White gold is an elegant, classic precious metal option for jewelry. With its silvery white hue and high shine, white gold pairs beautifully with every gemstone and looks particularly gorgeous with diamonds. But did you know that white gold’s bright white color isn’t from the white gold itself? The majority of white gold jewelry sold today is covered with a thin layer of rhodium plating, which gives white gold jewelry its distinctively beautiful color and shine. 

As a fine jeweler who carries quite a wide selection of white gold jewelry, we get a lot of questions about white gold and rhodium plating. Many people wonder why white gold is plated, what rhodium plating is, what kind of upkeep rhodium-plated white gold requires, and so on. Below, we’ll answer all these frequently asked questions as we go over everything you need to know about white gold and rhodium. 

rhodium plated white gold

What is White Gold?

White gold is a fusion of pure gold and white metals such as palladium, nickel, or silver, which gives it a warm, grayish-white tint. The inclusion of different white metals impacts the shade of white, with palladium and nickel yielding a silver-white hue, while silver produces a bright, cool-toned white color.

These white metals not only alter the appearance of gold but also contribute to its durability and hypoallergenic properties, making white gold a popular choice for various types of jewelry, including engagement rings and wedding bands.

Palladium-Based White Gold

Palladium-based white gold is a blend of pure gold and palladium, a white precious metal that is rarer than both gold and platinum. This type of white gold is hypoallergenic, making it an optimal option for those with sensitive skin.

The scarcity of palladium contributes to its elevated price in the commodities market, making palladium-based white gold more expensive than its nickel-based counterpart. However, its luxurious and durable nature ensures that it remains a popular choice for those seeking a high-quality and long-lasting white gold option.

Nickel-Based White Gold

Nickel-based white gold is a mixture of pure gold, nickel, copper and zinc. It is an alloy that offers a white gold alternative that is more durable. Although it is more affordable than palladium-based white gold, nickel-based white gold is not hypoallergenic.

Nickel-based white gold is typically coated with rhodium to reduce the likelihood of allergic reactions, as it creates a protective layer between the skin and the alloy. This plating not only safeguards sensitive skin but also enhances the appearance and longevity of the white gold piece.

Karat Comparison: 10K, 14K, and 18K White Gold

When looking at white gold jewelry, understanding the variances in gold content, appearance, and value between different karats of white gold is significant. Here are the key differences:

  1. 10K white gold contains the least amount of gold (41.7%).
  2. 14K white gold offers a balance of gold and white metals (58.3%)
  3. 18K white gold contains the highest gold content (75%), providing more luster and resistance to tarnish.

The gold content in 10K, 14K, and 18K white gold has a direct correlation to their value, with 18K white gold typically being the most expensive due to its higher gold content. Choosing the appropriate karat for your white gold jewelry ultimately depends on your preference for appearance, durability, and budget.

rhodium plating before and after

What is Rhodium? 

Rhodium is a beautifully reflective, bright white metal that’s often used to enhance white gold. In addition to being very pretty, rhodium has some practical advantages. Rhodium is quite hard, making it scratch-resistant. You don’t need to worry about tarnishing with rhodium, as it doesn’t tarnish. Additionally, rhodium is hypoallergenic, making it a good silver jewelry option for those with sterling silver or nickel allergies.  

Rhodium is a very rare precious metal, which makes it expensive. Rhodium is actually the most expensive of all precious metals, costing more than pure gold and even platinum. The high cost of rhodium is part of the reason why you won’t find much pure rhodium jewelry. Plating a white gold piece in rhodium isn’t particularly expensive since it requires only a small amount of rhodium, but making an entire piece of jewelry out of rhodium very much is. 

Why Use Rhodium on White Gold?  

People often wonder: if white gold is white, why does it need rhodium plating? Well, the truth is that white gold isn’t pure white. Like most other types of gold used in fine jewelry, white gold is an alloy of gold and other metals. Typically, white gold is made of pure gold that has been mixed with nickel, silver, or palladium. Pure gold when mixed with these alloys becomes whiter, but maintains a warm tone. This mixture appears off-white and can be much more dull than what you’d expect from jewelry. So to get a bright white color, many jewelers coat white gold with rhodium. 

