Is White Gold Really Gold? – What is white gold?

Gold is yellow. White gold is white. How does that make any sense? The simple answer is that white gold is NOT white at all!

Gold is a very soft metal other metals are added to it to make it a stronger alloy. The fineness of gold is expressed in karats which are parts out of 24. So 18 karat gold means 18/24 or 75%. The different metals that are mixed in with the gold are what determine the final color. A more equal balance of copper and silver and you get the medium yellow color we are used to. More copper and you get rose gold.

For white gold, generally, nickel or cadmium is added to get that white silvery color but for 18k white gold, that still means it is 75% gold, so why doesn’t it look yellow? Well, the truth is that is DOES look yellowish but when you are looking at a white gold ring in the store you are not actually looking at white gold. You are looking at rhodium plating surrounding the white gold. Since white gold is yellowish, almost all jewelry makers will disguise the yellow color with a thin layer of rhodium, which is a very hard, very expensive — generally more expensive than gold — white metal.

Like any other plated jewelry, that plating will eventually wear away with use and you will be left with a dull spotty yellowish ring. Of course, the ring can still be re-plated and re-polished and it will look perfect. But why go through the trouble when platinum exists. Platinum jewelry does not need to be plated since they have that white metal color throughout and can be polished just as brilliantly as the rhodium plating on a white gold ring.

Of course, the reason that people generally consider buying white gold in the first place is that it is usually more affordable than platinum. This leads me to my best answer to why you should not buy white gold: sterling silver.

Sterling silver has a more distinctive look that I personally prefer, is much less expensive, and does not need to be plated. While it can oxidize, it can be easily cleaned with cleaning solutions or even just rubbing with your fingers. At the same time, you can also often find sterling silver plated in rhodium which will prevent oxidation. The trade-off is that the plating will also eventually wear away (but is less noticeable since the base metal is approximately the same color).

Now, of course, a lot of people looking to purchase fine jewelry are doing so because of the intrinsic value of the materials and in that case silver can never match gold. But if that is the case, then I would suggest taking the money saved by buying sterling silver and put that into buying a bigger or higher clarity stone. A higher-quality center stone is immediately noticeable unlike silver versus white gold.

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