White gold is a brilliant, bright, eye-catching jewelry metal widely loved by jewelers and wearers alike. Famous for its lustrous, silver-white color, jewelers set engagement rings in white gold to complement a sparkling white-diamond center stone. For all of its benefits and beauty, does white gold tarnish over time?
White gold's silver-like sheen and bright-white color make it a sought-after standard in the jewelry industry. But did you know, when coated with rhodium, it's also highly durable and won't tarnish like silver?
So, if it doesn’t tarnish, why is your white gold ring turning yellow? Or maybe you've noticed your favorite pair of diamond earrings aren't looking quite as radiant as they did on the jeweler's shelf?
Read on for a comprehensive overview of factors that cause white gold to tarnish. We’ll also include tips for caring for your white gold jewelry so that it goes the distance.
Let’s get started!
Is White Gold Natural?
What is Rhodium Plating?
How Long Does White Gold Last?
Questions to consider when purchasing white gold
Rhodium plating thickness
Factors that Cause White Gold to Tarnish
What Damages White Gold?
Bathing with white gold
Swimming with white gold
Exercise and sweating
Cleaning products and harsh chemicals
Polishing white gold too much
How Do You Keep White Gold From Tarnishing?
What About Re-plating?
White Gold Longevity: The Bottom Line
Great question. Making white gold requires mixing yellow gold with white metal alloys like nickel, zinc, silver, platinum, or palladium and then plating it in rhodium.
But the core of all that alloy is pure, natural, yellow gold.
As alloys go, nickel is no longer en Vogue because, unfortunately, many people are allergic to it. When you propose, you want to surprise your partner with a gorgeous white gold engagement ring, not an itchy red rash!
Palladium is a more modern alloy and popular choice amongst jewelry makers for a few good reasons: it looks as pretty as platinum, keeps the cost down, and it’s hypoallergenic.
Presently, jewelers plate most white gold in rhodium, a rare silver-white metal from the platinum family. As you dive deeper into the realm of this glimmering white metal, you'll find that almost all white gold on the market is rhodium plated.
Unplated variations are less common and will have a warmer color. Alloys like silver and zinc have more of an off-white appearance when compared to rhodium-plated.
On occasion, someone might refer to unplated white gold as natural gold. That's a bit of a misnomer since we know that all white gold is yellow gold alloyed with other metals.
Both rhodium-plated and unplated white gold are beautiful and durable. However, there are some key differences when answering our question: "Does white gold tarnish?"
To start, let's explore rhodium plating's role in a little more depth.
We discussed how rhodium plating gives white gold its beautiful bright-white shine and durability, protecting the softer yellow gold underneath. In addition to its reflective sheen, rhodium is relatively inactive (as opposed to reactive) and won't tarnish or change color.
Typically, jewelry makers plate white gold with 0.5 to 2 microns of rhodium.
Quick math lesson: A micron is a measurement unit used by jewelers, equaling one-thousandth of a millimeter or one-millionth of a meter. That's super thin! As thin as it is, rhodium plating protects your white gold jewelry surprisingly well and looks stylish to boot.
What if the rhodium plating is beyond repair?
You sure can! If your jewelry gets scratched, loses its sheen, or starts to look yellow, it might be time to have it re-plated. Take your white gold jewelry to your trusted, local jeweler, and they'll spruce it up lickety-split with a fresh coating of rhodium.
So, if you’ve just purchased a gorgeous new jewelry piece, you might wonder about the average lifespan of rhodium-plated white gold. Generally, white gold should last 1-3 years before requiring replating.
That's just an estimate, though. Your white gold's longevity depends on a unique combination of factors, like your daily habits and the jewelry's quality.
Is it plated or unplated?
If plated, how thick is the rhodium plating?
How pure is the gold?
What kind of lifestyle factors might accelerate wear and tear?
We'll get into lifestyle factors in a minute. First, let's take a detour into rhodium plating once more.
If you want your white gold jewelry to last longer, the rule of thumb is, the thicker the rhodium plating, the better. Although, too thick can pose a problem also.
Go thicker than 2 microns, and the rhodium plating becomes brittle and prone to cracking. Go too thin, and the plating will wear off quicker. For optimum longevity, rhodium-plated white gold's sweet spot is between .75 and 1 microns thick.
The quality of your white gold will also contribute to its longevity. Just like yellow gold, its white counterpart receives a purity rating measured by karats. g, using a measurement called a karat. A purity rating informs buyers of the actual gold content that’s in your jewelry.
The higher the karat, the higher the gold content and overall quality. However, quality varies from person to person. For example, a lower karat gold, like 10K, contains less pure gold but is exceptionally durable.
In this regard, someone who leads an active, hands-on lifestyle might find 10K gold to have a higher quality than 24K gold, which is exceptionally soft and prone to deforming due to its pure gold contents.
For reference, 24K gold is 100% pure gold. You'll find most gold jewelry isn't made from pure gold though, it's too soft and therefore easily damaged. As you've already learned, white gold is alloyed with other metals and plated in rhodium to make it stronger.
Here's a list of the most common white gold jewelry on the market:
10K (41.7% gold) - 10K gold is the lowest gold purity that jewelers can sell in the US.
14K (58.3 % gold) - 14K is the gold standard due to its durability and budget-friendly price point.
