Gold Plating Primer

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There are numerous misconceptions regarding white gold, its uses, alloys and commercial standards. If you been having some allergic skin reactions to your white gold settings or you’ve noticed the color changing on your wedding ring perhaps we can help you find the right answers.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we believe will help provide a basic introduction to white gold jewelry and their related consumer issues.

What is white gold?

White gold is actually an alloy of yellow gold. “White” metals such as nickel, palladium and silver are combined with yellow gold to create a white color. White gold is actually “gray-white” almost steel-like in color. In the U.S. nickel based white gold alloys are predominantly used by the jewelry industry. In Europe, both nickel and palladium based white gold alloys are used.

When was white gold first used?

At the turn of the century a relatively unknown metal called platinum was being combined with diamonds by jewelers such as Cartier and Tiffany. The style became extremely fashionable and was quickly in high demand throughout Europe and the U.S. Later after WW I, 18kt. white gold alloys were developed in the 1920’s as a less expensive alternative to platinum. To meet the growing demand several different formulas based on gold-nickel-palladium, in different combinations became commercially available. During WW II, the use of platinum and nickel for non-war related applications was prohibited. As a result, palladium based white gold alloys became the only choice for consumers in the U.S. In addition to higher costs, white gold jewelry based on palladium alloys are denser and heavier than nickel based alloys. They are also not as white in color. After the war, lower cost nickel based white gold quickly reclaimed the lead as the dominant choice of the jewelry industry worldwide.

In the U.S. what are the legal guidelines governing the classifications for white gold jewelry items?

All standards for white gold are subject to the same guidelines for yellow gold with regard to legal markings, alloy content, and commercial designations. These guidelines are administered by the Federal Trade Commission. For more details visit their web site at Factors such “perceived whiteness” or color of white gold are not regulated.

I noticed that some of my white gold jewelry is whiter in color than others, is that my imagination or are they different?

No, it is not your imagination. One possibility is that your rings are a different alloy of nickel or even palladium. Another possibility is that most white gold being produced today in the U.S. are plated with a thin layer of Rhodium metal (refer to article “Characteristics of electroplated rhodium finishes”). Rhodium plating is used to enhance the finish of white gold jewelry by creating a “bright white” coating over the white gold. More than likely a rhodium plating is the real reason your rings appear different in color to each other. Unfortunately, many jewelers do not inform their customer of this at the time of purchase. And in all fairness to the jeweler, the customer may not remember or even hear that crucial part of the sales transaction. Nevertheless, once the plating wears away, most customers find out the real color of true nickel-white gold and usually are surprised or upset.

Several months after purchasing our engagement setting we found out that it was plated in a metal called Rhodium. Is all white gold jewelry being sold today in the U.S. been plated with this type of finish?

No, not all white gold jewelry is plated with rhodium. The higher quality palladium alloys of white gold are sometimes not plated. This type of white gold is used in quality fashion jewelry being imported from Europe. It is not as white in color as rhodium plated white gold, however, it does not have to be constantly replated. It is also less subject to tarnishing and discoloration from exposure to household chemicals.

The original bright finish on my white gold ring is wearing away. They are less than two years old, what is happening?

Your ring was probably plated with a highly reflective metal called rhodium. Rhodium plating over white gold is a very popular technique for “enhancing” the white color of the ring setting, especially engagement settings. Unfortunately, many plated coatings used commercially are too thin for good long term wear. Generally, replating with rhodium is required every couple of years if proper plating thicknesses are not used.

I love the “look” of white gold but it keeps discoloring the skin on my ring finger. Why is this happening?

Your skin tissue is probably reacting to common household chemicals or cosmetics attacking the nickel alloy in your ring. In addition, long term exposure to recreational chemicals found in swimming pools and hot tubs will start to damage your white gold ring. The dark witness marks on your ring finger are actually “sulfides or oxides” that are present on the outer metal layers on the ring shank. They are by products of the nickel and copper alloys in your ring.

It seems that one of my newly purchased white gold rings causes a skin rash. I’ve never had a problem with the white gold ring my spouse bought me several years ago. What is causing this sudden reaction to white gold?

You are probably having a reaction to the nickel alloy in the white gold. If your ring is 12kt or 14kt white gold, there could be a very high proportion of nickel to gold in your ring. Additionally, after becoming “sensitized” your reaction to nickel was probably building up slowly over a couple of years. At a certain limit, it is not uncommon to have a “sudden” reaction to nickel like the one you are experiencing. Continual exposure to the nickel will result in a chronic rash-like form of skin dermatitis.

I had to stop wearing my white gold engagement ring because it caused an irritating skin rash. Is there any way I can prevent this from happening?

You have a few choices. a. Replace your white gold ring with a setting made of Platinum. b. Replace the ring with a setting made of palladium based white gold. c. Replace your ring with a yellow gold setting which contains no nickel alloy. d. If replacement is not an option, replate your ring with a heavy “pore free layer of platinum or rhodium. This will serve as a protective barrier over the nickel white gold.

What makes so many people’s skin sensitive to white gold?

It is estimated that upwards to 20% of women in the U.S. and Europe have an allergry to nickel! The sensitivity you refer to could be part of an allergic reaction by the body to constant exposure to the nickel alloys found in most white gold sold in the U.S. There are also numerous other sources from which an individual may develop a nickel allergy (ear or body piercing).

Over time the body will become sensitive from reactions to nickel oxides. These oxides form as a result from exposure to common chemicals, salts and perspiration. Anecdotally, many woman report an increase sensitivity to white gold after the birth of their children. While it may be just an increase in exposure to cleaning chemicals commonly encountered in the home or workplace, reports of allergic reactions to white gold are on the rise.

