What is White Gold? Everything You Need to Know About This Popular Jewelry Metal

What is white gold? It seems everywhere I look these days, in stores and in magazines, almost all the women’s jewelry is made of white gold. I realized I didn’t know much about the metal, so I did some research to learn all I could about white gold.

 

What exactly is white gold?

 

White gold is an alloy of gold. It is a mixture of pure yellow gold and white-colored alloy metals, such as palladium, nickel and silver. These white metals dilute the yellow color of the gold, while also giving it strength and durability. White gold also usually contains copper for malleability.

My research into white gold turned up many unexpected and interesting tidbits of information. Read on to answer all your questions about white gold jewelry.

 

How Does Gold Become White Gold?

 

If you’ve ever seen gold bars in a movie, you know they are always yellow. This is because pure gold is naturally an orangey-yellow color. It can be used in its pure form (24 karat) to make jewelry, but not only is this very expensive, it is also impractical. Pure gold is so soft it can be scratched with just your fingernail.

Gold becomes white gold by mixing white-colored alloy metals with the gold to bleach out the yellow color. Nickel, silver, zinc and even palladium may be used as alloys.

Nickel is a popular alloy because it effectively dilutes the yellow and is relatively inexpensive.

Palladium may be an even better bleaching metal than nickel, but it is more expensive than gold and adds tremendously to the cost of the jewelry. It is also very hard and makes working with it in jewelry more difficult. This combination is usually used in dental gold.

All the white gold mixtures produce a metal that is stronger and more durable than pure gold. However, no matter how much white metal is added, jewelry items made of white gold all retain a faint yellow tint that most consumers don’t like.

 

What Makes White Gold So Bright and Shimmering?

 

Rhodium!

Rhodium is another precious metal in the same family as platinum and palladium. It is bright white in color and is also harder than gold. Rhodium is electroplated over the very pale-yellow white gold to entirely cover the jewelry item with the bright white finish we’re accustomed to seeing in a white gold jewelry piece.
Not only does the rhodium plating enhance the white color, but, because of its hardness, also protects the gold from many nicks and scratches that daily wear can put on a ring.

 

A white gold ring before (left) being rhodium plated and after (right)

 

 

Does the Rhodium Plating Wear Off?

 

The plating process is called flash plating and is usually about 2 microns thick. As you might imagine, this is not terribly thick. On high-wear areas, like the bottom part of your ring that rubs against everything you clutch, the plating will wear faster. You may have noticed that the bottom of your ring looks a little yellower than the other parts of the ring.

Eventually you may notice it on the top surfaces as well, especially if they are wide and prone to surface abrasion. This kind of wear will be most noticeable on rings. We use our hands to do pretty much everything, so it is normal that a thin plating will wear off over time.

Some jewelers may put a heavier plating of up to 4 microns on a piece, by leaving it longer in the plating solution. However, the longer the immersion the darker the piece can become. You can also get some haze on parts of the piece.

Rhodium is also a very expensive metal, currently about 75% more expensive than either gold or platinum!

 

How Long Will the Rhodium Plating Last?

 

In most cases the plating will last from 6 to 18 months, depending on how rough you are with your rings. I have heard of some women having to re-plate their rings after only 3 months, but that seems to be an extreme case – or maybe a poor rhodium plating.

With rhodium plated items such as earrings or pendants, the plating will last much longer, as the items are only in touch with the skin or some clothing. That type of use will not wear out the plating the way a door handle will scuff the bottom of your ring.


Can My Jewelry Be Re-Rhodium Plated (Re-Dipped)?

 

Yes. The plating can be reapplied at any time to give the jewelry its original whiteness and shine.

The plating process is often referred to as ‘dipping’ or ‘rhodium-dipping’. No matter what you call it, in order to get the best plating your jewelry item should be refinished - that is, completely polished.

If your ring does not have any deep scratches, then polishing is not a concern. However, if your ring has some gouges and the jeweler refinishes the ring, a little bit of gold is removed during polishing in order to even out the surface of the ring.

If you have your ring re-polished often, eventually you will wear down the prongs and the channels holding the stones. This could cause the stones to fall out. The shank, which is the bottom of the ring, will also get thinner. You would then need to have work done to fix these issues and that can get expensive.

 

Can You Electroplate Regular Yellow Gold?

 

Yes. All the high polish surfaces, including some brushed, or matte finishes of the yellow gold can be plated to turn the piece white.

I would not recommend you dip a yellow gold ring if it is one you will wear on a daily basis. The rhodium will wear off and the yellow gold underneath will become visible.

