White gold soared to popularity during World War II, when jewelers began using it instead of platinum, which was used for military purposes. Ounce to ounce, white gold and platinum cost about the same, but due to platinum’s density, jewelers could make a white gold ring of the same size for half the cost. The beauty and affordability of white gold has ensured its place as a staple in fine jewelry. Although white gold has long since been a standard, many people are caught by surprise upon seeing that their white gold has started to look dull or even a little yellow in color. Seeing your white gold turn yellow can be a disappointment if you’re not familiar with the way that white gold behaves. However, this is completely normal and has an easy fix once you understand how white gold is made and learn the steps for maintaining its color.
Both elegant and durable, white gold is one of the most popular precious metals for engagement rings, earrings, necklaces, and luxury watches. White gold is high-quality, affordable and resistant to tarnishing, making it an attractive alternative to visually similar metals like platinum and silver. Jewelers create white gold by mixing pure gold with metal alloys like palladium, silver or nickel and then plating it with rhodium, a bright white precious metal in the same category as platinum. This process results in jewelry with a gorgeous, silvery-white sheen and warm, shimmering undertones.
If you’re not familiar with white gold maintenance, you may be shocked to see a creamy yellow color slowly replacing the bright white color you fell in love with.
You might even begin to question the quality of the metal, but even the highest quality white gold turns yellow over time. While some jewelry may change colors because of cheap metals or improper plating, the color-changing properties of white gold have nothing to do with its quality or price.
Although white gold is known as an affordable option for your engagement ring or other luxury jewelry, it is still quite valuable; in fact, white gold is more expensive and valuable than traditional yellow gold. Because pure gold is a soft, malleable metal that can be easily scratched or dented, jewelers mix it with a stronger metal to create something that is both elegant and wearable. The metals used to create white gold — silver, palladium, and nickel — are much more valuable than copper — the metal used to create yellow gold — making white gold the more expensive option.
Contrary to the name, white gold does not achieve its color naturally. In order to keep its white color through the years, white gold needs regular upkeep from a professional jeweler. When you see a yellow sheen on your white gold jewelry, it is not the result of oxidation or another chemical reaction, meaning the metal does not actually change color. The outer layer of rhodium slowly wears away over time, eventually revealing the creamy-yellow color of un-plated white gold.
It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years for white gold to begin showing a yellow color, depending on how quickly the thin rhodium plating wears away. A wide range of factors contribute to the wear and tear of rhodium, such as how frequently the ring gets wet, the pH balance of the oils in your skin, or even the amount of pollution in the air. Generally, the more you wear your ring, the faster the rhodium will wear away and cause the silver-white color to transition to a yellow shine.
Although white gold naturally turns yellow over time, there are several steps you can take to maintain the color of your white gold jewelry at home.
One of the biggest contributors to wear and tear on jewelry is interaction with natural oils, fragrances, soaps, salt water, and chlorine. Reduce the amount of wear by taking your ring off to do laundry, shower, swim, or wash the dishes. Avoid wearing lotion to eliminate unnecessary oils on your skin that could rub against the rhodium plating of your white gold.
Finally, only have white gold polished when necessary, as any sort of rubbing removes a small amount of rhodium from the surface of your jewelry. Taking care of your white gold jewelry will extend the lifetime of its rhodium plating.
If you’re a fan of white gold jewelry, you’ll be relieved to learn that there is a quick and easy way to restore a yellowing piece of white gold to its former glory. Simply replacing the rhodium layer will give your ring the same brilliant light silver color it had when you first slipped it on your finger while keeping the integrity of the white gold intact. A process called electroplating fuses your worn white gold with fresh rhodium plating.
Because plating jewelry requires special equipment and advanced expertise in goldsmithing, you can’t replace the rhodium on your own. Luckily, an experienced jeweler has all the tools and knowledge to properly refresh the color of your white gold. Depending on the amount of wear on your white gold jewelry, you should have it re-plated every few months to every few years.
When you send your white gold ring or earrings in for re-plating, you can rest assured that every part of your item will be safe in the care of an experienced jeweler. Electroplating only affects materials that conduct electricity, such as white gold. Because diamonds and other gemstones are resistant to electric currents, the electroplating process will not harm or change your stone in any way. When done properly by a certified jeweler or goldsmith, electroplating will renew your ring without interfering with the look of your diamond.
You can preserve the look of your white gold and the memories associated with it by reaching out to a trusted local jeweler for maintenance. As a family operated business, the certified staff at Hustedt Jewelers can help you find the perfect white gold engagement ring and provide expert maintenance to keep its stunning color. Contact us for help — or to tell us about your experiences with white gold jewelry.
Image courtesy of Flickr by Mark Somma.