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Is Your White Gold Turning Yellow? What You Need to Know About Rhodium Plating.

By Stephanie Dore

Ok, so if I didn’t know anything about jewelry—other than the fact that it’s pretty—then I would 100% be upset when my once bright and shiny white gold ring slowly started to look kinda yellow. Like, WTF? I might even be thinking that I got scammed. And, really, if you’re in this situation, you did. But not because your ring is changing color (that’s actually normal). You got scammed because your jeweler didn’t explain rhodium plating to you—what it is, how it wears away over time, how often you need to replate it…and that’s where we come in. If you’re confused about your white gold ring turning yellow or trying to decide between platinum and white gold, you’ve come to the right place, darling.

For a bright white bezel, you’ll probably want to steer towards platinum for a low-maintenance bright white.

What is White Gold Made of?

Today, white gold is one of the most popular choices for fine jewelry, but that wasn’t always the case. Prior to WWII, platinum was the white metal of choice, for its cool silvery hue and inherent strength. But during the war, platinum was rationed for industrial uses, so some smarty-pants jewelers decided to alloy yellow gold with silver and (typically) nickel, to create white gold. Not truly white, natural white gold has a soft champagne hue to it. Hence the rhodium plating, which is pretty much industry standard at this point—though not required.

How is White Gold Different from Platinum?

Platinum is naturally silver-white in color, and doesn’t need any plating to make it so. It is more malleable than white gold, which means that it’s great for fine jewelry details, and it doesn’t wear away over time. Instead, platinum will move around or reshape when scratched, creating what’s called “patina”. This look is actually quite popular, but can be polished away if you like. White gold, on the other hand, will wear away over time and lose metal when scratched. But it’s also quite hard and durable, which is a plus for jewelry.

If you prefer a more vintage wear in your metal, the warmth of natural white gold may be the right route.
The great thing about gold is that there’s a tint for every taste.
photo courtesy of rockher.com

So, What is Rhodium Plating, Anyway?

Rhodium is a fine metal, just like gold or platinum, and is a member of the platinum family of metals. It has a bright, silvery-white appearance and is naturally corrosion resistant. Its purity also makes it hypoallergenic (which is great for those folks who might have silver or nickel allergies). Very hard, brittle, and rare, however, rhodium isn’t used to create solid pieces of jewelry. But as a thin plating over white gold? It’s genius.

How Thin is Thin?

The thickness of rhodium plating can vary from about .5 to 2.5 microns. What’s a micron? Who knows. Let’s just say it’s definitely thinner than a strand of hair. Which is to say that the rhodium plating on most fine jewelry is microscopically thin. Thus, it will wear away over time. This makes rhodium-plated white gold a little higher maintenance than platinum, if you want to keep it looking super white. Don’t mind the warmer tone? Leave it alone and let the plating wear away or request no plating and you can have that look from the start!

Clean, modern baguettes set beautifully in bright platinum. If you’re pairing your baguettes with a brilliant-cut center, you may not mind the warm fade of white gold.
To elongate your time between rhodium replating, wear your bands separately and take them off when you wash your hands!

How Often Do You Need to Replate Rhodium?

Well, it depends on the thickness and quality of the plating, how hard you wear your jewelry, and what kind of chemicals your jewelry has been exposed to. You’ll notice that rhodium will wear off more quickly on the inside of the band or if you’re stacking your rings, where it rubs against other surfaces. Exposure to chemicals (especially harsh ones like chlorine…please take your jewelry off before swimming, we beg of you) can also cause the rhodium and gold to react and wear away. For a piece with normal wear, we suggest every 6-12 months for a little checkup.

Love warmth? Don’t fight it and go for yellow gold.

Different Color Gold, Same Problem?

So, what happens if you choose yellow gold? Or rose? Is rhodium plating still a factor? Well, no, but you will have other wear considerations with yellow or rose gold. Since these metal colors get their distinct hue from alloys mixed into the metal itself, there’s no need for exterior plating to achieve the ideal color. However, since rose and yellow don’t have that plating that can easily be refinished their surface scratches can appear much deeper than white gold. So while rhodium replating may seem like a hassle, it is not any more high maintenance than the regular refurbishments you’ll need to have done to rose or yellow gold.  

Beyond Rhodium Plating

That checkup should not only include rhodium plating (if needed) but in general, no matter what metal your ring is made of, you should have the stones checked for security at least once a year. And while you’re at it, have your jeweler polish and plate your white gold to restore its bright original shine.

All rings require maintenance, so just gauge your level of comfort with maintaining the piece before diving into a super ornate style!

Ready to Wear

No matter what metal you choose, you can find a style that’s just right for you in our collection of rings designed for hands that do things. Or take our style quiz to customize something truly your own (and get a free sketch)!. Need a little more advice? Send us a note at hello@frankdarling.com and our jewelry experts will get you sorted straight away.