White gold is a durable and high-quality alternative to platinum. However, unlike the latter, it can change its colour over time and turn yellow. Let’s dive deeper and see why white gold turns yellow and how to prevent it from changing its colour.
How White Gold Is Made
White gold doesn’t exist naturally. It is a mixture of yellow gold and white metals such as palladium, silver, nickel, manganese and zinc. These alloys give white gold paler colour, more hardness and durability.
It is worth mentioning that a significant part of white gold still consists of yellow gold and the resulting material will have a yellowish hue of various intensity depending on how much white metals are mixed in the alloy. To mask this yellowish tint and achieve a silvery-white colour, jewellers plate white gold with a metal called rhodium.
White gold as we know it today was invented in the 19th century but did not become popular until the economic boom following World War I (28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918). During that period platinum was needed for various military purposes, and white gold was used in jewellery as an easy and less expensive alternative. Since then, white gold has become a popular choice for engagement and wedding rings as well as other jewellery pieces.
Why White Gold Turns Yellow
The short answer lies in the rhodium plating. It is important to understand that most white gold jewellery sold today is plated with rhodium to give it a perfect silvery-white look. If you see a piece of jewellery that has a perfectly white colour, without any hint of yellow, it is most likely coated with rhodium.
Rhodium plating is a good option for giving white gold its silvery colour, but it is not eternal. Your jewellery is exposed to friction and stress every day. Saltwater, chlorine, soaps, detergents, skincare and other factors wear the plating away, exposing the lower yellowish layer.
Do not imagine that your white gold jewellery will end up with a vividly yellow piece. When the rhodium plating wears off, your jewellery will still be white but with a hint of yellow.
Of course, you can slow down this process by wearing your jewellery less often, but your white gold jewellery will turn yellowish eventually.
How to Keep White Gold White
Although some people like white gold with a yellowish hue, it looks nice as long as it is uniform. That means you should either buy white gold jewellery with no rhodium plating or take proper care of it to prevent the colour change.
To delay your white gold jewellery from yellowing, it is recommended to keep it away from water and chemicals – do not swim, take a shower, wash dishes, put on perfume or body lotion with your jewellery on.
The best way to keep your white gold white, apart from not wearing it, is to have it replated. During the replating procedure, jeweller adds a new layer of rhodium to the existing one, returning your piece to the original shiny white colour. The price for this service depends on how worn off the rhodium layer is. It is also worth mentioning that the electroplating process is safe for your gemstones as they do not conduct electricity while the plating requires a current to pass through the metal to take effect.
In addition to appearance, there is another reason why you should not delay replating your jewellery. White gold alloy often contains nickel to make it whiter. Once the rhodium layer wears off, your skin comes in contact with the alloy composition beneath the coating. In case you are allergic to nickel, you will experience a reaction when in contact with your jewellery.
Keep in mind that having your white gold polished involves removing a tiny layer of rhodium from the surface of your jewellery. If you have this done too often, you will end up removing the rhodium plating. As a general rule, taking your piece for a professional polishing once a year is enough.