November 28, 2019

White gold is a popular material for jewelry. Its luxurious name, and the price tag attached, often means people choose jewelry made out ofwhite gold, rather than silver. But the bling factor isn’t the only pull to this material. It’s also often chosen by jewelers to make delicate, intricate pieces, as when mixed with some metals it can be very malleable, the perfect property for making intimate designs. It’s also a popular choice for wedding rings, or chains, any items of jewelry really that need to withstand a lot of wear, and show no signs of aging. 

In some forms, white gold can be super strong, the perfect choice for an item that takes heavy wear like a ring. But why do many jewelers, and an increasing number of consumers, flock to white gold? And why does it have some of these beneficial qualities over other precious metals? To help demystify what white gold is and how it acts, we’ve put together this piece, to help you answer the question ‘what is white gold jewelry’? 

The history behind white gold

Although the origin of white color gold dates back to 1710, where it was discovered by two alchemists in Germany, it wasn’t used widely until much later. White gold as we know it today was really popularised in the 1920s. Although it might seem strange, this luxury material came to popularity in wartime. And it actually came about because of the popularity, utility, and scarcity of platinum. 

Platinum has been used since as far back as ancient Egypt to make jewelry such as rings,bracelets, and pendants. But because of the high price of the material, it was reserved just for the upper echelons of society. However, in World War II, many counties started to realize how useful platinum is as a material for war, due to its durability and started stockpiling it. They saved it for military use, such as in making batteries, weapons, and cells. At this time, jewelers in America were banned from using platinum, so it could be reserved for military purposes. 

This left the jewelers of America with a void to fill. How could they create a metal which resembled the platinum that everyone so craved in their fine jewelry? This led them to come up with, and use more widely, the alternative metal which is now called white gold. Even though platinum has regained its popularity after wartime, it now has to compete with the much brighter, shinier and cheaper white gold. What started out as a substitute metal is now one of the most popular metals used by jewelers worldwide. 

How is white gold made? 

White gold is measured in karats, and is in fact gold! 24 karat gold is one hundred percent gold. However, 24 karat gold is rarely used in jewelry, except for gold plated pieces in the plating solution. This is because pure gold is actually extremely malleable, it’s a soft metal, so it’s very susceptible to wear and tear. As a material to plate other metals, and get the appearance of gold, it works extremely well: giving the color and appearance of gold without the malleability of pure gold. However, unless the gold used in your jewelry is pure gold or 24 karats, it’s got to be mixed with some other metals. 

This is what is referred to as an alloy. An alloy is simply a combination of a metal with at least one other metal or non-mental; usually, with gold it’s mixed with a combination of other metals. 24 karat gold has a bright yellow color, which we all instantly recognize, and many of us lust after. This is why it’s used in the plating process, to give items the appearance of pure gold. However, as we have all seen, gold pieces with less than 24 karats are usually less yellow in color, or their color is effected in some way by the other metal used in the alloy. When making a yellow gold alloy, we aim to keep the color as close to 24 karats as possible. 

But if we’re aiming for a differently colored gold, the alloy metals are chosen very precisely. For example, with rose gold, it’s produced using a gold-copper alloy. The proportions of the alloy metal change the color profile of the gold completely. For example, 18K red gold is made from 75% gold and 25% copper; 18K rose gold is made from 75% gold, 22.25% copper and 2.75% silver; and 18K pink gold is made from 75% gold, 20% copper and 5% silver. 

But when it comes to white gold, evidently we want to mix the gold with another metal which will bring the color of the material closer to silver. So, white gold is an alloy of gold with at least one white metal. The white metal used in the white gold alloy is usually silver, nickel or palladium. Each of these alloys gives the gold different characteristics, which make them really useful for jewelers worldwide. 

If the white gold alloy is made from gold and palladium, then this alloy is often used for intricate ring or stone settings in necklaces. This is because the combination of gold and palladium is a malleable mix, making it easier for jewelers to complete such intricate tasks. On the other hand, when the white gold alloy is made with nickel, this alloy is often used for wedding rings. The reason for this is that the alloy of gold and nickel produces a particularly hard substance, which is very resistant to years of wear. 

A man wearing a white gold chain.

Let’s get to the science 

The term white gold isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s used as an umbrella term in the industry to refer to any karat gold alloy with a whiteish hue. Beforewhite gold is coated, it often has a variety of colors. These can range from grey to pale pink, pale yellow to tinted brown. Sometimes too, white gold can appear to lackluster and shine because of the metal alloy. Most of the time white gold is coated with a thin layer of rhodium to give it a depth of color and shine. This also usually returns the color profile to something which looks more recognizably like why people think of as white gold. Because rhodium plating is seen on so many pieces of white gold jewelry, most people associate the alloy with this color. Although, as we have pointed out, this name is an umbrella term for many colors and appearances of a gold alloy. 

In the modern-day, the most popular alloys used in the industry are gold-palladium-silver and gold-nickel-copper-zinc. When it comes to adjusting the color of the piece, it’s a delicate science. Where in one alloy, palladium and nickel act as primary bleaching agents for gold; in the second alloy zinc acts as a secondary bleaching agent to lessen the color of copper. However, with the latter alloy, many countries don’t produce jewelry made from this alloy. This is because the nickel in this alloy can sometimes cause an allergic reaction when worn for extended periods of time, in about one out of eight people. 

