A durable, eye-catching metal with starlit shine, white gold is a relative newcomer on the jewelry scene. Originally developed in the nineteenth century, white gold got its first taste of stardom in the Roaring Twenties. It was in this decade that it arose as an alternative to platinum—a metal that was in high demand thanks to World War I.
Today, white gold remains a sought-after option for rings, necklaces and other jewelry pieces adorned with diamond alternative stones. But because it is often outshined by its flashier siblings (yellow gold, the perennial favorite, and rose gold, a trendy newer metal), many people don’t know how to care for white gold pieces.
Unlike other precious metals, white gold doesn’t tarnish. That said, its color can fade thanks to the habitual weathering that rubs away its rhodium coating. In this blog, we’ll look at why this happens and some easy steps you can take to keep your white gold pieces shining.
First, What Is White Gold?
Unlike yellow gold—which is so elemental that it can be found on the Periodic Table—white gold is a manmade product. Created through an alloying process, white gold is a combination of pure gold and white metals like nickel, zinc, silver or palladium that is typically plated with rhodium for a durable, silvery finish.
When talking about the purity of gold products, jewelers use the term caratage. This refers to the percentage of pure gold versus other components included during the alloying process. A 24-carat gold ring, for example, is pure gold.
Do the math, and you’ll quickly work out that an 18-carat ring is 75% pure gold. They range from 18 carats all the way down to 9 carats (37.5% pure gold). It may not surprise you to learn that higher caratage equals higher value.
Buyers of white gold often choose this metal for its quality and appearance. They’re looking to invest in a durable, attractive piece that can stand up to typical wear and tear while requiring minimal maintenance. For many, this means the question, does white gold tarnish? is an important one when choosing a piece.
As we’ve already covered, the answer to that question is no—but it’s still important to take superb care of this metal. Let’s examine what can damage white gold and what steps can wearers take to prevent damage from happening.
Affordable and Untarnishable: The White Gold Story
Unlike other metals that can easily dull and blacken just by being exposed to air—white gold doesn’t develop the signs of oxidation and loss of luster associated with tarnishing. This is excellent news for those who are looking to purchase a precious metal piece but don’t want to spend time buffing and polishing.
However, white gold isn’t completely immune to the effects of wear. As we mentioned earlier, white gold jewelry pieces are plated with rhodium to provide extra shine and strength. Rhodium is an ideal coating for white gold plated jewelry pieces because it is:
- Highly reflective
- Resistant to corrosion
- Hard to dent
If you’re worried about the relative value of this material used for plating, don’t be—rhodium is considered the rarest and most valuable precious metal in the world.
Rhodium plating does wear down over time, however. When too much wear happens to white gold jewelry, it can reveal the mostly yellow gold alloy beneath. So while white gold doesn’t tarnish per se, it can appear to change in color from the brilliant colorless beauty you purchased to a warmer, more traditional hue.
That said, there’s no need for alarm. Once you’ve been armed with the knowledge of what causes this gradual transition, you’ll have no trouble protecting the glossy, gorgeous sheen of your favorite white gold jewelry.
What Can Pierce White Gold’s Rhodium Armor?
While rhodium is extremely strong, it is also rather brittle. This is why you’ll almost never see rhodium rings or rhodium necklaces—because it can easily crack or break.
When used sparingly, however, rhodium provides a protective coating with an enhancing reflective quality akin to platinum or pure silver.
Many factors can cause rhodium to rub away. Some of the most common are:
- Contact with other metals – Due to its fragility, rhodium can be damaged by frequent contact with other metals—including gold, which is relatively soft. Contact with rings on neighboring fingers is a common issue. But other sources, like contact with cutlery or metal handrails, can also wreak havoc.
- Abrasion from other sources – Skin, sturdy fabric or food can also wear down rhodium plating over time. While there’s no need to remove your wedding ring before shaking hands at a client luncheon, keep in mind that habitual hand-wringing may have long-term effects.
- Heavy chemicals – Perhaps unsurprisingly, household chemicals like bleach, detergents or even dish soap can damage rhodium plating. For this reason, we recommend removing any rhodium-plated jewelry before embarking on deep cleaning.
- Chlorine – Don’t take your rhodium-plated pieces to the pool, period. Chlorine can eat away at the protective coating, resulting in a shorter lifespan for the piece.
