White Gold Jewelry
White gold is the alloy of pure gold, and nickel, silver or palladium – the white metals. The alloy with these metals is in fact grayish and is plated with rhodium to give it a whiter look.
White Gold Jewelry – The Jewelry for the 21st Century!
Gold is one of the most common types of metal used in jewelry. It has a place of pride among all the other metals and is the most coveted. Since 3000 BC, from the times of the Sumerian Civilization, it has inspired craftsmen to create unmatched jewelry. Pure gold is 24K (Karat) gold and is too soft and malleable to be used for jewelry. An ounce of pure gold can be beaten to make a 300 square feet sheet! A proportion of other metals is mixed with 24K gold for jewelry. 14k gold refers to 14 parts out of 24 of pure gold and the rest some other metal. Similarly, 18k gold is 18 parts out of 24 of pure gold plus some other metal.
Gold jewelry is an alloy of gold and other metals, such as silver, copper, nickel and zinc. Pure gold is yellow in color and the metal used in the alloy determines the color of the gold. White gold is the alloy of pure gold, and nickel, silver or palladium – the white metals. The alloy with these metals is in fact grayish and is plated with rhodium to give it a whiter look. Due to its allergic reactions, many do not prefer the alloy of gold and nickel. The color of white gold is determined by:
- The type of metals used in it – silver, palladium, or nickel
- The percentage of each metal in the alloy
History of White Gold Jewelry
In the beginning of the 20th century, jewelers were using platinum with diamonds to turn out jewelry. Platinum was then relatively unknown and very expensive. In the 1920s, white gold alloys were developed as a substitute to platinum. To meet the demand for white jewelry, many combinations of gold-palladium-nickel were used for jewelry. By the World War II, palladium based white gold was the only choice, as nickel and platinum were prohibited for non-war use. Palladium based white gold was expensive and after the war, the less expensive nickel based white gold once again became a popular choice.
Once started as a substitute for platinum based jewelry, white gold jewelry, today, has earned its own niche. It is a fashionable and desirable choice for all, especially the younger age group. White gold jewelry is available up to 21K and is often used to enhance diamonds and other precious gemstones. Bridal jewelry, in the form of white gold jewelry is fast becoming popular.
The Making of White Gold Jewelry
The addition of any metal, other than copper, to a gold alloy tends to whiten it. Nickel and palladium are strong ‘bleachers’ of gold and are widely used for making white gold jewelry. This has given rise to two basic types of white gold jewelry: the Nickel whites and the Palladium whites. The nickel whites have a colder white color, whereas the palladium whites tend to have a warmer white. The normal Karat age of white gold jewelry is 14K, 18K and 21K. 21K white gold jewelry is available in palladium based white gold. You cannot get 22K white gold jewelry.
There is no legal way to define ‘white’ for white gold jewelry and many white golds for commercial use are not ‘good’ whites. To improve the whiteness in the white gold jewelry, the normal practice is to provide a plating of Rhodium to the white gold, to enhance its whiteness. Rhodium belongs to the platinum family of metals and has a good metallic white color with high reflectivity. It is hard and has good wear properties, and so is durable. To improve the whiteness of the nickel or palladium white gold, a thin coating of rhodium is electroplated onto the alloy.
Rhodium electroplating on white gold jewelry is legally allowed. This coating has a life of around three years, before it wears out to reveal the original white gold underneath. The white gold jewelry is electroplated again to bring it back to its pristine condition. Many users consider the color of rhodium as the normal color of white gold jewelry, as they are used to seeing this.
Buying White Gold Jewelry
You need to take care while buying white gold jewelry. Many women, around 12% to 15%, are allergic to nickel in their white gold jewelry. It causes skin rash and irritation. Rhodium plating may help avoid allergic reactions to some extent, but the plating does wear away after time. While buying white gold jewelry, ask your jeweler if the white gold contains nickel. Nickel free white gold jewelry is becoming more and more popular and people are turning towards palladium based white gold jewelry.
In many European countries, nickel based white gold jewelry is being replaced by palladium based jewelry. The United States is taking a different approach and requires jewelers to label nickel based white gold jewelry as ‘nickel containing’. White gold jewelry is now advertised and sold as ‘non-allergenic’ or ‘nickel-free’. This makes sense as some palladium based white gold jewelry may contain a percentage of nickel in it. A typical palladium based 18K white gold jewelry may contain nickel from 0.9% to 7%. The higher content of nickel in the white gold increases the hardness of the metal.
In many countries, jewelers are not legally required to tell if the jewelry is rhodium plated or not. You will not know how white is the gold alloy underneath. Though good quality white gold jewelry may not require rhodium plating, many jewelers do so to meet consumers’ expectations of the whiteness!
Alternative White Gold Jewelry
Palladium based white gold jewelry being expensive, there is a demand for less expensive alternatives that are nickel free. White gold alloys with magnesium addition as a main whitener is fast catching up. These magnesium based white gold jewelry are palladium free or have very low palladium content. Some white gold jewelry has chromium and iron as whiteners, though they tend to be hard. Even so, these alloys need to be rhodium plated to enhance whiteness.