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Can White Gold Be Polished?

By now, most people probably realize that white gold is plated.

They understand that white gold is basically yellow gold with some white alloys added to it to make it look white.

They also know that white gold is then rhodium plated to make it look even whiter. If you don’t know this, read: What is white gold?

Now, if you know all that and are up to par, then the next most asked question is:

Can white gold be polished?

Will polishing white gold remove the rhodium plating?

The short answer: YES!

The long answer: YES! – With some special side effects.

Of course white gold can be polished.

Any metal (platinum, stainless steel, copper, brass, sterling silver) can be polished and shined up to remove scratches, nicks, dents and dings. It only takes a couple of minutes to polish them up again and they all look brand new.

Gold is one of the easiest metals to polish…

Because gold is a fairly soft metal (2.5 – 3 on the Moh’s scale), and even though gold is mixed with other metals (read: Gold and alloys) to make it more durable, it still is very susceptible to scratching (anything that is harder than gold can scratch it if it comes in contact with it).

Here’s where the problem comes into play…

If you polish out those little nicks and scratches, you’re actually polishing off a fine layer of that rhodium plating as well. There’s no way around it. Polishing removes layers of both plating and gold.

If the plating is already worn down (through years of normal wear and tear), or if the jeweler accidentally pushes down too hard while polishing your jewelry, or if they have to polish the item really well to remove deeper nicks and abrasions… Then the outer layer will be polished off.

Polishing off that outer layer can expose the true metal beneath it. Which, in this case, would be the true white gold (so if you get your ring back and it looks yellow you now know why).

The sad thing about all of this is:

White gold is not really white in color.

(Which is why it’s plated.) It has a whitish-yellowish hue. It’s a dingy, yellow cast that most people find undesirable and looks like it’s been tarnished (see picture to compare white gold to rhodium plated white gold – Big difference).

So what is the cure if you can’t polish white gold without removing part of the rhodium plating???

Either just have it polished very, very lightly to remove only the soft surface scratches (touching it up), or do what I recommend most people to do…

Let it wear off naturally.

Or just wait until your ring gets a good amount of scratches on it before getting it polished (no more than twice a year – Otherwise you will actually do harm to your prongs, channel walls and mounting). Have it polished good a couple of times a year and at the same time have it re-rhodium plated to give it that clean, bright-white look again.

I also advise purchasing a gold polishing cloth so you can quickly hand polish your jewelry in between professional cleanings and polishings (just don’t polish it too hard).

So yes, white gold can be polished. But you may get a yellowish looking ring back unless you also ask them to rhodium plate it again. And rhodium plating is not cheap (usually $25-$50 and up).

So, if you like your white metals to look white, then I don’t see much of an alternative…

Unless you buy platinum, steel, titanium, or tungsten.

Cheers! :)

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  1. Ah yes, white gold can be rather controversial. I’ve had people ask me, who know my jewelry background, if their white gold wedding or fashion rings are “real gold” or some kind of “fake” metal! Mostly because they’ve never taken decent care of them and the rhodium is beginning to be obvious by its absence! There apparently was never any decent amount of education on the requirements of maintaining white gold jewelry, regarding not polishing the daylights out of it because it’s beginning to “yellow” or get dull. It’s amazing how little many people know about maintaining the pieces of jewelry that should mean the most to them!

    I’ve had to assure them that of course their rings are just as real as any other kind of gold – certainly as real as rose gold is “real gold.” They tend to agree with that, and understand it better when they hear the explanation of how it’s produced. And why it’s as real as “regular yellow gold” is, because they all have been mixed with some sort of alloy that increases durability, workability, and frequently the desire to alter its color. Yellow, white, rose, and even green gold, have all found their niche in the marketplace. Anyone who has seen or owns Black Hills gold pieces has probably seen green gold! Of course the yellow gold being the original.

    And since I just love history, I’ve done plenty of research on it too. White gold has only been around for a little over 100 years now, mostly since David Belais, of Belais Brothers jewelry, devised his 18kt version of white gold for jewelry that would allow them to compete successfully with the exploding market for platinum, particularly that which came about in the very late teens and 1920’s.

    Platinum had been on the market already of course, but the restrictions on platinum for consumer goods during WWI had made it impossible to come by for most people. It apparently was needed for war materiel during the mid to late 1910’s, with the war taking place between 1914 and 1918. Also, mining and transport were likely restricted as well, as manpower, and the ships, as well as their crews, were caught up in that war. So, a usable substitute in high karat gold was devised, as 18kt white gold, containing gold, with nickel and zinc as the “bleaching agents.” This avoided the use of the restricted platinum during the War.

    Plating it with rhodium was apparently not required then, as I have found no mention of it at that time. And vintage pieces of Belais 18kt white gold are still beautiful without it!

    It was submitted to the trade in 1917, but the patent wasn’t applied for until October 10, 1918. The white gold wasn’t granted a patent until February 10, 1920, but certainly served a new purpose by that time.

    Platinum had been available to the marketplace for years before, but at much higher prices than gold. But with the highly ambitious financial growth of the 20’s, many more people were able to afford platinum wedding bands, and other pieces, like what they used to call lavaliers, which were beautiful pendants, usually very long as compared with their width, and worn on long chains that usually put them down at breast level, over ladies blouses, called shirtwaists then, and their dress fronts, or bodices, too. They were beautiful filigree made of platinum wire, pierced platinum in beautiful lacey patterns, florals, etc. New techniques and tools for working platinum improved its place in the market, making it available to more people. The booming economy also made for platinum wedding jewelry being more affordable by more people, and practically every “Flapper” was lusting after a platinum wedding band from their new husbands. If their “Shieks” – a term then for fashionable, eligible, (available) young men – could afford an engagement ring as well, then it best be made of platinum, if he wanted to hear her say, “Yes!!”

    But, economies being what economies always are, not everyone could afford to buy platinum jewelry, especially in the late years of WWI, and in the immediate post-war years of the late teens. Especially with it worth three to four times that of gold. The Belais alloy became so popular, that during the 1920s, white gold was sometimes referred to as “Belais metal.” It looked so close to the platinum pieces of the time that it became the affordable substitute for platinum, and you really couldn’t tell if the ring or rings on a young woman’s left hand were platinum or the newly “discovered” white gold. And that was really all that mattered to her, but it made an enormous difference to the young man’s bank account balance!

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