Why your white gold ring turns yellow

White gold is turnin
Conceptual illustration that demonstrates

My white gold ring turned yellowish

This is a customer complaint that we hear about almost on a daily basis. A quick internet search reveals numerous consumer complaints and inaccurate explanations as to the cause of white gold looking yellowish. We hear about all the new white gold alloys that supposedly eliminate this issue. However, most explanations we have read leave out the “easy to understand” basic physics as to why your white gold ring turns yellow over time. So we asked one of our scientific “cone heads” here at artisan plating to provide a simple illustration to explain it to us all. The only criteria was is that the illustration had to be easy enough for my mom to understand. So take a look at the illustration and shoot us an e-mail if this does/does not work for you.

Why your white gold ring turns yellow

Your white gold ring is really yellow gold that is alloyed with nickel or palladium to “bleach” the gold to a white color. Currently, the most common alloy of choice for the U.S jewelry industry is nickel. Nickel is used as a whitener and the final polished white gold alloy remains slightly “gray-yellow” in appearance. White gold is generally electroplated with bright rhodium to conceal the “gray-yellow” appearance. The result is bright and fabulous! Normally the yellow “tint” of the white gold would not be noticed if the rhodium layer has not worn off and the surface remains highly polished. For wedding bands and engagement settings, that in highly unlikely. Over time, minute scratches impart a dull appearance to a metal’s surface. Most of the time the thickness of the rhodium plating offered by the jewelry industry is simply not heavy enough to last more than several months. Once the rhodium is worn off and the severely scratched jewelry is exposed, the naturally pale gray-yellow color of the white gold alloy will become much more noticeable.  Most owners of white gold are somewhat surprised that their bright white gold now looks dull and yellow. As time progresses, exposure to chloride normally present in many household chemicals and skin perspiration will discolor the exposed white gold alloy to a darker gray-yellow color.


yellowish white gold
Conceptual model illustrating how your eyes now perceive the white gold as yellowish due to the light traveling from the scratched surface at slightly different speeds


Of course as the physics suggest, highly polished white gold can help minimize the perception of the yellowish appearance of the surface. But that is not enough to have a really white gold color. At least not what you were accustomed to seeing when your ring was brand new. Don’t replace your ring because even the most highly acclaimed “new and better” white gold alloys are not really all that much whiter or brighter. These new generation of whiter white gold alloys by definition have yellow gold in them. They too will also look yellowish when minute scratches from everyday wear start taking their toll. This will occur sooner if they are not rhodium plated.

So, tell me again as to why my white gold ring is turning yellow?

To summarize, your white gold alloy is not really “white”. The original bright “white” rhodium plating that had concealed the yellowish white gold has worn off. The rhodium plating wore off because it was too thin. Daily wear of a white gold ring is a contact sport. The exposed surface of the ring becomes scratched. The surface scratches make the white gold look a “dull yellow” due to the reflection of the yellow gold atoms (see illustration, my white gold loving mom likes it!).  Only a re-polish of the ring combined with a thick, pore free layer of bright rhodium plating over the white gold will restore the bright reflective surface you originally saw when your purchased your ring.

So there you have an explanation and a summary as to why your white gold ring looks yellowish, courtesy of timeless Newtonian physics.

Bright, tough and fabulous

To address the aforementioned issues we are now offering our new RhodiLux composite coating system.  Our proprietary process will keep your rhodium plated white gold “white” longer and as a bonus will shield you from any nickel allergy issues that may be caused from your white gold jewelry. A quantum leap in beauty, durability and protection for your white gold!

Metal Arts Specialties

+1 (248) 821-3450

For more information about keeping your white gold white and white gold allergies, please see our related articles:
Allergic to white gold jewelry? Now what?
Ten Things You Need to Know About Rhodium Plating
Characteristics of Electroplated Rhodium Plating Finishes