White gold is an alloy of gold. It is made by mixing pure gold with silverish-white metals, such as silver and palladium. It was originally developed to imitate platinum, a precious white metal.
In the industry, “white gold” is often used to describe karat gold alloys with a whitish hue. The word “White” refers to a wide range of colors that overlap with pale yellow, pale rose, and tinted brown.
The characteristics of white gold vary based on alloyed metals and their proportions. Therefore, white gold alloys can have several different uses.
What Is White Gold Made Of?
White gold is made primarily of gold along with a mix of dense metals like copper, zinc, nickel, rhodium, or palladium. The white color is obtained by a careful selection of alloying metals, which bleach the reddish-yellow of pure gold.
The amount of gold content is measured by a unit called Karat(K). In 24K gold, all 24 parts of the gold are pure gold with extremely low levels of impurities.
Similarly, 18K gold contains 75% (or 18/24) of gold, and 22K is 91.6% gold.
The proportion of the alloy added affects the overall durability and final color of the gold. 22K gold, for example, is more durable and has a more yellowish appearance than 18K gold.
18K white gold ring
Typically, white gold is stamped 18 Karat. It contains 75% gold and approximately 25% nickel and zinc. Some white gold contains 90% gold and 9.5% nickel. A very small amount of copper is also mixed to increase its malleability.
The white gold used in the jewelry industry are the alloys of gold–nickel–copper–zinc or gold-palladium–silver. Nickel and Palladium act as primary bleaching agents to reduce the color of gold, and zinc acts as secondary bleaching agents for copper.
Why Is it Alloyed With Other Metals?
Since pure gold is a very soft and ductile metal, it is alloyed with a mixture of metals in order to increase strength and durability, so it can be used for making jewelry.
In fact, the gold you see in any industry is rarely pure. Some impurities (such as mercury) is added even before it is alloyed to produce white gold. Without the harder alloy metals, pure gold wouldn’t be able to retain its desired shape — gold on its own would be too soft.
18k white gold chain
Some white gold jewelry are further coated with rhodium, a rare, silvery-white metal. It enhances the luster and durability of the jewelry, giving it a smooth and shiny finish.
How Is It Different From Platinum?
Although they look very similar, platinum and white gold are different metals. They have their own properties and benefits that make them unique.
Platinum is a precious, silverish-white metal that doesn’t need to be alloyed for color. It is rarer than gold and more durable and denser than white gold.
Unlike white gold, platinum jewelry are purer: they contain 95-98% platinum and 5-3% silver and rhodium.
Since gold jewelry contains higher proportions of alloys (which is kind of necessary for added strength and durability), they are less expensive than platinum jewelry.
Both metals are similar in cost per ounce (about $1,900/oz), but more platinum is needed to make jewelry because it is denser. Due to higher melting temperatures, platinum is harder to work with. These are some reasons why platinum rings cost more than white gold rings.
The other main difference is 22K, 18K, or 14K gold is harder to scratch than platinum. Also, while gold jewelry requires less cleaning and polishing. This is not the case with platinum jewelry — their maintenance cost is quite high because they must be cleaned and polished at certain intervals to maintain their smoothness and shiny appearance.
Platinum (left) and White Gold Ring
However, both white gold and platinum have the same white color. It quite hard to tell the difference with the naked eye.
|Mixed with other metals like copper and nickel
18K contains 75% gold
|Mixed with other metals like palladium and copper
Contains 95-98% platinum
|With a specific gravity of 19.3, gold is lighter than platinum||Heavier than gold; specific gravity is 21.4|
|Affordable as compared to platinum||30-50% more expensive than white gold|
|Needs to be cleaned and polished every few years to retain its shiny appearance||Cleaning and repolishing must be done regularly to retain its color and luster|
|When scratched, a tiny volume of the gold is lost||Platinum scratches, but it is merely a displacement of metal pieces and none of its volumes is lost|
|Because it contains a mix of metals, some of these metals, like nickel, can cause an allergic reaction when worn over long periods||Unlikely to cause allergic reactions|
Advantages and Disadvantages of White Gold
Like any other alloy, white gold has its own benefits and shortcomings.
