White Gold is Elemental

By: Mitch Endick

The introduction of white gold is said to have been around the turn of the twentieth century. Depending on who writes the story, white gold was originally marketed as a poor mans substitute for platinum. As way all know, gold in its natural state is yellow.

White gold is not found in nature and the process of creating it involves a good bit of elementary chemistry. To achieve the white coloration, gold is combined with other metals. While not pure gold, white gold is distinctive in its appearance and is very similar to that of platinum.

Platinum is a metal ore that is more rare than gold. Known for its distinctive white color, platinum is heavier than gold and has a number of uses in addition to jewelry. Platinum is used in many commercial and industrial applications.

This extremely rare metal can be found automobile components like spark plug electrodes and catalytic converters. The high melting point of pure platinum makes it useful in high temperature environments such as jet engines.

It is important to remember that even the finest gold jewelry is not pure gold. The purity of gold is measured in carats. When applied to gold, the term carat refers to the amount of gold present. Twenty four carat gold is one hundred percent gold. The purity of platinum and other precious metals is also measured in carats.

Do not confuse the term carat as it applies to gemstones like diamonds. Gemstone carats refer to the weight of the stone and are not a reflection of purity. As with any type of gold jewelry, the more carats, the purer the gold is. Eighteen carat gold contains approximately seventy percent gold and twenty five percent of another base metal. Common base metal alloys are silver, zinc, nickel and copper.

Twenty four carat gold is much too soft and malleable to use for jewelry. In order to strengthen the gold and make it more durable, twenty four carat gold is combined with other metals. Jewelry made from eighteen carat gold is considered to be of the highest quality. White gold jewelry can be found in carat purity as high as eighteen.

The process of combining metals is known as alloying. This is a very common metallurgical process that bonds one or metal elements to form a compound. In the manufacturing of white gold, pure gold is alloyed with other metal elements such as nickel, silver or palladium. The higher the gold content the more likely it is that the white gold will appear to have a yellowish hue.

In order to achieve a uniform white color, white gold is always plated with a thin coat of rhodium. Rhodium is a metal that helps to enhance white gold in several ways. Since rhodium is a hard metal element, the coat of rhodium plating makes white gold jewelry more durable. Rhodium also imparts a very bright shine and gives the gold a white coloration similar to platinum.

Depending on the age of your white gold jewelry, you may notice that it loses some of its luster over time. If the piece looks dull it is the result of rhodium plating being worn. There is a way to restore the piece to its original luster and whiteness. Many jewelers offer plating service where more rhodium plating is added. This is a common and relatively inexpensive process compared to buying a replacement jewelry piece.

Many people have a sensitivity to nickel. If this is a problem for you, it is important to find out what base metals have been added to the gold. Less expensive white gold, ten carats or less may have a much higher nickel content than say eighteen carat white gold that will have been alloyed with silver.

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