Whether you got your class ring in the 1980s or the 1880s, the metals used for making class rings have not changed all that much. The first class rings were given to graduates of West Point Academy in 1835. Since then, many high schools and colleges have adopted the tradition. While the designs that adorn class rings may change over time, the metals in class rings have remained relatively timeless.
The karatage of gold is determined by the mix of pure gold to alloy metal. The purest gold is 24k gold. The smaller the karatage, the less pure gold a class ring contains. In many cases, 10k gold has been the preferred gold for several reasons. First, it is more affordable than 14k gold or 18k gold. Next, it is stronger than higher karatage grades of gold. Finally, 10k gold is available in both white or yellow, so you have flexibility when trying to match colors to school colors or any gemstones you might like to have in your ring.
Some students in the 1980s opted for 14k gold because of its higher gold content. Like 10k gold, it is mixed with alloys to strengthen the gold and it is available in either yellow or white. Because 14k gold has a higher concentration of pure gold, however, it will cost more than 10k gold. Over time, though, 14k gold will retain its value as well.
For millennia, silver has been a more affordable option than gold in the precious metals market. It remains that way today, and it was the same way in the 1980s, which is why some class rings from the 1980s were made from sterling silver. While pure silver, or “fine silver,” is very soft and malleable, it can also be predisposed to more scratches and wear over time. That’s why class rings are made of sterling silver, which is only 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper for added strength.
One non-common option used for class rings in the 1980s was the non-precious metal known as White Ultrium. This metal is an alloy that shines like silver or white gold, but is very strong, making it resistant to abrasions. Because it is not a precious metal, White Ultrium was a considerably more affordable option among metals for class rings of the 1980s.