What is white gold? How is it made? And how does it differ from yellow gold? This article takes an in-depth look at white gold and its pros and cons, plus professional tips for buying white gold jewellery items.
What is white gold?
White gold is not a metal that exists in its own right. In other words, you cannot mine white gold, like you would mine yellow gold (or simply, gold). This is because white gold is actually an alloy of gold. An alloy is a mixture of two or more metals. What this means, is that white gold is actually made up of a blend of pure yellow gold, plus other precious metals like palladium, platinum and silver.
Why are alloy metals added to white gold?
Alloy metals are used in white gold jewellery for two reasons. Firstly, they are used to give white gold its typical silvery-white colour. As we explained before, white gold is actually made from a base of pure yellow gold. To change its colour from yellow to white, jewellery makers must add a small amount of silvery-white coloured precious metals to it. Typically, these alloy metals are “white-coloured” metals like platinum, palladium and silver.
Secondly, the alloy metals contribute to the durability of white gold. In fact, alloy metals are used in all gold jewellery, whether made of yellow, rose or white gold. This is because pure gold is a very soft metal. On its own, it can easily bend out of shape. As you can imagine, that wouldn’t be at all ideal for jewellery items like rings!
White gold must be coated in rhodium
Apart from the alloys, white gold jewellery is also coated in a precious metal called rhodium. This is because the white gold alloy, which is created from pure gold and other metals, still has a slightly yellow sheen; it is not completely silvery-white. Rhodium comes from the same metal family as platinum and it has a pure white, gleaming colour. It helps add a lustrous surface to white gold jewellery. Additionally, as it is a very hard metal, it also protects the softer alloy underneath from scratches and dents.
Why does white gold eventually start to look like yellow gold?
Over time, the rhodium coating on your white gold jewellery becomes worn, revealing the yellow gold colour underneath. This is normal. Eventually, this happens to all white gold jewellery. How quickly it happens, depends on many factors such as the pH level of your skin and what toiletries or household chemicals your jewellery comes into contact with.
Don’t worry, however, as it is an issue that’s easily resolved. Simply ask your jeweller to re-coat your jewellery with rhodium. The cost of recoating a jewellery item is small, and you can choose how often you want to do it.
Is white gold real gold?
Yes. Even though white gold contains alloy metals, its base material is pure gold. You’ll be able to verify this by looking at your jewellery’s hallmark. In the UK, by law, all jewellery over 1 gram in weight must be hallmarked. This certifies that your jewellery item contains the right amount of pure gold, as stated by the jewellery retailer that is selling it to you.
Understanding “karats”: how much pure gold is in your white gold jewellery?
“Karats” tell you how much pure gold is contained in your jewellery item, and how much of it is made up of alloy metals. Karat is abbreviated by the letter K. For example, you might have seen jewellery items advertised as containing 9K gold or 18K gold. In the first example, 9K gold jewellery items contain 37.5% pure gold, and the rest are alloys like platinum, silver and so on. On the other hand, 18K gold items contain 75% pure gold, while the remaining 25% are alloys.
Read more – Which is better, 9K or 18K gold?
The advantages of white gold
- White gold is a beautiful, precious metal. It has the same luxurious, gleaming appearance as platinum and silver. However, it is much more affordable than platinum and more hard-wearing and lasting than silver.
- It is the perfect choice for those who prefer white, silvery coloured jewellery, rather than the more classic colour of yellow gold.
- Its neutral colour makes it easy for all skin tones to wear. It looks beautiful and timeless, suited to all outfits and events.
The disadvantages of white gold
- As white gold is made from a mix of pure yellow gold with alloys and coated in rhodium, over time, the rhodium fades away. This means that from time to time, white gold will need recoating to maintain its silvery-white colour. Luckily, this is an inexpensive service that most good jewellers offer.
Conclusion – is white gold for me?
Choosing the gold colour for your jewellery is ultimately a question of personal taste. If you love the modern, clean look of silvery-coloured jewellery, then white gold is a great choice. Compared to the other white metals, it has more durability than silver and is less expensive than platinum. The only downside to white gold is that it has to be recoated with rhodium every so often to maintain its clean white sheen. Over the last half a century, white gold has become more popular than yellow gold. This attests to its contemporary, versatile look, exceptional value, and high quality.