What is White gold, and what the hell is rhodium plating?

Posted by Jon - 17 June 2016

Gold is yellow right?

Yes gold is definitly yellow, in fact it's the only natural yellow metal.

So what is white gold, or red for that matter?

This is a conversation that I have in the shop so often, that I thought it was worth a blog post!

White and yellow gold Meadow rings.

White and red golds are man made alloys, in that they have other metals added to the natural yellow gold, to change the colour. But it might be helpful to start with the percentages of pure gold within a total alloy. For example 18ct has to be 75% pure gold. I say 'has to be' because it's a trading standard law. If I want to sell you 18ct gold, and write it on a receipt, then it has to be hallmarked as 18ct gold. It's a legal requirement, to protect you - the consumer.

So if we engage with our maths, we have 25% left, of the total weight of the alloy, to add other metals. With red gold they add copper, and with white they add naturally white metals, so silver and palladium. However with white gold, the 25% is only really enough to get them from buttery yellow, to a grey, gun metal shade, which is actually the best it has ever been, thanks to high palladium content, which replaced nickel, after it fell from grace, due to a high level of allergic reaction. There are cheaper, 'slightly tinged with yellow' alloys, but we're not interested in them here, other than to say that they are cheaper because they use less palladium, which is an expensive metal.

However, this is the bit where rhodium plating comes in. On a commercial level, and this refers to the majority of white gold jewellery being sold today, there is a recognition that people want their white gold to be, well, white. Shiny, bright and crisp, and white. Fair enough really, but how do they achieve this. They plate it with a very very thin (we're talking microns for anyone technical) layer of rhodium. Rhodium is from the platinum group of metals and is crisp and bright and you've guessed it, naturally white.

The problem arises when this plating gets worn off, which at the back of a ring can happen worryingly quickly.

So what do we do?

18ct Fairtrade white gold and Teal coloured sapphires from Malawi.

Well we are transparent for a start. We tell them what you have just read, so people can make their own mind up, a conversation that surprisingly, the High street doesn't want to have. And for all our own pieces, we don't rhodium plate, unless it is requested, or we are making something to match an existing plated piece. We treat white gold as another colour choice, within the colour palette open to us as designers. It works fantastically with some stone colours, giving a real vintage feel to a piece, and with platinum and gold prices as close as they have ever been, if we want crisp white, we use platinum. 

And you know what, it means that people have no surprises further along their ring wearing experience!

Thanks for reading,


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