White gold is a popular choice for jewelry, but many people don’t know what this material is made of. Let’s see what white gold is and how it is different from yellow gold.
How White Gold Is Made
White gold is a mixture of pure yellow gold and other metals that make the resulting alloy harder and give it a white color. Usually, the additional metals that can be used in white gold are palladium, silver, nickel, copper, and zinc.
How white the alloy is depends on the metals used and the proportions in which they are added; this is why some white gold pieces tend to be whiter, while others have a stronger yellow tint.
White Gold and Rhodium Plating
Since white gold alloys usually look more or less yellowish, they are often covered with a thin layer of rhodium.
This plating gives white gold jewelry the color and chromatic look people commonly associate with this material.
The rhodium plating also adds additional strength and hardness to the piece it is applied to.
Durability of White Gold Jewelry
White gold can be quite durable, but you should keep in mind that its hardness also depends on the material’s purity (i.e., its karat).
Alloys that contain more gold as a percentage (i.e., higher-karat ones) tend to be softer than those that have a higher percentage of additional metals.
The rhodium plating commonly found on white gold jewelry protects the actual gold alloy from scratches.
However, this plating itself scratches and does wear off after some time depending on how often the jewelry is worn, and the only way to restore the rhodium layer is to have the piece replated by a jeweler.
White Gold Jewelry and Karats
Perhaps you already know that the purity of regular yellow gold is measured in karats. This is also the case with white gold – the karat number of any gold jewelry has the same meaning regardless of what the alloy is composed of.
For example, if a white gold ring is said to be 18 karats, this means that the item is made up of 75% gold (18 karats divided by 24, which is the maximum possible karat number) and 25% other metals.
White Gold and Nickel Allergies
Some white gold alloys contain nickel, which can cause a rash if it comes in contact with the skin of a person allergic to the metal.
Typically, the rhodium plating covering white gold jewelry will prevent your skin from being exposed to nickel, but when the rhodium wears off, touching the underlying alloy may give you a rash if you are allergic.
One way to avoid allergic reactions is to have your white gold jewelry timely replated with rhodium when it starts to wears off.
Another solution is to avoid nickel-containing white gold altogether. For example, alloys made only with gold, palladium and silver are not allergenic.
White Gold vs. Yellow Gold
Choosing between white and yellow gold is a matter of personal preference. Do keep in mind, however, that white gold jewelry needs to be replated after a certain period, which usually ranges from 1 to 3 years.
Nevertheless, gemstone settings made of white gold tend to be more durable compared with yellow gold ones of the same karat.
If you are going to have stones set in your gold jewelry, consider their color when deciding between white and yellow gold. For example, colorless diamonds are best set in white settings, which do not cast any additional color flashes on the white stone.
However, if your diamond is of a lower color grade, the stone may have yellowish hues, which will become even more prominent when set in white gold.
In such cases, it is best to choose yellow gold as it will make the yellow tints less visible by causing the white in the diamond to stand out.
Where to Buy White Gold Jewelry?
For white gold jewelry with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, or sapphires, we recommend James Allen (read our review) because it allows you to take a 360-degree look at any stone before buying it. (Also, read our Diamond Buying Guide.)
Don't forget to take a look at the great selection of white gold pieces at Amazon as well as Ross-Simons and Reeds Jewelers.