What is White Gold?

What commercial jewellers don't tell you about white gold

number one: white gold isn't actually white

When you go to the jewelry store at the mall and look into the sleek display case, what you’re looking at is actually not white gold. I mean, it is on the inside, but most commercial jewellers will plate white gold pieces in rhodium. So what you’re actually seeing is rhodium, not white gold.

Why do they do this? Because white gold, despite its name, isn’t pure white. Since gold is yellow, no matter what other metals are added to the mix, there will always be a slight yellow/grey hue. 

Rhodium is bright white and gives that “white gold” look you’re used to seeing. 

This isn’t inherently bad, but it can be quite the surprise when they don’t tell you and the plating wears off in 6 months to a year.

That’s right! Plating isn’t permanent. No matter how thick the plating is, it’s always going to wear through at some point and need maintenance.

So if your white gold ring is plated in rhodium, you’ll have to send it in every 6-12 months to be replated. Some commercial jewellers cover this if you buy their extended warranty but most of the time, this cost is out of pocket.

Number 2: White gold has nickel in it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because this is important: white gold has nickel in it. The most common white gold alloy is a mix of gold with zinc and nickel to make it white. 

(No clue what an alloy is? I explain it here)

I’ve had clients come to me and say that they can’t wear gold because they’ve had an allergic reaction to it and they’re confused because they’ve been told that gold is hypoallergenic. Every single time it’s white gold with nickel in the mix.

Nickel is the most common metal allergy – affecting around 17% of women and 3% of men. It causes contact dermatitis, which is a red, itchy rash where you’ve come into contact with the metal. Ouch!

The worst part is that most people don’t know this, and commercial jewellers aren’t forthcoming with this info when you shop with them. In fact, I’ve known some of them to say it’s fine even if you do ask about it because it’s plated in rhodium and therefore the nickel won’t have contact with your skin.

But, as I mentioned before: Plating Wears Off. That leaves you in direct contact with the nickel and at risk for a nasty rash if you have an allergy.

Worst part is, at that point, you’ve already bought the jewelry and worn it enough that your return window has come and gone. So you’re stuck with a piece of jewelry you can’t wear.

Should you buy white gold jewelry?

I bet at this point you’re wondering if white gold is even worth it.

My answer is the same for most things — that depends on YOU. If you don’t like the look of yellow metals but still want gold, white gold might be right for you.

As long as you don’t have a nickel allergy, nickel white gold is perfectly safe to wear. And if you don’t mind regular maintenance, the plating may be okay for you too.

The most important part of any jewelry purchase is that you know what you’re buying and what’s involved in taking care of it so you can continue to wear it and love it for a long time.

How do I know what my jewelry is made of?

That’s an easy one! Work with a reputable jeweller and ask them questions.

Despite the issues listed above, I still design a lot of custom white gold jewelry. But, I do things a little differently. 

First off: I don’t do rhodium plating unless I’ve been specifically asked to.

I love the look of the raw white gold – and my clients do too! I would far rather appreciate it for what it is than cover it up with another metal that needs constant upkeep.

Secondly: I always make sure my clients are informed about what they’re getting and ask about nickel allergy at the start. If they have a sensitivity but still want a white metal, there are other options like platinum or palladium white gold – which is an alloy made without nickel. If you don’t know what an alloy is, check out this post.

At the end of the day, if you still want to shop at a commercial jeweller, I won’t stop you. But hopefully this has given you a couple of questions to ask while you’re there.

Want to learn more about working with me on a custom jewelry design? Click here for all the info or see the gallery below for some examples of my work.

Custom Jewelry Designs

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