Okay ladies, who doesn’t like the shine of a white gold diamond ring (Yes, I know, there are some of you that prefer platinum and even fewer that still like yellow gold.)? What if I were to tell you that what you see in your white gold ring wasn’t your reflection in white gold? Now don’t panic. Your ring is still made of white gold, but today’s woman wants their rings to shine and deliver attention to it and frankly, white gold can’t do it on its own. That’s why most white gold rings today are plated with a metal called rhodium.
Why can’t unplated white gold look like rhodium plated white gold? Simply put, white gold is an alloy of pure (24 Karat) yellow gold, so it is natural to assume that white gold would have a slight yellow tinge. Rhodium plating is a process that gives white gold its bright white look by placing a coating over the existing metal.
So what is rhodium and what gives it its high luster? Rhodium is a noble metal in the platinum family of metals. It is very rare, hard, chemically inert, silvery-white, and resistant to corrosion and oxidation. In jewelry, it is also alloyed with platinum to protect it from corrosion and most chemicals. Rhodium, however, is rarely used by itself in jewelry due to its rarity, high cost, and difficulty in manufacturing.
Are there any drawbacks to having white gold plated? It really depends on how hard you are on your jewelry. Any plating, over time, will wear off. On rings, this will first be noticed on the underside of the ring. The yellowish tinge of pure gold will start to show. Also, if you wear an engagement ring and a wedding band made from white gold and not have the two soldered together, the plating will wear where the rings move against each other.
This is easily fixed, but it is a long-term situation. White gold can be rhodium plated again and again. First the old plating must be removed, then polished to remove any scratches, then plated again with fresh uncontaminated rhodium. Voila! Your white gold ring looks like the day you first got it!
One question that we often get is that people like their plated white gold rings so much, they want to have their yellow gold jewelry look white also. Well they can! Any metal that conducts electricity can be rhodium plated. However, there is a caveat in plating yellow gold. Because yellow gold is yellow, not yellowish, the yellow will show from wear faster than from wear than white gold will. This is not as critical with jewelry such as pendants and earrings, but can make a difference when plating rings. Once again, yellow gold can be plated again, but you need to keep this in mind if you decide to make your yellow gold look white.
How much does it cost to rhodium plate jewelry? The price will vary from jeweler to jeweler and what type of jewelry is being plated. Images Jewelers charges $35 for rhodium plating plus the cost of polishing, plus the cost of checking and tightening any stones in the jewelry (which we guarantee against loss for one year).
The white gold of today is not the white gold of your grandmother’s jewelry. It’s brighter, shows off your diamonds better, and it’s all because of rhodium.
Indiana University Alumni : GIA Graduate Gemologist Student