White Gold in Jewelry

By: Ian Maher

White gold is a wildly popular metal for use in all sorts of jewelry, and makes a stylish choice for wedding rings, engagement rings and eternity rings. Yet, if you have ever seen a solid gold bar, you probably noticed that pure gold has a vibrant, deep yellowish-orange tint. So where does white gold come from? Actually, there is no such thing as white gold! Gold in its purest form is exactly the color the name suggests-gold.

By the early 1900s, jewelers had developed the advanced techniques required to make jewelry from platinum. Platinum, being highly durable and a stunning silver-white color, became a superior option to the silver that had been widely used to accentuate diamonds. The rarity of platinum, however, contributed to its high value, making this beautiful silver metal unaffordable to most. White gold began to fill the public's insatiable demand for a shiny silver yet sturdy metal for jewelry.

The purest form of gold, 24 karat gold, is not often used alone in jewelry manufacturing because of its inherent softness as a metal. Instead, gold is commonly mixed with other metals to form an alloy, which is a combination of metals. However, simply mixing gold with another metal does not make it appear white. When metals are alloyed, a change takes place in the atomic structure which causes a change in the way the metal reflects light from different wavelengths. When gold is alloyed with one of the metals used to produce white gold, the metal takes on a silver-white hue, the characteristic color of white gold.

White gold can be produced by alloying gold with one or several other metals that have a 'whitening' effect, commonly nickel, zinc, copper, or palladium. Nickel has been heavily used to produce white gold in the past, though the jewelry industry is transitioning away from its use partly because of the allergic reactions some people have to nickel. Palladium, a sister metal of platinum, makes an excellent constituent of white gold, though its rarity and high melting point make palladium expensive to purchase and tricky in manufacturing. White gold alloys are not limited to gold and another metal. It would not be uncommon, for instance, for white gold to be composed of a combination of gold, silver, copper and palladium.

White gold jewelry is often plated with rhodium, a white, reflective and very durable metal that is also related to platinum. This rhodium plating serves to strengthen and brighten the color of the white gold. Eventually, a rhodium plating will wear off, so there is a need to have rhodium plated white gold jewelry re-plated periodically. The amount of time before re-plating is needed depends on the amount of rhodium present and how harshly the ring is treated.

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