When people hear “Gold Plated”, words such as “fake jewelry”, “cheap”, and “costume jewelry” come to mind. While gold plating is indeed used in the above examples, it is not exclusive only to them.
There are 2 common methods in the jewelry industry where plating is used for the final effect, helping accent a piece of jewelry instead of covering an inferior metal.
These methods are White Gold Plating (rhodium plating) and 18K Yellow Plating.
White gold plating
White gold plating is done on all finished white gold pieces, from 10-18 karat. Also called rhodium plating, this process is done due to the intense yellow color of gold in its pure form (24 karats).
Here’s a breakdown of the various metal types and their gold content:
- 24kt Gold – 100% pure gold – a pure piece of 24kt gold has an intense yellowish-orange color to it.
- 18kt Gold – 75% gold and 25% reinforcing alloys (marked 750).
- 14kt Gold – 58.5% gold and 41.5% reinforcing alloys (marked 585).
- 10kt Gold – 41% gold and 59% reinforcing alloys (marked 410).
Think of it like paint, when you mix paints, you get a blend of the 2 colors, and a color with over 15% content will still show its trace. The lower you go in Karat purity from 18kt all the way down to 10kt, the less yellow your item will appear.
In the industry we take that final product and after it is fully polished we electro strip it (to clean the metal and prepare it for plating) and dip it into an electro bath. When people buy a piece of white gold jewelry, they assume the metal is pure white and later on come in and say that the color of their ring is fading. It’s not that it’s fading, but rather that the thin level of plating is getting rubbed off from the piece and the process needs to be redone to bring it back to the bright white look when the item was originally purchased.
This is also true when jewelry is getting repaired or sized since a torch and sandpaper are used while polishing it. The polishing process will remove the plating, which needs to be reapplied in order to restore that bright white brand-new look.
18kt Gold plating
18kt gold plating is a common practice in Italy and is done since the perception there is that 18kt gold has a richer, warmer look. Since most of Europe uses 18kt gold as its standard choice of jewelry metal, they export mostly 14kt to the US.
To get a consistent “Italian gold” look, Europeans plate their jewelry with a 18kt gold, giving it that coveted richer look.
However, since most gold jewelry from Europe is in the form of bracelets, necklaces, or earrings, color fading isn’t a big problem as these types of items tend to have less wear compared to rings.
Since a ring is worn on a person’s hand, it’s more likely to get rubbed on desks, door handles, or when lifting and moving things. In addition, natural oils and dirt build up from your hands will expedite the yellowing of a ring’s metal.
Should I get my jewelry plated?
If you are buying any white gold jewelry, rest assured it will be rhodium plated before you pick it up. When buying a piece of 14kt yellow gold jewelry, you have the option to plate it in 18kt gold to achieve that rich, deep yellow gold color the Europeans are crazy about.
Regardless of what you choose, remember to clean your jewelry often to bring out its luster and brilliance.