Rhodium Plating and White Gold: Overview, Common Misconceptions, and Frequently asked Questions

Rhodium is one of the most rare and valuable of all of the precious metals. It is so rare, in fact, that it is not feasible to mine for it alone. Therefore, it is collected as a very small byproduct of platinum mining. As the rules of supply and demand dictate, it is extremely valuable for its rarity and extensive use in the jewelry industry and in the manufacturing of high-power search lights and headlights.

Rhodium is a member of the platinum family, is resistant to tarnish, and is one of the most reflective metals that exists. These qualities are what make it the perfect material for giving jewelry a finish that creates a very bright and shiny appearance. It is almost always used in the finishing process of white gold jewelry manufacturing and repair, and it can also be used on silver and platinum jewelry. Rhodium plating is recommended for general maintenance of white gold jewelry, especially rings that are exposed to more wear, to keep the metal looking bright and silvery-white.

Common Misconceptions: Gold is gold, is gold, is gold. There is no such thing as a white or silver-toned atom of gold. Gold that is used in jewelry manufacturing is classified by how many parts out of 24 are gold. 24 karat gold is the only form of pure gold, which is very sunny yellow. All other gold is a composition of gold and other alloys that add durability, alter color, and also help to bring the cost down. Common alloys that are used in jewelry manufacturing are silver, palladium, nickel, and copper. For gold that is marked 14 karat, 14 parts out of 24 (about 58%) are gold, and the remaining (approximately) 42% is composed of other alloys. The alloys can tone down the yellow color of the gold, but it will still have a faint gold tone until it is rhodium plated.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • How often should I have my white gold jewelry rhodium plated? Rings and bracelets that are worn often are typically recommended to be rhodium plated every 6 months to a year. Pendants, pins, and earrings are generally not exposed to as much wear and tear and may never need to be re-plated.
  • Why does my grandmother’s white gold jewelry not need rhodium plating? Before the 1940’s, when rhodium plating was widely used in the jewelry industry, palladium was the alloy of choice for white gold. Palladium and Nickel both have a bleaching effect when mixed with gold, which yields the almost-white tone. Using palladium as an alloy in white gold produces a much more pure almost-white color, and is more resistant to tarnishing. Nickel is a more affordable alloy, and when it became the industry standard to rhodium-plate white gold, jewelry manufacturers began using nickel as the primary alloy in white gold. Gold with nickel alloy is more vulnerable to tarnish and can produce a slightly more gold-toned metal.
  • Can you turn yellow gold jewelry into white gold jewelry by rhodium plating it? Yes, and no. It certainly can be done, if done correctly. However, as the rhodium wears off, it will be much more noticeable. This should be thought of as a temporary fix that will need regular re-plating for maintenance.
  • I am allergic to the nickel in my gold jewelry. Will rhodium plating make me not have an allergic reaction to my jewelry? If done correctly, rhodium plating can be a viable solution to allergic reactions from nickel. Rhodium is a brittle metal, which is why it is only used for plating, and not in regular jewelry manufacturing. Because of this, if it is rushed, done incorrectly, or done in too thin of a coat, it can have microscopic cracks in the plating which can allow nickel to leach through and cause a reaction.