18K (75% gold) - 18K gold, while considered a higher quality of gold due to its purity, is softer than 14K gold. If you or your fiancé work with your hands, 14K is a more reliable choice (pun intended) for a ring.
That’s not to suggest that high-karat white gold isn’t desirable, but you may want to reserve this pure metal for less vulnerable jewelry items like earrings or necklaces.
So, does white gold tarnish?
As we've discovered, rhodium-plated white gold doesn't tarnish, but it appears to change color. Over time, the rhodium plating providing that signature bright-white color wears down, revealing the yellow gold underneath.
This process gives the illusion that your white gold has tarnished or changed color, but it's just the rhodium plating that's faded away.
What about unplated white gold; can it tarnish? Technically yes, because all jewelers make white gold by mixing yellow gold with white metal alloys. Alloys like nickel, silver, and zinc are highly reactive to chemicals and other environmental substances that tarnish or change the metal’s color.
What else can cause tarnishing? Does white gold scratch?
Personal habits and regular, daily wear and tear can negatively affect your white gold jewelry's lifespan. While rhodium plating makes it significantly more durable, it won't make it invincible. Like all of your fine jewelry, white gold is susceptible to bumps and scratches and needs to be handled with TLC.
We've all been washing our hands and using hand sanitizer like it's going out of style since COVID-19. It's only natural to find your wedding band's luster is fading faster than usual.
But it's not just hand sanitizer and soap that can wreak havoc on your pearly white jewelry metal; chemicals found in common household cleaners, lifestyle factors, and moisture all play a role.
Can you shower with white gold? Yes, but as the adage goes, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." Water, friction, and soap can corrode the rhodium plating over time.
Our advice? Leave your jewelry on the nightstand while sudsing up in the shower or soaking in the tub. If you forget once in a while, it's no biggie, but it's best not to make it a habit.
Great question. Many wonder, does white gold tarnish in chlorine? How about saltwater? If you're an avid swimmer, you might notice your items turning black or fading more quickly. What gives?
Chlorine is highly corrosive and will prematurely wear out the rhodium plating. If your jewelry is unplated, the chlorine will leach out the alloys, creating tiny bubbles inside your jewelry. These small bubbles will make your white gold brittle and cause delicate prongs and settings to fall off (and consequently, any precious jewels they held along with them.) No bueno.
Remember those alloys we mentioned earlier? Well, they react when they come into contact with certain chemicals, like chlorine.
Does white gold turn black? Sadly, it can when exposed routinely to chlorine in pools and hot tubs.
Similarly, swimming in the sea and surfing salty waves can damage all fine jewelry metals. Avoid potential heartbreak and a fuming fiancé by keeping your white gold engagement ring out of the water.
Do you live an active lifestyle? If you answered yes, that’s awesome! But you’ll want to leave your treasured BFF heart necklace from your bestie at home when you go for a run or hit up the gym.
Moisture, salt, and oils from your sweat are not your jewelry's friend. The same goes for wearing your jewelry to bed. Sweat and oils get trapped between your skin and jewelry, which can cause build-up and ultimately wear down the rhodium plating.
Many household cleaning products contain harsh chemicals like bleach and ammonia. What about 'natural' cleaning products, you ask? Even natural substances can corrode your fine white gold jewelry. To be safe, avoid all cleaning products while wearing any precious jewelry metals.
Are you scrubbing that tub with Ajax? Windex-ing those windows? Make sure to glove up first, or your white gold bracelet might start to look less than lustrous. Your hands will thank you, too!
Polishing your white gold too much
We've all heard the phrase "too much of a good thing." Well, remember this phrase before you make the common mistake of over-polishing your white gold jewelry.
Go ahead and schedule routine cleanings. But remember that polishing and using chemicals or abrasive tools like toothbrushes often are major no-nos.
So then, what’s the best way to polish white gold? Find out below!
The best way to keep your white gold clean and tarnish-free is to avoid the dangers we've listed above:
Minimize exposure to chemicals, moisture, and friction
Take off your jewelry when swimming, exercising, cleaning, and showering.
Be careful not to over-polish!
How do you polish white gold at home? We've found that the best way to polish your white gold is to wipe it down with a soft, microfiber, lint-free cloth (like the one you use for your glasses).
Avoid using a washcloth or paper towel because both are too abrasive and can easily scratch your jewelry.
Can you use vinegar? Vinegar isn't the best choice since it's acidic and will eventually damage most jewelry metals.
What about baking soda and a soft toothbrush? We don’t recommend it because baking soda is abrasive and corrosive. When scrubbed with a toothbrush, the firm texture will break down the rhodium plating.
So then, what does work?
For stubborn situations, like accumulated dirt and oil, dilute a mild soap with warm distilled water and soak your jewelry in the solution for a few minutes. Rinse any soap off with water, and be sure to dry your jewelry thoroughly with a soft cloth. No paper towels or tissues, please!
If your white gold isn't shining as bright as the day you bought it, don’t worry because the tips in this guide will restore your jewelry to its original brilliance.
For a little more insight into jewelry maintenance, check out our guide to keeping your precious items in prime condition.
Is it time for a new white gold wedding band or pair of earrings? Browse our collection of white gold jewelry today!
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