How the Most Affordable Wedding Bands Stack Up: Real Gold Alloy vs. Gold Plating

How the Most Affordable Wedding Bands Stack Up: Real Gold Alloy vs. Gold Plating

After buying that gorgeous engagement ring, you're budgeting hard for the wedding. Chances are, you're trying to find cash for the $1,500 custom ring she wants -- but it looks like it's not going to happen. Then you hear about a buddy who got a wedding band for under $200, and you want to know more. What's the deal with tungsten and titanium men's wedding bands? Plus -- what is "gold plating" and why are plated rings like one-third the price of regular ones?

Dude, plating is magic.

Grilled Cheese and Gold Plating

The best way to explain gold plating is to start with grilled cheese. (Just go with it. You'll see in a minute.) You make a grilled cheese by heating up the bread until you have a toasty sandwich with melted cheese in the middle. Plating works the same way. Electro-chemical technology is used to bind a layer of gold (the bread) over another metal (the cheese) to make a metal sandwich. That means you get a ring that looks like caviar on a tuna fish budget.

Before you get worried about buying a cheap ring, you need to know that even solid gold bands aren't actually 100 percent gold. Real gold is so soft that you can scratch it with your fingernail, so most "solid gold" rings are mixed with other stuff. Jewelers have to play with their alloys to keep them strong and durable, so be sure to ask what metals are in your ring if you have allergies.

Since there is usually a lot less gold used in plated rings, they cost SO much less -- but what that does that mean over time? How does plating hold up?

Well, durability depends on your manufacturer, but all plating wears over time. This isn't a problem, though. You can always take your ring to the local jeweler to be re-plated for a small fee, and most only need this every couple of years.

Fact: Your pricey white gold alloy engagement ring will also need to be re-plated every two years-ish, so don't think that's a cheaper way out. White gold is made of gold and other silver-colored metals, but your body's oils and man sweat eventually reveal something closer to yellow gold over time.

But What's Under There?

So, what about what's under the plating? And will it turn your finger green? In a word, no.

Titanium is going to be your most inexpensive bet. It is crazy strong, durable and lightweight. There is no nickel in titanium, so it's great if you have allergies. Also, it doesn't conduct heat the way gold and silver do -- a nice perk for chefs, welders and fire-eaters. If you go with titanium, make sure you pay attention to sizing. These bands can't be adjusted, so you need to leave time for exchanges.

The next contender is tungsten, aka tungsten carbide, which is affordable, strong, and the weight of a regular gold ring. Tungsten is super-scratch-resistant, so it looks great for a long time -- even if you aren't extra-careful with it. Tungsten has a bit of nickel, so stay away if you are allergic. Also, this is another one that can't be resized, so leave plenty of time to try it on.

You probably haven't considered a wood ring, but take a second to visualize the awesomeness. Right now. We'll wait. Of course, the wood itself isn't gold plated, but there are plated metal bands with wood accents.

Now remember that when you add that soft metal gold (plating) to a tungsten or titanium ring, you do have to be careful about scratches so if you know you're gonna be particually rough on your new shiny toy, be sure to skip the plating.

So there you have it! There are all kinds of options that are budget-friendly, so don't get stressed about your wedding band. Check out alternative metals and the magic of gold plating so you can save your cash for something better, like a hot air balloon send off! Anyone??