White jewelry is enchanting, elegant, and exquisite. It makes all gemstones stand out, and the best of the brilliant diamonds will sparkle well when they are set on white gold jewelry. But which is the best white metal for jewelry?
A look at platinum, for example, reveals an amazing white finish that makes you want to wear platinum forever. And then you have white gold, which looks better than platinum if that’s even possible.
Now, in your search for the best white metal jewelry, you may get confused quite easily. But that shouldn’t be the case, not at a time like today when you can access information on different types of white jewelry right at your fingertips.
With that in mind, we’ll take a look at one of these metals, white gold – what it’s made of, how it comes into being, and whether it’s a good choice or not. So, let’s get started. (This post might be very long, Please be patient)
What is white gold? Is white gold natural?
White gold is a variety of gold made from a mixture of pure gold with white metal alloys. Some of the metal alloys mixed with the gold to form white gold include silver, nickel, and palladium. And in addition to these metals, the resultant gold alloy is rhodium plated. White gold is a lustrous type of gold with a nice white surface. It’s stunning, and it makes some of the best classic forms of jewelry.
So, if you are wondering if white gold is natural or man-made, the answer is that white gold is made by man in factories. White gold is, however, real, with the only catch being the fact that it isn’t made entirely of gold.
Like the other types of gold, white gold is made through alloying of gold with other metals, first for the creation of a whitish gold and also for hardening and strengthening of the gold. In its natural form, pure gold is too soft, malleable, and yellow. So, to create white gold, the pure gold is chemically and manipulated through the addition of white metal alloys. Notably, the metals alloyed to the gold are quite durable, and they are the reason for the durability and the reliability of the white gold.
It’s also a durable option, and the jewelry can be worn daily. The only catch is that the white gold jewelry must be re-plated in rhodium every few years.
White Gold manufacturing process
The purest form of gold is golden in color, and it’s known as 24 karat gold. This pure elemental metal is quite soft, and it cannot be used in crafting jewelry. To understand just how soft the pure gold is, you’d be surprised to know that the pure gold bar could be dented if you pressed down on it, and it would bend if you tried bending it with a little force. So, to create rings, necklaces, earrings, and other forms of gold jewelry, the gold must be mixed with other forms of metal or materials, creating a gold alloy.
Note that the 24k gold translates to all the parts of the gold being made of gold, and in 18 karat gold, only 18 out of the 24 parts are made of gold, and 6 parts are made of some other metals or materials – this translates to 75% pure gold and 25% metal alloys. 14k gold would mean that the jewelry in question contains 58% pure gold and 42% metal alloys.
To have white gold or any other gold alloy, the metal alloys added to the gold matter a great deal. For example, if the desired gold alloy is to take the color of gold, the metals incorporated would include the likes of zinc or copper, and for white gold, the preferable metal alloys would include silver, nickel, palladium, or manganese. Nickel is the most common metal alloy in white gold as a result of its cheapness. Note that in the case of white gold, the white metals used, for example, nickel, work as the bleaching agents. But because of allergic reactions, nickel seems to be quickly falling out of favor with many white gold manufacturers. An alternative that’s preferred today is palladium – palladium is free of nickel, and it’s 100% hypoallergenic.
After the alloying/ mixing pure gold with nickel or other metal alloys, the resultant color of the jewelry is often more silver than white, this initial production process doesn’t form the desired vibrant silver whitish hue that you look for in white gold. What this means is that the initial processing leaves you with a partially processed (intermediate product), which has to be processed further for the desired white gold lustrous finish.
Recently, there have been numerous methods that have been developed to ensure that white gold finish, but the most popular option involves coating or plating the white gold with a rather thin layer of rhodium. Rhodium is a white metal that belongs in the platinum metal family. Rhodium is chosen because of its bright white color, as well as its impressive level of durability.
The rhodium plating is, however, temporarily, and with time, it will wear off, exposing the inner layer with the yellow tint from the white gold alloy. The yellow tinge may be slightly or extremely noticeable once the rhodium plating starts to wear off, depending on the exact makeup of the white gold.