- Sweat – Sweat contains minerals that can damage rhodium plating. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to remove your jewelry any time you plan to sweat, but it may be a bright idea to set your favorite pieces aside whenever you exercise.
While the manifold sources of damage may feel like reason enough to shy away from rhodium-plated jewelry, keep in mind its advantageous qualities: that it’s hard to scratch, resistant to corrosion and offers a stunning appearance.
At the end of the day, precious metals are a personal decision. Choose jewelry made of materials that show off your unique style and fit with your lifestyle.
How To Prevent Your White Gold from Losing Its Luster
Because little is known about rhodium in comparison to more popular jewelry materials, many people aren’t aware that it’s possible to replace the rhodium plating on your favorite pieces every so often.
The typical life cycle of rhodium plating is between twelve and eighteen months. This time period can be affected not only by how often you wear your jewelry, but the type of piece it is.
For example, rings generally wear out more quickly because we use our hands so often and expose them to so many substances. On the other hand, rhodium plating on white gold earrings tends to last a lot longer.
With those ideas in mind, proper jewelry care is a must. So, here are some of our top ways to extend the lifespan of your white gold jewelry:
- Remove jewelry before showering or swimming – Even the water you bathe in can contain abrasive minerals and salts. While these may be perfectly safe for your skin, it’s best not to wear white gold while showering. (This rule of thumb also extends to the pool.)
- Remove jewelry before cleaning – If you’re embarking on a heavy-duty scrubbing session, wear rubber gloves to protect rings and remove your white gold necklaces, earrings, and white gold bracelets. Yes, this is a good idea, even if you’re only washing a few dishes. You can place a special small jewelry dish in your kitchen to remind yourself not to rinse plates while wearing your favorite pieces.
- Be strategic about jewelry layering – Depending on your personal style, you may wear only a select few pieces or wear rings on every finger. Where this can become dicey is when other rings rub against your white gold chains and jewelry pieces. This can speed up the wearing process, leading to that yellow color. We recommend isolating rhodium-plated white gold engagement rings on one hand in order to avoid this issue.
- Avoid polishes, silver solutions or ammonium dips – If you own silver, you may know that an arsenal of special solutions is necessary to keep your pieces buffed and burnished. However, because of the differences between sterling silver vs white gold, you should never try to use these same products on your white gold jewelry. While some of them may be safe, the likelihood of them damaging your rhodium plating is high.
- Play it safe – Signed up for a pottery painting class? Leave your white gold jewelry at home. Heading into the garden? Put those pieces away for safekeeping first. Trust us—when it comes to luxury jewelry, it’s always a good idea to exercise caution.
While heeding these steps is an excellent way to extend the brilliance of your white gold jewelry, you may still need to re-plate your pieces from time to time. Keep in mind that this is a normal part of owning white gold jewelry. However, it can help to know what to expect with the process.
Maintaining White Gold Jewelry: How Much Should I Spend?
Because re-plating rhodium is so common, you’ll find that many jewelers can quickly handle this for you. In fact, the process can take as little as 90 minutes, which means you can drop your white gold ring off during your lunch hour and have it back before happy hour.
The cost of re-plating a white gold piece can vary widely. The price may differ depending on the quality of the rhodium, the skill of the jeweler and the piece itself. But in general, you can expect to spend between $30 and $150 to re-plate your white gold jewelry.
Find the Perfect White Gold Piece At Diamond Nexus
If you have an eye for the dazzling shine of white gold, knowing how to care for and clean white gold jewelry can go a long way toward extending their brilliance. But if this is your first foray into white gold jewelry, you may also wonder where to find this gorgeous metal.
From a proposal-perfect white gold engagement ring to white gold hoop earrings, Diamond Nexus is ready to assist in finding the right piece for you.
With hundreds of affordable,quality options, we’re here for you. Shop our collection of engagement bands or learn about our made-to-order custom options. We’re certain we can help you choose a piece you’ll love.
Ready to discover something special? We’re here to help at Diamond Nexus.
World Gold Council. About Gold Jewellery. https://www.gold.org/about-gold/about-gold-jewellery
Royal Society of Chemistry. Gold. https://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/79/gold
Live Science. Facts About Rhodium. https://www.livescience.com/36988-rhodium.html
Jewelry Shopping Guide. 12 Things You Need to Know About Rhodium Plating (updated 2021). https://www.jewelryshoppingguide.com/everything-about-rhodium-plating/