White gold explained
White gold is a beautiful choice of precious metal for jewellery, and white gold engagement rings and white gold wedding rings are extremely popular. It was first used in jewellery in the 1920s, at that time being offered as a less expensive alternative to platinum, which had grown in popularity dramatically since the end of the 19th century.
But what exactly is white gold? How does it differ from "normal" gold? And how is it made?
Is white gold real gold?
White gold is a silvery-white coloured precious metal, but unlike pure gold or platinum, it does not exist in a "pure" form, but rather it is created by combining pure gold with other metals. These other metals, known as alloys, not only change the colour of the precious metal from yellow to white, but they also make it much harder, which is very important since pure gold is too soft to be used in jewellery.
So is white gold real gold? Well, it certainly contains real gold; it just isn't pure gold. And it isn't any less pure than the yellow gold or rose gold used in jewellery, both of which are also alloyed to make them harder, and in the case of rose gold, to change its colour.
Whatever the colour of the gold, its purity or "fineness" is measured in carats (or karat in the US), with 24ct being pure gold (known as "fine gold" in the trade). In theory, this should be 100% pure, though in practice, 99.99% purity (referred to as "four nines") is considered pure since it is almost impossible to remove all traces of any other elements during the refining of gold.
In the UK, the white gold used in jewellery is most commonly found as 9-carat or 18-carat gold. The higher the carats, the greater the purity and, therefore, the value, and so 9ct gold tends to be used in fashion jewellery, with 18ct gold being reserved for fine jewellery. Sometimes we also see 14 carat, which is a US standard.
In the UK, the carat of the gold is confirmed with a small stamp (a hallmark) which is applied by one of four assay offices. At Ingle & Rhode, our jewellery is all hallmarked at the London Assay Office.
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How is white gold made?
Unsurprisingly, the alloys used to make white gold are themselves white-coloured metals, the most commonly used being silver, palladium, manganese and platinum.
The pure gold and the alloys are heated to very high temperatures until they melt (the melting point of gold is 1,064°C, and of the alloys, platinum has the highest melting point at 1,768°C) and then mixed together in very precise ratios to produce the desired fineness, hardness and colour.
Even though white gold is white, it is not the same bright white as platinum for example, and so the majority of white gold jewellery is also plated with a thin layer of rhodium. This gives it an even whiter appearance, more like platinum, but it does wear over time, so if you have white gold rings, you may find you need to get the rhodium plating restored every few years.
Nickel is sometimes used as an alloy in white gold, but Ingle & Rhode only offers nickel-free white gold jewellery. This is because nickel can cause allergic skin reactions in some people, producing a rash and itchiness. Indeed, nickel allergies are the most common type of metal irritation caused by jewellery, and reactions can be mild to moderate, depending on how severe your allergy is.
Pros and cons of white gold
- Available in a range of finenesses (9ct, 14ct, 18ct) to suit different budgets
- Typically less expensive than platinum jewellery
- Scuffs and scratches less easily than platinum
- More durable than sterling silver
- Doesn’t tarnish like silver
- Can sometimes contain nickel, which can cause skin allergies
- May need to have its rhodium plate renewed over time
Is white gold more valuable than yellow gold?
White gold is sometimes a bit more expensive than yellow gold or rose gold since it is usually alloyed with palladium, which has gone up in price significantly in recent years. However, white gold wedding rings and engagement rings shouldn’t differ markedly in price from yellow gold rings or rose gold rings of the same fineness (e.g. 9ct or 18ct).
How long does white gold last?
Treated carefully, white gold engagement rings and wedding rings will last for hundreds of years or more. However, the lifespan of any piece of jewellery will depend on how it is treated, including:
- How often you wear it
- Whether you wear it whilst performing physical activities
- How often you clean it
- How often you polish it
Over time, the rhodium plate on white gold jewellery will wear away and need replacing. Depending on the wear and tear the jewellery is exposed to this might be every year, or it may be many years. Replating in itself is fine and has no negative impact on the lifespan of your jewellery. However, you need to be careful not to repolish your jewellery too frequently since, in the case of white gold jewellery, polishing actually wears away the metal.
Is white gold better than silver?
Engagement rings and wedding bands tend to be worn every day over many years, meaning they are subject to a huge amount of wear and tear. Sterling silver is much softer than white gold, so silver rings will get marked and bent out of shape much more quickly and more easily than white gold rings. Silver also tarnishes, so your rings will look dirty and dull over time. White gold is a much better choice since it is much harder-wearing than silver and does not tarnish.
Is white gold better than platinum?
White gold and platinum both have pros and cons, neither being better than the other in every way. White gold has traditionally been the less expensive option and does not scuff and scratch as easily as platinum. Platinum has traditionally been viewed as the more prestigious option, is more durable than gold, and does not require rhodium plating.
White gold is a very popular precious metal for engagement rings and wedding bands. It was first introduced into jewellery making about a hundred years ago as an alternative to platinum and is created by mixing pure gold with white metal alloys, most commonly silver and palladium. However, sometimes nickel may be used as an alloy, which can cause skin reactions in some people.
White gold is more expensive than silver but is much harder-wearing and does not tarnish. The vast majority of white gold jewellery is rhodium plated to give it a bright white appearance, but the rhodium tends to wear away over time, meaning that most people with white gold engagement rings or wedding bands will get them replated every few years.