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Facts About White Gold

Posted on: 20/08/2015

Ever wondered how gold can be white? Or maybe you have wanted to know why your beautiful white gold ring occasionally needs to be re-finished to ensure it maintains its fresh, white appearance? Then read on to find out more!

Everyone knows that gold is yellow. Even children know it - just think of Goldilocks with her famous golden yellow hair. When it comes to jewellery, however, gold can be rose, green, or even black! The most common alternative colour, however, is definitely white gold. Although rose gold has been increasingly growing in popularity over the last few years, it is still very much a distant third. For some styles of jewellery, for example solitaire diamond jewellery and engagement rings, white gold is now actually more popular than traditional yellow!

This massive increase in popularity has led to an increasing number of questions and misunderstandings about what white gold is, how it is made and also, critically, how it has changed since it was first used in jewellery. This last point is important because many people don’t realise that the way white gold is made has actually altered quite a lot, even in the last decade. There are excellent reasons for this, which I’ll explain in a moment, but first let’s just do a quick white gold refresher.

What is white gold and how is it made?

The thing about white gold, and this is going to sound very obvious, is that it is white but it is made from gold, which is yellow. Most people know this, but they don’t always think of what it might mean, especially for the colour of white gold. One really good analogy that I like to use to explain it is by comparing gold to paint. Imagine you have a tub of yellow paint. Now, you could add as much white paint to that tub as you like but that yellow paint is never going to turn completely white: it will always keep a little yellow colouring.
white & yellow paint splats

The same thing happens with gold. You start making white gold with a bit of normal, yellow gold (the amount varies depending on the purity of the gold, but we’ll talk about that in another blog). White metals, including silver and palladium, are then added to the gold to change the colour. Just like with paint, though, this colour is never quite going to be a perfect white. We do stipulate that all of our white gold jewellery is made using the highest grade of white gold alloy and this ensures that the off-white colour is kept to an absolute minimum but even then it’s still not pure white.

The final step for all white gold jewellery, therefore, is that it is rhodium plated. Rhodium is a hard-wearing bright white metal from the platinum group of metals and is used to give a beautiful finish to the design. The problem with this is that, like any plating, this finish will wear off over time. This is usually dependant on the wearer as, for example, it will wear away more quickly if it is exposed to chemicals such as perfume, soap or hand cream. It is therefore usually necessary to re-plate white gold rings if you want to retain a crisp, white finish, a service which we offer free within the first year from purchase and can easily arrange for subsequent occasions.

This need to renew the rhodium plating on white gold rings is one of the reasons behind the increasingly popularity of platinum for engagement and wedding rings. The comparisons and variations between platinum and white gold are actually quite complicated – easily deserving their own blog! – but I do want to just point out a few things that mean platinum is not always the right answer. First of all, not all rings can be made in platinum because of the different properties of the two metals. Secondly, platinum is actually even rarer than gold, making it more expensive. This is especially important if you are looking at engagement rings since most jewellers recommend getting a wedding ring made from the same material to minimise wear between the two. You will therefore probably have to purchase not one but two platinum rings, both of which will be more expensive than a white gold alternative. Finally, despite popular belief, platinum rings do still scratch and show signs of wear. This is referred to as a patina and many do view it as a desirable aspect of platinum rings. This is important because, unlike white gold rings, platinum designs can’t be replated to restore their original appearance. The option to re-rhodium plate a white gold ring therefore can be a very good thing to make the design look fresh and new once more.

How has white gold changed?

‘But’, I hear you say, ‘I know people who have white gold rings and they still look bright white!’ This is possible and there are several possible reasons for it.

First of all, as I already mentioned, the rhodium-plated finish will wear off at different rates for different people. If someone removes or protects their rings before using any chemicals and rarely wears perfume or hand cream then the plating will often last a lot longer and therefore the gold will look white for longer too. Even your diet can affect how a ring might wear, so it’s not always something obvious!

Another reason can be that if someone is only wearing one ring or several made from the same alloy, especially if it has a high-grade alloy like ours, the slight change in colour might not be obvious. Unless it is next to a noticeably brighter white metal, sometimes the slight difference in tone is hard to see. This is one of the reasons why we usually suggest to anyone getting married that they may wish to re-rhodium plate a white gold engagement ring shortly before the wedding – this ensures that it’s just as bright and shiny as the wedding ring, so it’s all ready for the photos!

There is another common reason and that is that it is an older ring. This sounds silly, right? How could a ring made possibly thirty or forty years ago be a brighter white than one made today?! It is because white gold alloys used to contain a significant amount of nickel. This is a very bright white hard-wearing metal that was seen as ideal for adding to white gold alloys and produced quite a clean final colour, although I should point out that even this wasn’t perfect for the reasons we first looked at above. The problem with using nickel, however, is that it one of the biggest causes of allergies. For this reason, its use in jewellery is now very strictly controlled. In fact, as part of the hallmarking process the Assay Office also randomly conduct tests to ensure that alloy mixes are below the required minimum. Modern white gold is therefore made using a different alloy mix than it used to be, resulting in it being a slightly different shade. Great news for allergy sufferers! Not quite so good for people who like their white gold perfectly white.

So there you have it. A quick, simple break down on what makes white gold white and why, sometimes, a ring that you’ve been wearing forty-five years can be a brighter white than one you have only had for five.

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