THE HISTORY OF WHITE GOLD

IS THERE REALLY WHITE GOLD?

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The History Of White Gold

Right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight: In nature, there is no white gold.

There is gold, which is yellow (24k pure gold is real yellow), but there is no such thing as white gold.

White gold is a man-made product created as a substitute for platinum. It’s a platinum look-a-like.

Why produce it?

Why create a look-a-like product when you can have the real thing?

Because platinum is one of the most rarest and one of the most durable metals on Earth. The Mohs Scale (scale of hardness), as well as the Rockwell Hardness Test (what metals are usually tested by), rates platinum as a 4-4.5 out of 10. While gold sits comfortably at 2.5-3. It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but it really is.

Platinum is rare

So was white gold created because platinum is so rare?

No.

Even though only about 40 ounces of platinum are mined each year, this was not the reason. The real reason white gold was created was because platinum had other uses.

You see, back in the days, platinum originally was used to make beautiful rings, bracelets and pendants (as far back as Egypt). Many platinum pieces were reserved for the rich and royalty since platinum cost so much. It was the cream of the crop.

WWII changed all that. The government wanted to utilize platinum’s durability and use it for their strategic purposes. It’s durableness would come in handy.

So they banned jewelers across America from using the metal, and the government stock piled the resources, using it for making batteries, cells, weapons, parts and chemical warfare.

This move paid off nicely. We won the war.

But jewelers scrambled…

This left jewelers scrambling to come up with an alternative metal that looked like the wonderful platinum that so many people loved and wanted.

They learned that by mixing nickel, palladium or zinc to gold, would bleach the yellow hue enough and give the appearance of a white metal.

Hence, white gold was born.

Take a look at the difference between White gold and platinum in the image below…

White Gold vs Platinum

The main reason why white gold still exists today, even though platinum has made such a huge come back, is because it’s a much cheaper alternative to platinum. Platinum costs about 4 times the price of gold.

White gold sounds great, but sadly, there are no set standards for white gold in the jewelry industry. This leads to many variations, and multiple alloys in the mix.

You can’t blame them either, white gold was only a substitute metal that was only going to be a temporary until platinum came back. Who knew it would stick around?

The contents of gold

Now-a-days, most manufacturers produce gold with a certain consistency, so it all looks and acts the same.

The main contents of 14k gold (yellow gold), are as follows:

  • 58.5% Gold
  • 25% Silver
  • 17% Copper

14k is often stamped 14k or .585 on jewelry and inside of rings.

The contents of 14k white gold

The contents of white gold are a little bit different since they need to mix white alloys to the mix. Take a look…

  • 58.5% Gold
  • 20% Copper
  • 14.5% Nickel
  • 7.5% Zinc

Give or take… Sometimes there will be more nickel added, sometimes palladium, and sometimes even platinum is thrown in the recipe.

The contents of platinum

The contents of platinum on the other hand are pretty simple…

Platinum is 90-99.5% solid platinum.

That’s why platinum is so hypoallergenic. It’s pure. And as of yet, I have never run across anyone that was allergic to it.

Platinum is truly a magnificent, but expensive metal.

White gold is not so hypoallergenic…

White gold allergies

White gold contains nickel, and nickel is the #1 ingredient that people are allergic to (when it comes to jewelry). A lot of people break out when wearing white gold. Their skin becomes itchy, red, puffy and produces rashes. Yes, you could be allergic.

People with allergies to nickel need to wear more pure metals like platinum, titanium, stainless steel or tungsten to prevent further break outs.

Sometimes you can also get away with moving up into a richer gold, like 18k, which contains less nickel. 18k or higher may not affect you as much. :)

Rhodium plating

One other thing that does help with allergies…

Rhodium plating.

Rhodium is another strong white metal that is electroplated over white gold, and it does 2 main things:

  1. It provides a shield in between your skin and the nickel alloy
  2. It makes the white metal look whiter

White gold’s yellow cast…

White gold will usually have a soft yellow cast to it since it’s really just yellow gold with some alloys thrown in.

This yellowish white gold is not so attractive. In fact, it tends to make white gold look stained, tarnished, yellowed, aged or old.

Rhodium fixes that. It creates a nice, white finish that lasts any where from 1 year to 5 years, depending on how much you wear your rings, how rough you are with your jewelry, and of course, your own body acids.

Some people just rip through the overlay and need to get it replated every year or so.

Others could wear white gold for a long, long time and never have any issues.

Each ring, and each person reacts differently.