Does Rhodium Plating Require Upkeep? 

Rhodium plating does require some upkeep since it will start to slowly wear off with regular wear. When rhodium plating starts to wear off of white gold jewelry, people often think that their white gold jewelry is turning yellow. But, in fact, what’s happening is the off-white, yellowish color of your white gold is starting to show since your bright white rhodium plating is wearing thin. 

While rhodium-plated jewelry does require some upkeep, it’s very simple upkeep. To restore your white gold jewelry to a bright white color, you can simply have it re-coated in rhodium by your jeweler. 

How Long Does Rhodium Plating Last? 

How long rhodium plating lasts depends on how often the rhodium-plated piece is worn and which metal it was used on. Rhodium plating fades with wear, so it will wear off more quickly on frequently worn pieces, such as engagement rings and wedding rings. Then, rhodium plating tends to last longer on white gold pieces in general. Rhodium and white gold are close in color, so white gold doesn’t show easily through a bit of wear and tear on rhodium plating. However, yellow gold or rose gold pieces that are plated in rhodium will show wear more quickly, since these metals show through thinning rhodium easily. 

In general, most people with rhodium-plated white gold engagement rings or wedding bands have them re-plated about every 1-2 years. If you own a piece that’s plated in rhodium, you’ll probably be able to tell when it needs to be refinished. If your piece is starting to look dull and a bit yellow, you may want to have it refinished to restore its luster and bright white color. 

rhodium plated white gold ring

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, white gold is a luxurious, versatile, and durable alternative to traditional yellow gold and other precious metals. When coupled with rhodium plating it has a unique appearance, hypoallergenic properties, and suitability for various types of jewelry. White gold is an excellent choice for those seeking timeless elegance and lasting beauty. 

Whether you are considering an engagement ring, wedding band, or a statement piece, white gold offers a captivating and enduring option that will stand the test of time, and getting it plated in rhodium ensures that it will keep its vibrancy and durability for as long as you own it.

If your white gold jewelry is starting to look dull or yellow, it’s time for a rhodium refinish. Contact us today about having your piece refinished!

Rhodium Frequently Asked Questions

How long does the rhodium plating process take? 

Having a rhodium-plated piece refinished doesn’t take long. At Frank Jewelers, when you can drop a piece off for rhodium re-plating, you can pick it up again on the same day. 

How much does rhodium plating cost? 

At Frank Jewelers, our normal price for rhodium refinishing is $65 per piece.

Is white gold more expensive than yellow gold?

White gold can be slightly more expensive than yellow gold, due to the coating and mixing processes it undergoes during manufacturing. This minor difference in price is offset by the same percentage of pure gold present in each type. In the end, the choice between white and yellow gold usually comes down to personal preference.

Which is better: platinum or white gold?

White gold is affordable, easy to source, and customizable as you can choose the amount of carats it contains and whether you want a nickel-based ring or a palladium-based ring. When white gold is coupled with rhodium plating, it becomes more scratch-resistant and brighter in color. Platinum is more expensive, but it is a tougher metal and has hypoallergenic properties.  

Does white gold form naturally?

White gold is not a naturally occurring metal and is instead an alloy of gold and other white metals such as silver, nickel, manganese, platinum, or palladium. In order to achieve its desired silvery hue, it is then coated in rhodium plating which must be regularly replaced.

What is the main difference between palladium-based and nickel-based white gold?

Palladium-based white gold is hypoallergenic and more expensive, while nickel-based white gold is more affordable but may cause skin irritations in some people. Rhodium plating gives white gold a hypoallergenic coating, which is another reason we recommend it.

How often should I have my white gold jewelry re-plated with rhodium?

Rhodium plating should be refinished every 1-2 years to ensure your white gold jewelry stays looking its best.