Palladium proves its worth as a light option for fine jewellery

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It was its lightness that first drew fine jeweller Megan Brown to introduce palladium to her work this year. She used a basket-weaving technique to combine fine wires of the precious metal with 18-carat gold in her Twined Armure earrings set with diamonds.

Brown found it much better than another white metal — platinum — for her woven, sculptural pieces. “One of the difficulties with platinum is it’s so heavy,” she says. “Palladium has this much lighter quality so, when I’m weaving, I can actually create much bigger pieces and, especially for earrings, it’s so much more wearable.”

The London-based jeweller also finds palladium “oxidises really well and goes really black”, allowing her to add another colourway to her designs. A Woven Bombé ring, exclusive to her stockist Corso Monte Carlo in Monaco, features black palladium with 18-carat yellow gold and platinum. “It means I can really push the patternation of the weaving a lot,” she says. “So I probably will have [palladium] running throughout all my work.”

Statistics suggest Brown is not the only jeweller turning to palladium as the price of the metal falls. The number of palladium items hallmarked by the UK’s four assay offices in the first four months of 2024 grew 81.8 per cent year on year, albeit from a low base, to 2,265, according to figures provided by Will Evans, director of the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office in London.

One of the platinum group metals, palladium is commonly used in catalytic converters in car exhaust systems. It was officially recognised as a precious metal for fine jewellery in the UK in 2010, when a compulsory hallmark was introduced.

More than 100,000 palladium items per year were hallmarked between 2010 and 2014. Evans says demand dropped over time — to 30,490 items in 2019 — but is “starting to climb back up a bit” post-pandemic, although volumes remain low. A total of 4,069 palladium items were hallmarked in 2023. This year’s rise is “probably driven initially by the low price of palladium now, relative to platinum and gold”, suggests Evans. 

Palladium’s average price had been $526.38 per troy ounce in 2010 — less than half that of gold and platinum at the time, according to the Precious Metals Forecast Survey by the London Bullion Market Association trade body. However, it soared to an average of $2,398.30 in 2021, before falling again in recent years.

Analysts’ average forecast for the palladium price in 2024 was a 20.7 per cent drop to $1,060.10 per troy ounce. Contributing factors cited included lower demand from the automotive industry. The average LBMA price in May was $975.24, lower than platinum’s $1,016.95.

By contrast, gold reached a LBMA London record high price of $2,427.30 per troy ounce on another day that month.

London-based jeweller Stephen Einhorn noticed a drop-off in sales of palladium pieces while the metal price was high, but thinks demand might increase now that it has dipped. “As well as the drop in material costs, you’ve got the weight difference, so a wedding ring in palladium is going to weigh a lot less than one in platinum,” he says. The London assay office’s largest customer for palladium is a wedding ring manufacturer. 

Einhorn likes the noble metal’s “lovely colour” and the fact it is “really durable”. In May, he started offering palladium as an alternative to silver in pieces from his Raven collection, crafted from a polymer made from castor seed oil.

The metal does not suit all jewellers, however. Graeme McColm, who used palladium as a “less expensive alternative to platinum” until the price “went through the roof”, found it had “technical limitations” if soldered. “The seams would always oxidise or show up very black if exposed to seawater or to chlorine and, then, they can become quite brittle,” he says.

An alternative use for palladium is to plate jewellery. Tateossian started using it to prevent silver, brass and stainless steel pieces tarnishing after the price “skyrocketed” for rhodium — another platinum group metal — during the Covid pandemic. “The finish it gives is a little bit whiter than rhodium, but it has the same protective qualities,” says brand founder Robert Tateossian.

Amanda Li Hope, who previously made palladium wedding rings for men, now uses the metal to create bespoke alloys of gold. Her Chromaticity necklace, which won two Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council awards this year, uses 22-carat Fairmined Ecological gold and is made from 18 different alloys (22-carat gold comprises at least 91.6 per cent pure gold plus other metals — in this case palladium, copper or silver).

“[The] colour shift . . . is just 8.4 per cent differences in the other metals being introduced, and palladium is definitely the strongest,” she says. “It really changes the colour [of the gold].” Li Hope plans to expand this theme for her debut at Goldsmiths’ Fair in London this autumn.

But Evans reckons use of palladium as the main metal in jewellery will keep rising. “You’d expect, with the gold price remaining high, that jewellers will be looking for alternatives,” he says. “For the whiteness of it, and the lower density that makes it a good alternative to platinum, you would expect to see it grow.”

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