have a good hardness of 6 and above, and will always let you know if a stone you are purchasing needs special care or consideration.

Gemstone Lore and Wisdom

There are many superstitions associated with gemstones . and whilst some are more well known, others are less so. We are all aware of the association of certain gems with wedding anniversaries , but gemstones are also associated with Zodiac Signs and healing and calming properties. The option of Zodiac stones is an excellent alternative to traditional stones which if you wish to buy a gift may offer a less expensive choice, or in some cases , a stone more suited to the recipients taste or personality.


Conventionally the following gemstones are associated with birth in the following months of the year:

January - Garnet
February - Amethyst
March - Aquamarine
April - Diamond
May- Emerald
June - Pearl
July - Ruby
August - Peridot
Sseptember - Sapphire
October - Opal
November - Topaz
December - Turquois


In the UK, there are several landmark wedding anniversaries which are marked with the gift of gemstones or precious metals

 25 th             Silver

 30 th             Pearl

 40 th             Ruby

 45 th             Sapphire

 50 th             Gold

 55 th             Emerald

 60 th             Diamond

Atelier specializes in helping to produce a beautiful and meamorable gift for either sex to celebrate these anniversaries.  Whilst there are myriad choices for a female, a man may be pleased by a traditional choice of cufflinks or a tie bar or alternatively a silver wine collar, paperweight or watch.

Come and speak to us about producing a piece of silverware, or jewellery for an anniversary, wedding or engagement present.

Gemstones and The Zodiac

The following stones can also be associated with Zodiac signs and planets

Dec 22 - Jan 19
agate, garnet, ruby lapis lazuli
Jan 20 - Feb 18
amethyst, garnet, opal, Moss agate turquoise
Feb 19 - Mar 20
amethyst, bloodstone, rock crystal, sapphire aquamarine
Mar 21 - Apr 19
bloodstone, diamond jasper
Apr 20 - May 20
amber, blood coral, emerald, sapphire, turquoise aventurine, emerald
May 21 - Jun 20
agate, chrysophrase, pearl tigers eye
Jun 21 - Jul 22
emerald , moonstone, pearl, ruby moonstone
Jul 23 - Aug 22
onyx, sardonyx, tourmaline rock crystal
Aug 23 - Sep 22
carnelian, jade, jasper, sapphire citrine
Sep 23 - Oct 22
lapis lazuli, opal, peridot sapphire
Oct 23 - Nov 21
aquamarine, topaz garnet, ruby
Nov 22 - Dec 21
amethyst, sapphire, topaz, turquoise topaz

Ethically sourced materials - our policy

As you may be aware, some mining and sourcing of raw materials are far from ethical.   Unfortunately gemstones, particularly diamonds, do fall into this category in some cases.  It is Atelier's strict policy NOT to contribute to any un-ethical or unlawful practices.  So we want to make you aware of our ongoing efforts to avoid participation in their traffiking and bring to your attention the following examples.  (NB - Atelier recognises the fair processes of all law abiding companies sourcing raw materials and wishes to support the efforts to improve practices by encouraging the move towards ethical sourcing in all areas)

Conflict diamonds (blood diamonds) and other un-ethical practices

A diamond is a conflict diamond if its profit is used to fund war or arms dealing  and it is mined / produced under conflict or non-ethical conditions.  These diamonds are probably better known as blood diamonds.  The majority of them come from Africa, but other un-ethical sources have recently come to light.  The only way to certify a diamond as conflict-free is to trace and monitor the diamond from the diamond mine to you, the consumer. 

Atelier is a member of Stop Blood Diamonds Click here for certificate

Conflict in Africa
Due to conflict in Africa, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), established in 2003 was designed to facilitate this.  The KPCS certifies that the origins of rough diamonds are from sources which are free of conflict - this means that that no rebel groups, or their rivals have financed their war aims from diamonds and no-one has been coerced or forced to work in the mining process in any way or maimed or murdered in the pursuit of the product.

The certification scheme aims at preventing these "blood diamonds" from entering the mainstream rough diamond market.  It was set up to assure you, the consumer (and us, the jeweller) that by purchasing diamonds we are not financing war and human rights abuses from those regions.  The principle has been extended to all diamonds and we have assurances from our suppliers in writing that they adhere to the scheme and that all their diamonds are conflict free.

Canadian Diamonds

As we've stated, Atelier has a strong policy against conflict diamonds.  Whilst Canada subscribes to, and operates within the guidelines of the Kimberley Process, concerns have been raised about the possible enviromental impact that the mining of diamonds in Canada is having, as well as impacting on the lives and culture of indigenous First Nations people in the Northwest terittories.

Whilst Atelier recognizes that kimberlite mine owners in Canada are doing many progressive and impressive things to limit the environmental impact, we are concerned that the Canadian Diamond Code of Conduct, presented as an accurate measure of the environmental and ethical practices of mining companies, is being abused for the following reasons:  this code of conduct is optional and largely unmonitored by any neutral third party;  Canadian mining companies are known to have a very poor record for environmental abuses both overseas and in Canada;  diamond mining in Northern Canada has caused many environmental and social problems for neighbouring indigenous communities and wildlife.

We recognize that there is no perfect solution but simply buying Canadian diamonds DOES NOT make them sustainable or ethical.  Please see this link for the Canadian code of conduct regarding diamonds for more information about the impacts of diamond mining in Canada.

As a result of this we are saying "NO" to Canadian diamonds

Other Gemstones

Whilst other gemstones are mostly thought of as conflict free, Atelier uses known and well established, reputable sources for all our gemstones to ensure our policy is upheld.

Environmentally friendly gold (ethical gold or green gold) and other precious metals

Environmental impact
Ethical gold is the product of an eco-friendly productive chain which, in all of its stages, does not make use of additives harmful to environment or local population.  Whilst this type of ethical principle is still in its infancy and we recognise that the other mining processes bringing us precious metals are not deemed unethical in any way, Atelier is pleased to be able to offer "green" gold directly from an "ethical" mine.  See our full discussion on Ethical Gold on our Ethical Engagement Rings page

Re-cycling metals
We recycle lots of gold ourselves and encourage clients to do the same - bring us old jewels and we can often integrate metals and stones into new pieces

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