White gold and platinum look the same. Therefore many people ask what the difference is. Why is platinum more expensive? What exactly is white gold? Here’s an explanation of the difference between the two metals – as well as their advantages and disadvantages.
Not everybody knows it, but white gold doesn’t exist naturally. It’s made from yellow gold mixed with white metal alloys like palladium or silver.
Afterwards, it’s given a beautiful coating with a rare, silvery-white metal called rhodium. This final rhodium finish gives white gold its luminous sheen.
The reason why white gold is combined with alloys is because gold, as a metal, is extremely soft. If pure gold was used on its own in jewellery, it would bend out of shape very quickly.
For this reason, both yellow gold and white gold have to be mixed with harder alloy metals, to make them more rigid and durable in jewellery.
You may have heard the term “carat”, abbreviated with the letter ‘K’. This measurement is used to describe the purity of gold. It tells you how much gold is in your jewellery.
The measurement is on a scale of 24. On this scale, 24K is the maximum and it represents pure gold. However, as we’ve already covered, pure gold is too soft for use in jewellery.
All jewellery is therefore made with precious metal alloys, containing set carat weights of gold. The gold carat weights most commonly seen in jewellery are 9K, 14K and 18K:
In the UK, all gold jewellery items above 1 gram in weight must be hallmarked. Hallmarking means a small stamp imprinted onto your jewellery, stating the carats.
In Great Britain, all hallmarking is carried out by Government Assay Offices.
When a piece of jewellery arrives at an Assay office, they examine it in their laboratory. If the gold content meets their strict requirements, they stamp it with the corresponding hallmarking symbol.
Read our comprehensive Hallmarking article if you’d like to learn more.
Platinum is a naturally occurring white metal. It is rarer than gold, and much heavier and harder.
Because of its hardness, platinum can be used in a purer form than gold. Usually at about 95%. Platinum jewelelry is consequently more expensive than gold jewellery.
Many people believe platinum is “scratch-proof”. In a way this is true, but not exactly correct. What actually happens is that while platinum doesn’t actually scratch (in the sense of losing particles), its surface can develop little bumps and ridges.
This “ridging” is natural, as the metal gets pushed to one side and another while the jewellery’s owner wears it. This is especially true for engagement and wedding rings worn on your hand day in day out, as they come into constant contact with hard surfaces.
This surface ridging in platinum jewellery is called “the patina of age”. It is viewed as something desirable. The patina shows an item of platinum jewellery is much loved and used, and gives it an antique heirloom feel.
The main advantage of white gold over platinum is that it is much more affordable. However, the disadvantage is that you may need to recoat your white gold item in rhodium once or even twice a year.
This is because wear and tear rubs away the outer coating. Eventually, the yellow gold underneath becomes visible. Recoating white gold jewellery with rhodium is not expensive, and it can be done quickly at most jewellers.
But it does mean that you’ll need to maintain your jewellery regularly – over the years this cost can build up. In the case of engagement rings, you may also need to be without your ring for a few days, while it’s being recoated.
Platinum jewellery is initially more expensive than white gold. However, it can be argued that platinum is more cost-effective in the long run, because it does not need to be recoated.
For engagement rings, platinum is considered to best choice of metal, because it is so tough and hard wearing.