The problem is so widespread that the European Economic Community (E.C.E.) has taken regulatory steps to ban nickel in all jewelry produced and sold throughout Europe! At Metal Arts Specialties, we do not use nickel on any replated jewelry item.

I really don’t want to replace my engagement ring because of the sentimental value. What can I do to prevent it from discoloring and turning gray?

The gray color you see is probably the “real color” of the white gold. More than likely your ring was sold to you with a rhodium plated finish. Once the rhodium plating wears away, the real color is exposed. Additional discoloring can be a result of exposure to chemicals commonly encountered in the home or workplace. The best way to prevent this is to replate the ring with a heavy layer of platinum or rhodium. When done properly you can expect about 2-4 years of good wear before replating is needed.

If I have my white gold ring replated in rhodium or platinum what is the best way to prevent the coating from wearing off again?

The plating will eventually wear off and the ring will need to be replated. The good news is that if your ring is properly plated with a heavy layer of non-porous rhodium or platinum, the finish could last 2-4 years or more. Some of our customers are reporting 4-6 years of wearability. They remove their jewelry while in hot tubs and swimming pools. They also wear gloves while doing household cleaning. These precautionary steps can dramatically extend the life of replated white gold jewelry.

What makes your plating process for white gold more durable than what my local jeweler can provide?

The processes, plating baths, and equipment we utilize at our plating facilities are significantly different than what your jeweler will use for replating your ring. Depending on the metal selected, we utilize plating techniques that will deposit a heavier layer of either palladium, platinum, or rhodium over the white gold. The plated layer is almost pore-free, thus preventing any nickel or copper in the ring from coming in contact with skin tissue. All recessed areas of the setting will have a uniform plated layer of protective metal. We also use a proprietary pre-plate layer to improve adhesion and wearability. Finally, our plated finishes are hard and scratch resistant and provide years of excellent wear.

How does the brightness of replated rhodium or platinum compare to the original brightness of my white gold ring?

The brightness of replated will be the same or better than when the ring was new. We remove all scratches and old rhodium from your ring before we replate it. It will essentially appear like new again when we have completed our process. Platinum plated rings are not as bright or as “white” in appearance as rhodium plated rings. They do provide excellent protection from exposure to the nickel in the white gold setting.

Why do some replated white gold rings still seem to tarnish and cause skin irritations?

Believe it or not this is a common occurrence! The tarnish is caused from too thin a plating. Many replated rings are plated with only .05 – .20 microns of rhodium (ref. a human hair is 100-125 microns thick). This thickness is much too thin for adequate protection due to the “porosity” that exists in the metal layer. This porosity allows salts from the skin tissue to travel within the plated layer. Contact with the white gold will form oxides that travel “up” to the surface through the pores. Over time this will cause discoloring of the skin as well as a “rash like” dermatitis. An adequate plated layer of pore-free rhodium or platinum will prevent this from happening.

Will a thicker plating such as rhodium or platinum conceal scratches and surface blemishes on my jewelry?

No, as a rule the electroplating process does not hide surface imperfections. In fact, due to the diffusive reflection of incidental light rays, pre-existing cosmetic imperfections are even more noticeable on a brightly plated surface! We remove all scratches and repolish before we replate your ring.

How scratch resistant is white gold after it has been replated?

Among the “white” decorative platings, rhodium is by far the most scratch resistant. That helps explain it’s popularity as a protective finish for white gold jewelry. As a rule plated finishes in rhodium, platinum and palladium can be modified during the process to form very hard and durable finishes. In most cases, the plated finish is much harder and more scratch resistant than white gold alloys.

My wedding rings are very expensive and I can hardly stand the thought of sending them out for refinishing. But if I were to send them to you for replating, what is the safest and most secure method?

Without a doubt we understand your concerns! The safest method for sending your rings to you is via U.S. mail, registered and insured. We have never had a problem using this method.

If I decide to have my white gold replated how long does it usually take to have this done?

Your rings will be refinished, replated and sent back to you via registered mail within 5 working days after we receive your order and provide you a firm price for our services. We take pride in returning you your rings as quick as humanly possible. In doing so, you sleep better and so do we!

As a ball park estimate what does it cost to have white gold ring replated?

The costs vary depending on the plated metal finish and the size of the ring being plated. Typical costs for our services varies from $85-$135 per engagement setting (2 rings). Your ring will essentially look like new again. For an additional charge, we also can perform minor repairs and sizings before we replate your ring.

How long has Metal Arts Specialties been replating white gold jewelry?

We have been replating jewelry items since 1973. We have a acquired a great deal of practical experience regarding the best methods for achieving durable and attractive plated finishes. We have developed specific processes and plating bath formulas for white gold jewelry using rhodium, platinum and palladium.

I am not sure that I want any plated finish on my white gold. What other choices do I have?

In that case we would strongly recommend that you replace your setting with a platinum setting or palladium based white gold setting. Platinum is an exceptional white metal, tough, and more resistant to tarnish than 18kt gold. Another choice would be to contact the Hoover and Strong Company. They sell white gold settings using palladium as the alloy. They are fine people and a pleasure to do business with. Good luck!

At Metal Arts Specialties, we offer high quality and durable electroplated finishes for a wide array of decorative and industrial applications.

This article copyright ©2014, Metal Arts Specialties. All rights reserved. This material may not be duplicated or copied without expressed written permission. Thank you.

Metal Arts Specialties
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