Gold is the most popular setting for jewelry across the world. The two most popular types of gold are white gold and yellow gold. Until the 1920’s, white gold was virtually unheard of, but now it is the preferred metal for many in everything from earrings to engagement rings. In 1990 we saw an all time high in demand for white gold, most specifically, in engagement and wedding rings. Why did this demand for white gold change from the ever-classy yellow gold?
We have all seen the styles in the shop windows change from spandex to baggy sweaters, distressed jeans to micro mini skirts and now, back to spandex. Styles change every day whether it be clothes, furniture, cars, or paint colors. Jewelry is no exception.
Many women began to prefer white gold over yellow gold because the color looked nicer against their skin, it matched their clothing better, their trusted friend wore it, or simply because it appealed to them more. People began to view yellow gold as old-fashioned and out of date. They sought something new, fresh, and different than the yellow gold that they associated with their mother and grandmother.
Platinum became more popular in the 1920’s than it ever had before. Platinum was exactly what people were looking for: fresh, new and gorgeous. Unfortunately, platinum proved much more expensive than the average pocket book could handle. Because platinum was so expensive, many people opted for white gold, which looks identical to platinum if done right.
There are two ways to get white gold. One way is the mixture of the metals used in creating the jewelry. Gold is an extremely soft metal and is always mixed with an alloy such as copper or silver to make it harder and practical for wear. Depending on what alloys are used and in what percentages, the gold could be white, yellow, pink, purple, and even green.
The second way to create white gold is to coat yellow gold in rhodium, a liquid made from platinum. When a yellow gold piece is dipped in rhodium it gets a coating that lightens the color and makes it look like white gold. The more rhodium on a piece, the whiter it will appear. The effect is like painting a wall. The wall appears to be white, but underneath is it still yellow.
When buying a piece of jewelry, it is impossible to tell whether it is solid white gold or yellow gold coated in rhodium unless the jeweler knows. The markings are the exact same. Both look equally beautiful and generally cost the same.
The unfortunate side to yellow gold dipped in rhodium is that, like paint on a wall, the rhodium can rub off with wear and time. Sometimes the rhodium can begin to wear off after as little as four to six months. When that happens you will begin to see a yellow tinge showing through.
The only way to protect your jewelry from doing this is to take very good care of it. Do not wear your jewelry in the shower, when doing yard work or any other activity that may cause more contact with your jewelry than necessary.
Within in the past few months, style has begun to change again and yellow gold is peeking its head through. We are beginning to see more yellow gold than we have since the 1980’s. We will just have to wait and see if yellow gold comes out on top of white gold again.