What is white gold and how does white gold differ from
platinum? What is palladium?
An explanation of gold alloys
itself is a pure element and is naturally yellow. It is also soft, too
soft to hold up in jewelry. We need to alloy it - that is, to mix it
with other metals to make it harder and more rigid for use in jewelry.
Pure gold is 24 karat and, in an alloy, the parts out of 24 that are
gold are said to be it's karat. So 14 karat gold is 14 parts gold and
ten parts other metals or 58.5% gold. To make karat alloys of yellow
gold, the other metals are silver and copper, a mixture which retains
the yellow color.
To make white gold, nickel or palladium are primarily used instead of
the copper and silver blend. This makes the metal white, while the gold
content lends it's tarnish resistant quality to the mix. The gold is
still present in the same proportions as denoted by the karat mark.
In both yellow and white gold alloys, small amounts of other metals
such as zinc are also present to improve workability and casting
Nickel white gold versus palladium white gold.
All white gold alloys are slightly off white compared to platinum or
silver. At Foxfire Jewelers we use a nickel white gold alloy that is
very white by international standards. It is much whiter than
commercially used white gold and the alloys used by most other
jewelers. We feel that it is important as it eliminates the temptation
to rhodium plate (see rhodium plating below.)
Some people have an allergy to nickel which may result in a rash when
wearing nickel white gold. In this case we can use palladium white gold
which is white gold alloyed with palladium, a platinum group metal.
Where nickel white gold alloys are slightly yellow, palladium white
gold alloys will be slightly gray. Again we are using a special alloy
which is whiter than average.
In the end, the whitest nickel white gold is whiter than the palladium
white gold currently, but new palladium white gold alloys are in
development and we will use them if they prove to be better.
Platinum is a rare, pure precious metal that is naturally white in
color. It is alloyed with iridium, cobalt or ruthenium to increase it's
hardness for use in jewelry. Compared to white gold it is visibly
subtly whiter. It is also more costly for several reasons: It weighs
more than gold (so a ring will weigh more), the alloyed metal contains
90-95% pure platinum where 14 karat gold is 58.5% gold, and the metal
price itself is more. It is also more difficult to alloy and cast.
Platinum metal and parts end up costing us about five times that of
gold. Labor however, while more than with gold, is not five timesmore,
so the cost of a finished custom piece in platinum will be
approximately three times that of a white gold one.
Another aspect of platinum is durability. Because platinum is actually
softer than gold alloys it has excellent resistance to wearing away in
jewelry. On a microscopic level, platinum dents instead of chipping off
like white or yellow gold. While this makes platinum very durable it
also means it dulls more quickly in wearing.
Palladium is a platinum group metal that acts alot like platinum
itself, but is lighter weight and less expensive. It is hypo
allergenic, sturdy, long wearing and naturally very white. It was used
extensively during World War Two, when Platinum was scarce, but
jewelers kind of forgot about it. It offers an excellent choice for
jewelry as it's workable and beautiful. The Palladium alloy used at
Foxfire is 95% Pure.
at the left Palladium
and 18K Yellow ring, Hand engraved, with Red Spinel.
Some jewelry manufacturers and even custom jewelers, faced with white
gold alloys that are anything but white, resort to electroplating their
jewelry with rhodium. This is a platinum group metal that is not used
in it's solid form, but only in plating. White gold items which have
been rhodium plated pose problems in repair because the plating can
bubble or flake when exposed to heat (soldering, sizing.) As the
jewelry gets scratched and dull, it cannot be buffed without removing
the plating, which requires sanding and complete refinishing. This can
be problematic around prongs and in detailed areas. Leaving the old
plating can result in a line or seam showing.
At Foxfire Jewelers we avoid rhodium plating whenever possible which is
why we have taken the effort to use white gold alloys that are as white
as possible. These alloys require more care and expertise in casting,
but we think they're worth it.