Unfortunately, some unscrupulous jewelry makers would use the regular yellow gold base and plate it with rhodium, leaving you with fake white gold that wears out too fast and not in the most beautiful way. It is unfortunate that you won’t know what the base metal is when you are buying the rhodium-plated white gold because it often takes a considerable amount of time for the rhodium-plated layer to start wearing off.
To restore that brilliant silvery-white shine of white gold, you’d have to take the jewelry to the jeweler for replating; this is an inexpensive process, though.
In jewelry-making, the highest karat white gold is 18k, while the lowest purity of gold is 9k. For 18k white gold, you have 75% pure gold, while 14k white gold will have 58.5% gold. To make white gold (nickel-free), the gold would be alloyed with 25% and 41.5% metal alloys (palladium or nickel), respectively.
It’s important to note that the nickel-free white gold is more expensive than white gold with nickel, which means that you should factor all this in when shopping.
Rhodium plating the white gold
The best white gold on the market is rhodium plated. But do you know how the process is done or why it’s the most recommended way of creating the white gold?
For starters, rhodium plating can be defined as the process through which a white metal called rhodium is applied on yellowish-white gold as a very thin layer to give the jewelry a lustrous white finish. By rhodium plating the jewelry, you not only protect the jewelry from tarnishing but also increase the resilience of that jewelry, which is why the rhodium plated jewelry is more resistant to scratching. At the same time, you need this process for the elegant and reflective white finish of white gold.
Rhodium plating is also known as rhodium flashing or rhodium dipping, and it follows these steps:
Cleaning the jewelry thoroughly. Some jewelers use electrocleaning to get rid of dirt, as well as all visible scratches. Such pieces are then taken to the ultrasonic unit for power steaming before it is rinsed in an electrocleaning base. Electrocleaning is meant to ensure that there is nothing to stop the rhodium coat from bonding to the gold alloy base. So, the electrical plating is only done once the pieces to be plated are thoroughly cleaned.
Some Basic Facts of White gold
Now that you know how white gold is made let’s take a look at the basic characteristics of white gold and what makes this type of gold durable and a good jewelry investment option.
- The durability of White Gold
White gold is quite durable, but it is not indestructible. The hardness of the white gold depends on the karatage or the purity of the gold used to make the white gold. The metal alloy and the concentration of the metal alloy used will also affect the durability of the white gold.
If the gold alloy contains a higher percentage of gold, you will have white gold that is softer and less durable because it is susceptible to scratching. But with more of the metal alloy, the resultant white gold jewelry is more durable it will last longer. It, therefore, means that the 14k white gold is more durable than the 18k white gold.
But before you make up your mind, you also need to bear in mind that the durability of the white gold is also affected by the rhodium plating. While this plating is resistant to scratching, it adds to the shelf life of the white gold because it protects the white gold base. But the plating will wear off after some months or years, inevitably – depending on how often the piece is worn and how well it’s cared for.
- White Gold and Nickel Allergies
As mentioned above, white gold may or may not contain nickel as one of the main metal alloys added to the gold.
If the metal alloy used is nickel or if nickel is incorporated, you will suffer from an allergic reaction if you have sensitive skin and if you have struggled with nickel allergies in the past. The good news is that you won’t have to worry about nickel allergies too soon because of the rhodium plating applied to the white gold. But as soon as the rhodium plating starts to wear off, you’d be exposed to the nickel, and this would manifest as a rash if you are allergic to nickel. To reduce the risk of allergies, get the jewelry plated as soon as you notice signs of wear.
Alternatively, you may want to buy white gold that is completely free of nickel. Hypoallergenic and nickel-free white gold is made of silver, gold, and palladium, and even when the rhodium-plated layer starts to wear off, you won’t have to worry about allergies.
- White Gold vs. Yellow Gold
While most people will always choose white gold over yellow gold, the choices made are often guided by personal preferences.
