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?
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…
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. :)
One other thing that does help with allergies…
Rhodium is another strong white metal that is electroplated over white gold, and it does 2 main things:
- It provides a shield in between your skin and the nickel alloy
- 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.
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