But rejuvenating an old yellow gold ring that you don’t plan to wear often may not be a bad idea. You can get a whole new look without incurring the cost of a completely new ring.

You can also renew your yellow gold pendants or earrings by plating. You might even want to create a two-tone look by only applying the rhodium to parts of the piece. Your jeweler will be able to advise you on the best options to give your old yellow gold jewelry new life.

 

Rhodium plating part of or even the entire ring can be a great way to create a whole new look without getting a whole new ring

 

Is White Gold Real Gold?

 

Yes, as you can see on this example analysis from a spectrometer, 14k white gold is gold mixed with different metals than yellow gold and in different proportions but both contain roughly the same amount of pure gold.

Please note both of these examples are over 14K. (24X58.71= 14.09K and 24X58.94= 14.15k) It does not express that  white gold is always higher in carat it is only a representation of the different alloys used.

 

ElementYellow Gold - Sample 1White Gold - Sample 2
Gold (Au)58.71%58.94%
Copper (Cu)28.49%24.59%
Zinc (Zn)6.28%5.98%
Silver (Ag)6.52%-
Nickel (Ni)-5.98%
Sample 1Sample 2

 

The copper is needed to keep the gold malleable. The zinc is necessary when casting the jewelry item, to keep the gold flowing as it is poured in the casting flask.

 

Is White Gold Better than Yellow Gold?

 

In some situations, white gold is better than yellow gold, due to white gold’s greater hardness. For example, on the bottom of the ring, where we tend to cause the most wear and tear, white gold will retain its round shape a little better than the same ring in yellow gold.

For prongs and heads (the part that holds the diamond), white gold is preferable because it is stronger. Your precious diamond will be held more securely. Yellow gold is a softer alloy, and if you catch a prong on something, it may bend and the diamond could come loose. Plus, the white gold enhances the white color of the diamond.

 

Can I Get White Gold in 21 Karat?

 

Gold cannot be alloyed to a white tone in such a high karat. There isn’t enough color bleaching from the other metals to change its overall yellow appearance. Generally, 18 karat is the max.

 

What is the Difference Between White Gold and Silver?

 

White gold is a mixture of pure gold and other metals, combined to form a white-ish metal composed mainly of gold. Silver is a different metal altogether. It is much softer than white gold and a lot less expensive. Because of the softness, sterling silver is not generally used in engagement rings. It will also tarnish over time (think of your grandmother’s good silverware) and may turn your finger black.

 

Sterling silver at various stages of tarnish

 

 

What is the Difference Between White Gold and Platinum?

 

Again, like silver, white gold and platinum are completely different metals. Each has its benefits but one factor to consider is the price difference. White gold is usually alloyed in 10K, 14K, and 18K – that is, 41.7%, 58.3%, and 75% gold. Platinum is usually alloyed at 90% to 95% platinum, which adds greatly to the expense of platinum jewelry.

Platinum is also a much denser metal than white gold. If you compare the weight of two identical rings, one in white gold and one in platinum, you will find that the platinum ring is heavier. This means that not only is there a greater percentage of platinum used, it also weighs more than white gold. You can expect to pay considerably more for a platinum ring than one made of white gold.

 

Both rings are size 7 and measure 5mm in width, but the 14k gold ring (left) weighs significantly less than the platinum ring (right) due to the density of the metals

 

 

Is White Gold as Easy to Re-Size as Yellow Gold?

 

Yes. A white gold ring is no more complicated to re-size than a yellow gold ring. Aside from the additional step of rhodium plating the white gold, the sizing process is the same for both white and yellow gold.

 

Is White Gold More Expensive to Repair?

 

Repairing your white gold ring will generally not cost much more than a similar ring in yellow gold. However, if your ring is platinum, expect to pay a lot more for repairs. Platinum is more difficult to work with due to its high melting temperature. Using a torch to melt the platinum will damage the stones in the ring. Most often, repairs to platinum jewelry are done with a laser.

 

I Am Allergic to Nickel. Will Re-Dipping My Ring Help?

If you have a nickel allergy, you should not wear white gold jewelry containing any nickel. Rhodium plating will wear off, allowing your skin to come in contact with the nickel in the alloy. This may trigger an allergic reaction. Instead, choose a palladium-gold alloy or a platinum setting for your ring.

 

Final Thoughts

Your jewelry purchase is a personal one, dependent on your style, your color preferences and, of course, your budget. If you love the look of a white metal but don’t want to break the bank, I recommend white gold over platinum or palladium.

 

Carol

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