Do you ever walk into a jewelry store – or checkout jewelry pieces online and you cannot honestly tell the difference between the metals that make up two pieces of jewelry?
You are not alone. I mean, they are both silvery. What gives? How do you pick the right metal without getting duped? The worst thing that can happen if you are proposing with silver instead of gold.
How then can you differentiate these two? How do you tell the difference between white gold and silver?
The differences between white gold and silver
While identifying a white gold jewelry piece from a piece of silver jewelry looks difficult, this article aims to simplify your search by indicating the detailed differences and even similarities between the two. At the end of this piece, the information shared will not only be adequate to help you know the difference, but it will also save you money and even inform your buying decision better.
White gold is a beautiful metal used in jewelry. It’s highly regarded thanks to its construction out of pure gold which is naturally yellow; mixed with a white metal like palladium or even nickel. Therefore, white gold is an alloy.
The reason for the blending is that pure gold is quite soft and too malleable to be used on its own to make jewelry. By mixing it with palladium or nickel, you get a gold alloy which is harder and easily molded into fine jewelry. The blending with the white metals to form an alloy is also the reason for the whitish/ light yellow shine seen in white gold.
But nickel and palladium are not the only potential reasons for the whiteness of white gold. The actual reason for the whiteness of white gold is rhodium plating.
White gold is known for its plating, which not only enhances the appearance of the gold but also protects the inner layer of gold. Rhodium plating creates an elegant finish to white gold, hence the extravagance attached to it.
It’s also important to note that in addition to rhodium plating, some white gold gets its white gold characteristics from other metals like manganese, silver, zinc, and copper.
Silver jewelry (mostly called sterling silver), on the other hand, is not a pure metal, but rather a mixture of the precious metal silver (silver bears the white and shiny characteristics of silver jewelry) and other metals. The most common metal combined with pure silver is copper. The necessity for the creation of a silver alloy, just like the gold alloy comes from the softness of silver in its pure state. Copper is essential for the hardening and the sturdiness of silver and the subsequent creation of silver jewelry. Mixing is also important because it prevents the bending or warping of the silver jewelry.
Generally, you wouldn’t know what a piece of jewelry is made from by just looking at it, which is why we also need to look at the differences in color between white gold and silver. The two might look so much alike, but there are subtle differences between the two.
Thanks to the rhodium plating on white gold, white gold jewelry has more of a mirror-finish or shine. It also looks clearer, it’s sturdy, and its finish is quite durable. As a result of its durability, white gold often bears more intricate design details. Its sturdiness also means that the jewelry lasts long. Please read this post if you want to know how long the rhodium plating jewelry can last?
Back to color and overall appearance, if you are holding two pieces of ‘silver’ rings and unable to determine if you are holding silver or white gold, know that white gold is the shinier piece. If one of your friends has a piece of white gold jewelry and the other has silver jewelry, the shinier piece of jewelry is made of white gold. Compared to silver, white gold maintains its white shine for longer (although you might need to re-plate the piece after about 2 years or a year in case of heavy use.
On the other hand, we have the silver jewelry which is unsurprisingly also shiny, but with a glossy finish. Note that white gold has more of a mirror finish – don’t confuse these two. While the glossy/ shiny finish is very noticeable in the first few days, silver jewelry starts to lose its shine after a short time because it tarnishes. Therefore, you will have to clean your silver jewelry often for that lustrous and enticing finish.
And while both silver and white gold are soft, silver is the softer metal of the two which is why it will have fewer markings.
Both silver and white gold bear markings or stamps for authenticity. You cannot confuse the markings.
White gold’s hallmark is represented by the metallic content of that jewelry. In this case, the symbol you should be looking for is a K which represents white gold and is short for karat. The karat also indicates the purity level of the metal piece by showing how much pure gold is in the jewelry. For instance, 18k white gold means that the jewelry has 75% pure gold.
Silver also has hallmarks, and if you are dealing with sterling silver, you will see a 925 stamp. 925 represents the purity of the metal too, and it indicates that the sterling silver piece has 92.5%- or 925-parts pure silver and 7.5% or 75 parts copper (or any other metal).
You can also tell the difference between white gold and silver by looking at their adornments. White gold will have more adornments and gemstones than silver because it’s more durable and can be set with more precious stones, and also because it costs more than silver. It’s more likely to find rubies and diamonds on white gold.
Silver jewelry, on the other hand, had fewer adornments and even when you find one full of embellishments, they are often the inexpensive gems or stones like amber, turquoise, cubic zirconium, and hematite, among others.
White gold is generally more expensive than silver.
If scratched, a piece of white gold jewelry will reveal a real yellowish gold underneath. Scratched silver looks silvery.
Nitric acid test – high karat white gold reacts only to very concentrated nitric acid while low-karat white gold is reactive even to the mildest concentrations of nitric acid.
First off, silver is non-magnetic despite being conductive. If you pass a strong magnet over a piece of suspected silver jewelry, it will not be attracted.
Ice cube test – silver has a very high thermal conductivity which means that if placed on a piece of an ice cube, the ice will melt immediately.
White gold has a rhodium plating which gives it the characteristic mirror-like finish, it doesn’t tarnish, it’s more durable and often has very intricate designs, and it’s more expensive. Also, white gold is associated with expensive adornments like diamonds and rubies.
Silver has no plating, and it has a glossy shine which tarnishes with time, it’s softer and has fewer markings, it’s softer, not as durable, and it’s also more affordable. The most common adornments for silver are inexpensive ones like turquoise and cubic zirconium.