As we have mentioned, it’s usually the rhodium coating which gives white gold it’s recognizable color and sheen. However, another approach that is popular, especially when money is no object, is a platinum alloy. Platinum is naturally white in color, so it does a better job compared to a rhodium coating in terms of making the gold a subtle shade of white. Typically platinum jewelry is alloyed with iridium, ruthenium, or cobalt to increase its hardness. However, it's more expensive than gold, so it’s often used in imaginative ways to reduce the price. For example, it may be electroplated onto a white gold ring to improve its appearance without dramatically increasing the price.

How can I protect my white gold jewelry? 

As we have mentioned, to get their trademark hue, most newwhite gold jewelry is coated with a protective coating of rhodium, which is a silver-white metal that behaves like platinum. Even though rhodium is a very hard metal, and behaves well as a coating, it will eventually wear away over time, and reveal the actual color of the white gold beneath. As we saw before, depending on the type of alloy and proportions of another metal used, white gold can have a range of color profiles from light grey to light rose. So, it may be that you’re a little shocked when the coating wears off your white gold jewelry, and you can view the alloy for the first time!

It’s quite hard to resize white gold jewelry because in doing so, you could damage the coating of the piece. Especially if your piece is coated with the expensive metal platinum, this process is really not worth the risk. However, if you’re looking for longevity in your piece, and you’d like to pass it down the generations, or even just wear it every day without seeing any signs of wear, then there are some options available for you. The best option is to get to know and trust a local jeweler and take your piece to them. A jeweler can relate your white gold piece by removing the stones (if there are any), buffing the metal, re-plating the piece and resetting the stones. However, this process does need to be done every couple of years. 

Although it usually costs less than $150 to re-plate, if you’re looking for an investment piece, it might be worth investing in gold jewelry that doesn’t need to be re-plated, like a pure platinum ring. However, there are a few key differences between white gold and platinum pieces. First off, platinum costs between 2.5 and 5 times as much as white gold. The main reason for this is is that the labor cost of platinum is higher. This is because platinum has a higher noble metal percentage; it’s harder to work with than white gold as it’s higher melting temperatures make it more challenging to cast. Therefore, if you’re looking for the appearance of platinum, but don’t want the higher price point (and you don’t mind wearing the piece less often or getting it re-plated) then white gold might be a better option for you. 

A man wearing a white gold chain.

Choosing white gold

Choosing between white gold and yellow gold, orrose gold, red gold, or platinum, is really a matter of personal preference. Obviously, we all have an idea of what hue of jewelry suits us or our skin tone better. Except for the re-plating costs and effort associated with white gold, as we have just laid out, there are some other reasons which may factor into your decision of whether to invest in a white gold piece. Firstly, seeing as they look very similar to the untrained eye, why not just buy a silver piece of jewelry? The answer to this is that white gold will last you a lot longer, and is much more valuable. High karat white gold alloys are far less susceptible to corrosion than sterling silver or pure silver. White gold jewelry can be seen as an investment. 

One of the main factors for choosing white gold is whether you’re planning on having any gemstone settings in your piece, like if you’re looking for an engagement ring. If durability is your number one concern, then white gold has you covered. Gemstone settings made from white gold are usually more durable than yellow gold settings of the same karat. However, it’s not just durability you need to consider. You also need to think of the colors of the stones you plan to set. It might be that they go better withyellow gold, in your eyes. But if you’re setting a gemstone, like a colorless diamond, you should set them in white gold. No extra color flashes will contribute to the appreciation of the stone, and it will be allowed to shine on its own right. 

Another factor that should come into your consideration is whether you’re allergic to nickel. When it comes to jewelry, nickel is the top metal that people are allergic to. Most white gold contains nickel, so for some, it’s possible that they will break out when wearing white gold, their skin becoming red, itchy or puffy. If you’re really allergic to nickel, it’s a much safer bet for you to go with hypoallergenic or pure metals like platinum, titanium, stainless steel or tungsten. 

Or, there are some ways of wearing white gold while still protecting your skin, if you are allergic. Firstly, you can opt for a higher karat, such as 18 K, which will contain a lot less nickel, which should do the trick. But most white gold is rhodium plated. Rhodium is a strong white metal that is electroplated over white gold. It doesn’t just make the piece look more white, it also protects your skin from any exposure to nickel. If the plating starts to wear, once every one to three years, you can head to your jewelers and get it re-plated. 

One of the biggest selling factors for white gold is its popularity. In the current market, it’s the most popular metal used in engagementrings. So if millions of people are choosing to memorialize their love with this metal, surely you can’t go wrong? And because platinum has never gone out of style, you can rest assured that it’s younger, shinier sister white gold never will too! White gold is affordable, it’s in abundance around the world, and it’s long-lasting and luxurious. 

White gold, since it’s rise to popularity from the 1920s onwards, has soared in use by jewelers worldwide. And is it really surprising, looking at all the factors we have considered? White gold has a similar color to platinum, which screams of luxury, but appears to be shinier and have a more white, perfect hue. It’s also a lot cheaper and is used easily by jewelers to set and reset, gemstones in even really intricate designs. But for many of us in the modern-day, especially those looking for white gold to be used in their engagement rings, the main selling factor is that they allow our diamonds to sing: all on their own right. 


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