There are numerous misconceptions regarding white gold, its uses, alloys and commercial standards. If you been having some allergic skin reactions to white gold jewelry, or you've noticed the color changing we can help you find the right answers.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we believe will help provide a basic introduction to white gold jewelry and their related consumer issues.
What is white gold?
White gold is actually an alloy of yellow gold. "White" metals such as nickel, palladium and silver are combined with yellow gold to create a white color. White gold is actually "gray-white" almost steel-like in color. In the U.S. nickel based white gold alloys are predominantly used by the jewelry industry. In Europe, both nickel and palladium based white gold alloys are used.
When was white gold first used?
At the turn of the century a relatively unknown metal called platinum was being combined with diamonds by jewelers such as Cartier and Tiffany. The style became extremely fashionable and was quickly in high demand throughout Europe and the U.S. Later after WW I, 18kt. white gold alloys were developed in the 1920's as a less expensive alternative to platinum. To meet the growing demand several different formulas based on gold-nickel-palladium, in different combinations became commercially available. During WW II, the use of platinum and nickel for non-war related applications was prohibited. As a result, palladium based white gold alloys became the only choice for consumers in the U.S. In addition to higher costs, white gold jewelry based on palladium alloys are denser and heavier than nickel based alloys. They are also not as white in color. After the war, lower cost nickel based white gold quickly reclaimed the lead as the dominant choice of the jewelry industry worldwide.
In the U.S. what are the legal guidelines governing the classifications for white gold jewelry items?
All standards for white gold are subject to the same guidelines for yellow gold with regard to legal markings, alloy content, and commercial designations. These guidelines are administered by the Federal Trade Commission. For more details visit their web site at www.ftc.gov. Factors such "perceived whiteness" or color of white gold are not regulated.
I noticed that some of my existing white gold jewelry is whiter in color than others, is that my imagination or are they different?
No, it is not your imagination. One possibility is that the item is a different alloy of nickel or even palladium. Another possibility is that most white gold being produced today in the U.S. are plated with a thin layer of Rhodium metal (refer to article "Characteristics of electroplated rhodium finishes"). Rhodium plating is used to enhance the finish of white gold jewelry by creating a "bright white" coating over the white gold. More than likely a rhodium plating is the real reason your rings appear different in color to each other. Unfortunately, many jewelers do not inform their customer of this at the time of purchase. And in all fairness to the jeweler, the customer may not remember or even hear that crucial part of the sales transaction. Nevertheless, once the plating wears away, most customers find out the real color of true nickel-white gold and usually are surprised or upset.
Several months after purchasing our engagement setting we found out that it was plated in a metal called Rhodium. Is all white gold jewelry being sold today in the U.S. been plated with this type of finish?
No, not all white gold jewelry is plated with rhodium. The higher quality palladium alloys of white gold are sometimes not plated. This type of white gold is used in quality fashion jewelry being imported from Europe. It is not as white in color as rhodium plated white gold, however, it does not have to be constantly replated. It is also less subject to tarnishing and discoloration from exposure to household chemicals.
I have a white gold ring and noticed that the original bright finish is wearing away. It is less than two years old, what is happening?
Your ring was probably plated with a highly reflective metal called rhodium. Rhodium plating over white gold is a very popular technique for "enhancing" the white color of the ring setting, especially engagement settings. Unfortunately, many plated coatings used commercially are too thin for good long term wear. Generally, replating with rhodium is required every couple of years if proper plating thicknesses are not used.
What makes some people "skin sensitive" to white gold?
It is estimated that upwards to 20% of women in the U.S. and Europe have an allergry to nickel! The sensitivity you refer to could be part of an allergic reaction by the body to constant exposure to the nickel alloys found in most white gold sold in the U.S. There are also numerous other sources from which an individual may develop a nickel allergy (ear or body piercing). Over time the body will become sensitive from reactions to nickel oxides. These oxides form as a result from exposure to common chemicals, salts and perspiration. Anecdotally, many woman report an increase sensitivity to white gold after the birth of their children. While it may be just an increase in exposure to cleaning chemicals commonly encountered in the home or workplace, reports of allergic reactions to white gold are on the rise. The problem is so widespread that the European Economic Community (E.C.E.) has taken regulatory steps to ban nickel in all jewelry produced and sold throughout Europe! At The Time Preserve, we do not use nickel to replate watches.
What makes your plating process for white gold more durable than what my local jeweler can provide?
The processes, plating baths, and equipment we utilize at our plating facilities are significantly different than what your jeweler will use for replating your ring. Depending on the metal selected, we utilize plating techniques that will deposit a heavier layer of either palladium, platinum, or rhodium over the white gold. The plated layer is almost pore-free, thus preventing any nickel or copper in the ring from coming in contact with skin tissue. All recessed areas of the setting will have a uniform plated layer of protective metal. We also use a proprietary pre-plate layer to improve adhesion and wearability. Finally, our plated finishes are hard and scratch resistant and provide years of excellent wear.
How does the brightness of replated rhodium or platinum compare to the original brightness of my white gold watch?
The brightness of a replated watch will be the same or better than when the watch was new. We remove all scratches and old rhodium from your watch before we replate it. It will essentially appear like new again when we have completed our process. Platinum plated watches are not as bright or as "white" in appearance as rhodium plated watches. They do provide excellent protection from exposure to the nickel in the white gold base metal.
Why do some replated white gold items like rings still seem to tarnish and cause skin irritations?
Believe it or not this is a common occurrence! The tarnish is caused from too thin a plating. Many replated rings are plated with only .05 - .20 microns of rhodium (ref. a human hair is 100-125 microns thick). This thickness is much too thin for adequate protection due to the "porosity" that exists in the metal layer. This porosity allows salts from the skin tissue to travel within the plated layer. Contact with the white gold will form oxides that travel "up" to the surface through the pores. Over time this will cause discoloring of the skin as well as a "rash like" dermatitis. An adequate plated layer of pore-free rhodium or platinum will prevent this from happening on your watch.
Will a thicker plating such as rhodium or platinum conceal scratches and surface blemishes on my jewelry?
No, as a rule the electroplating process does not hide surface imperfections. In fact, due to the diffusive reflection of incidental light rays, pre-existing cosmetic imperfections are even more noticeable on a brightly plated surface! We remove all scratches and repolish before we replate your watch.
How scratch resistant is white gold after it has been replated?
Among the "white" decorative platings, rhodium is by far the most scratch resistant. That helps explain it's popularity as a protective finish for white gold jewelry. As a rule plated finishes in rhodium, platinum and palladium can be modified during the process to form very hard and durable finishes. In most cases, the plated finish is much harder and more scratch resistant than white gold alloys.
How long has The Time Preserve been replating white gold jewelry, and watches
We have been replating jewelry, and watch items since 1973. We have a acquired a great deal of practical experience regarding the best methods for achieving durable and attractive plated finishes. We have developed specific processes and plating bath formulas for white gold jewelry using rhodium, platinum and palladium.
This article copyright 2003 by The Time Preserve. All rights reserved. This material may not be duplicated or copied without expressed written permission. Thank-you