- It doesn’t rust, tarnish or corrode.
- Compared to rose gold, white gold can be mixed with stronger metals to make the jewelry more scratch-resistant and durable.
- Costs up to 50% less than platinum jewelry.
- White gold can have more intricate designs than platinum.
- Its rhodium plating wears away over time, so this needs to be replaced every few years.
- Requires cleaning and polishing every few years to retain its smoothness and shiny appearance. However, this is a fairly easy and inexpensive process.
- White gold alloyed with nickel can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Other Colored Golds
The pure gold is a soft, slightly reddish yellow metal. However, when alloyed with harder metals, it forms a range of colors, including yellow, red, green, purple, blue, and black.
Yellow Gold: has a unique warm glow. It is considered more traditional than white gold. And unlike white gold and platinum, which appear the same, yellow gold is hard to imitate.
It is usually alloyed with copper and silver. Most 18K yellow gold items include 75% gold, 12.5% copper, and 12.5% silver. The darker yellow color is achieved by increasing the amount of copper to 15%.
Pink, Rose, and Red Gold: seem similar, but the difference lies in the copper content. The higher the concentration of copper in the alloy, the darker the red coloration. Red gold has the highest amount of copper, while pink gold has the least copper content. Sometimes, zinc is added to give it a reddish yellow appearance.
The 18K pink gold contains 75% gold, 20% copper, and 5% silver; 18K rose gold has the same amount of gold with 22% copper, 4% silver; and 18K red gold has 25% copper and no silver. The 12K red gold contains gold and copper in equal proportion.
Blue Gold: is an intermetallic compound made by mixing gold with either indium or gallium. The former contains 54% indium and 46% gold, and the latter contains 59% gold and 41% gallium.
Purple Gold: is an alloy of gold (79%) and aluminum (21%). These intermetallic compounds are quite rare and more brittle than most gold alloys.
Black Gold: are produced by various surface treatment techniques. Copper-rich gold alloys can be turned into a range of colors from black to brown by treating them with potassium sulfide.
Black gold can also be made via controlled oxidation of gold alloys containing cobalt or chromium, or by producing nanostructures on the surface using a femtosecond laser.
Grey Gold: are typically produced by mixing gold (75-76%) with palladium (15-23%) and rhodium (1-5%). 18K grey gold can also be produced without whitening elements such as palladium, nickel, and cobalt — this inexpensive alternative includes 75-78% gold, 7-15% manganese, 1-10% silver, and 1-2% copper.
Green Gold: are made by adding 4% cadmium. Its use is generally decreasing because cadmium is toxic.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does white gold occur naturally?
No, white gold does not occur in nature. It is manually produced by adding silverish-white metals. The early versions of white gold were created in the 18th century in Germany. However, white gold to substitute platinum was first produced in the 1920s.
How rare is white gold?
White gold is not that rare because it is made from gold, which often occurs in free elemental (native) form as well as in minerals.
Platinum, however, is very rare. It is one of the rarer metals in Earth’s crust, with an average abundance of about 5 micrograms per kilogram. Since only a few hundred tons are produced annually, platinum is a major precious metal commodity.
Can normal white gold turn yellow?
Nowadays, almost every white gold jewelry piece is coated with rhodium (silvery-white metal), so it doesn’t turn yellow or tarnish under normal wear. However, this coating must be replaced every few years. Otherwise, rhodium will gradually wear off, revealing the true tone of white gold.
Can hand sanitizer damage white gold jewelry?
Yes, anything with alcohol can harm white gold jewelry. Since alcohol is corrosive, it can gradually erode metal finishes on the jewelry. If the sanitizer contains an excessive amount of alcohol, it can cause white gold items to lose their luster faster.
Does white gold have a low resale value?
White gold contains cheaper alloys, which means the purity (karat) of your gold jewelry is diluted. This is the reason white gold has a lower resale value than 22K or 18K yellow gold. If you are buying jewelry for investment purposes, it better to go with purer, reddish-yellow gold or silverish-white platinum.