If it never affects you and you never notice it, good for you. You’re the lucky one. :)

The benefits of white gold

There are many great benefits to white gold:

  • It’s malleable, and easy to work with (jewelers love it)
  • It’s a nice, bright, white metal that takes on a brighter polish than platinum (which is normally a darker, gun-metal gray)
  • It’s affordable and very much in abundance
  • It’s the most popular metal on the market right now for engagement rings
  • It’s easy to repair, fix, resize, solder, polish and straighten
  • It never goes out of style

White gold’s downfall

The only downfall to white gold is this, the yellowish cast that needs to be rhodiumed.

Rhodium plating isn’t cheap either. It could cost you up to $100 or more to have done. That adds up if you need to have it done every couple of years. If you are purchasing white gold, ask the jeweler if they have a service plan that would cover the cost of rhodium plating. It could save you a bunch.

If that’s white golds only downfall, I’d say it’s a win-win metal to buy.

You can switch to platinum if you so desire, and can afford it. But why bother when white gold is all the rage and way cheaper.

I see no reason to switch.

Unless you are allergic to white gold (or the nickel in it).

For a metal that was made on the fly as a substitute for one of the most rarest metals on Earth, white gold has held its ground.

White gold has been around for almost 100 years now, and it’s here to stay.

Doesn’t sound like a substitute to me.

Cheers! :)





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7 Comments on THE HISTORY OF WHITE GOLD

  1. Ben Albrecht // February 27, 2016 at 5:16 am // Reply

    All true… but White Gold was being used in the 1920’s as a cheap substitute for platinum.

    • Hi Ben. Thanks for the year. Finding out exactly when white gold began has been rather difficult. Most jewelers coincide it with WWII, but that may be just because it became vastly more popular then. :) -Richard

  2. What alot of old cobblers gold is more expensive than Platinum . Platinum at today’s price is £18.44 per gram and 22ct gold is £24.62 per gram . Get your facts right and stop leading people up the garden path .

  3. I Love my white gold wedding bands n I’m Not Allergic to it either, as I am with many other things.

  4. I appreciate your dialogue and summary. I enjoy telling people that there is no such thing as white gold, and, there is no such thing as antique white gold jewelry, because it has only been around about 100 years.

    I own yellow, white and rose gold, yet my very favourite is palladium, because it is a pure metal in it’s own right, sparkles, is durable, doesn’t resemble gun metal (like platinum), and is reasonably priced when compared to platinum. Do you know a classical composer dedicated/wrote an entire CD about Palladium? I think it was in 1996. Sometimes they play it as background music during commercials. I must say the music is beautiful (just like palladium)!

    • Hi A Rix Bone, I did not know about the CD. I tried to find it, couldn’t. Too many platinum CD’s. :) You don’t see much palladium on the market, usually only in certain class rings or such. I like all of the white metals. Durable stuff. -Richard

  5. Allan Purcell // June 27, 2019 at 10:49 am // Reply

    Belais

    Belais Manufacturing Co., founded by David Belais (1863 – June 5, 1933), was among the early manufacturers of white gold jewelry in the United States. During the late 19th and early 20th century, they experimented with various alloys for white gold as a substitute for platinum in jewelry. David Belais presented his final formula to the trade in 1917. A patent was applied for on October 5, 1918, and granted on February 10, 1920. The formulation specified in Belais’ patent resulted in an 18 karat white gold alloy composed of gold, zinc, and nickel which thus avoided any problems with the platinum restrictions imposed by the war.

    The advertising campaign for Belais white gold was so successful that the term Belais became synonymous with white gold. In a November 22, 1922 issue of The Jewelers’ Circular their advertisement claimed they were the “Youngest in Style, Oldest in Skill.” Their slogan, “Belais Made Means Well Made” was used to successfully convince jewelry retailers and the jewelry buying public that Belaiswhite gold was superior to all others. In another The Jewelers’ Circular advertisement, they confidently stated:

    If you have had any prejudices against this metal, eradicate them so that you may think and see clearly. You will be then able to visualize the great part that Belais’ White Gold is bound to play in the Jewelry Industry throughout the World. Its future is assured.1

    As testament to their success, many prominent jewelers of the time listed in their advertisements the enticement that they sold ’18k Belais.’

    Belais was not the first to patent white gold; an alloy of gold, palladium and nickel had been successfully formulated and a patent filed for on April 30, 1913. The patent was granted on December 28, 1915, to Karl Richter of Pforzheim. Richter’s patent was not widely known or produced because of the outbreak of World War I.2 However, challenges to Belais’ patent did begin to appear and David Belais brought suit for patent infringement against Goldsmith Bros. Smelting & Refining Co. in New York District Court on June 8, 1925. The Judge struck down the Belais Patent citing:

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