To help you choose either white gold or yellow gold, we’ll go over some facts first. Some of these facts include the fact that white gold is lustrous and beautiful, but it calls for replating every 1-3 years. Yellow gold doesn’t have to be replated.
But then there is the matter of gemstone settings and the undeniable fact that the white gold settings are often more durable than the yellow gold settings; for the same karat gold. If you are getting stones set on your gold jewelry, you’d also need to consider the color of the gemstones and the base metal. For example, the colorless diamonds are well complemented by the white gold setting because they will not cast more color flashes to the white stone. But if you choose lower grade diamonds with yellowish hues, setting this kind of diamond against white gold might not be the best idea, and yellow gold a preferable option.
What is 14k white gold made of?
White gold is made of 58.5% pure gold, alloyed with 41.5% of the white metal alloys. The white metal alloys alloyed with the gold include copper, zinc, and nickel/ palladium/ silver.
When alloyed with palladium, you will have 14k palladium white gold, which contains gold, silver, copper, and palladium.
What is 18k white gold made of?
A classic, 18k white gold boasts a high level of purity in the gold jewelry realm. It contains 75% pure gold and 25% of metal alloys. As a result, the 18k white gold is highly valuable.
Note that the main difference between 14k and 18k white gold lies in the durability. 14K white gold is more durable than 18k white gold because 18k contains more pure gold, which means that it is significantly softer and more malleable than the 14k white gold.
14k white gold has only 58.5% gold, and the rest is the metal alloys that harden the white gold, making it more durable.
Why is white gold mixed with alloy metals?
The reason for alloying gold to make white gold is that the pure form of gold called 24 karat gold is too soft to be used in jewelry.
For a solid, more durable metal that can be used in jewelry, it was found that adding some metal alloys to the gold leaves you with a stronger, more durable form of gold. Without the metal alloys, the gold loses its rigidity, and it would bend out of shape easily, making it useless in jewelry making.
Why does white gold start to look yellow or pinkish?
After some time, your rhodium-plated white gold jewelry will take on a pinkish or a yellowish tinge. First off, this is a normal process.
Now, the reason why this happens is that the rhodium plating starts to wear off, exposing the whitish gold underneath.
Now, how fast the yellowish or pinkish layer appears depends on several factors, including your skin’s pH level, as well as the household cleaners and the toiletries that you use, and consequently, come in contact with your jewelry. Pollution also plays a role in the discoloration of the white gold and the loss of the plated rhodium layer.
Why is white gold coated in rhodium?
Besides the use of rhodium plating to enhance the whiteness of white gold, the plating with rhodium is also done as a way of preventing allergies, specifically, nickel allergies.
Generally, white gold is made from gold and nickel, among other metal alloys, because nickel is not only the whitest metal, but it’s also a rather cheap version of metals that can be alloyed with gold.
Unfortunately, 1 in 8 people are allergic to nickel, hence the need for a coating to keep the nickel from being in contact with your skin. Since rhodium is safe on the skin, it was determined that rhodium plating does the job well, preventing the controversial matter of nickel release, reducing nickel allergies in the process.
Note that without the rhodium plating, white gold wouldn’t be white gold, well, unless another metal was plated over the gold – the gold/silver/nickel alloy results in the formation of a yellowish gold alloy and is not actually white. So, plating ensures that you have the lustrous white gold.
Pros and cons of white gold
- It’s an affordable option compared to platinum.
- Suitable for fair and rosy skin-toned individuals
- Durable and resistant to scratching
- Suitable for setting with white diamonds
- The neutral color gives it a unique, timeless finish.
- It’s beautiful
- Nickel-free palladium white gold is safe and ideal for persons with nickel allergies.
- Must be replated every 1-3 years depending on use and care
- It contains nickel quite often, meaning it’s not suitable for persons with sensitive skin and/or nickel allergies
White gold is made of gold and metal alloys, and it’s also rhodium plated for that white, lustrous finish characteristic of white gold.