Sought after by explorers for millenia, this element is the most widely desired metal in modern jewelry manufacturing. Gold, whose atomic symbol is Au on the periodic table of elements, is naturally yellow in color. The specific gravity of gold is 19.3+, which is quite heavy for metallic minerals. One quality of gold is that it is easily formed into various shapes. This has made it a premium choice for jewelry artisans throughout the centuries.
Gold in its purest form is defined as 24 karat. Pure gold is too soft for most jewelry uses, so it is mixed, or alloyed, with other metals to alter its properties and color. It is common to see gold jewelry in 18k or 14k. This represents an alloy that contains 18/24 or 14/24 parts gold in the overall mix. This value could also be expressed in percentages of purity as 75% for 18k and 58.33% for 14k. Etienne almost exclusively uses 18k gold in his designs, although he is generally open to working with 14k gold for individual custom requests.
It is important to note that the term white gold is something of a misnomer. Pure gold is actually yellow, what jewelers call white gold today is an alloy (mixture) of gold and a white metal – usually nickel, silver, or palladium (another member of the platinum family). Metals known as white are actually more of a gray color, so white gold has a yellowish cast. The higher the karat weight, the more gold there is in the alloy, the more yellow the cast appears. Since the wearer of white gold is looking for a bright white look, a very thin layer of rhodium electroplating is used to make that jewelry shine. White gold plated with rhodium will also keep its good looks longer because rhodium will not tarnish or discolor, and since it is a harder substance, it is much less likely to get scratched.
Rhodium is a precious metal, a member of the platinum family. Rhodium electroplating is used, especially on jewelry, to provide a surface that will resist scratches and tarnish, and give a white, reflective appearance.
It is important to be aware that rhodium plating does not last forever. The plating on something that takes a lot of wear, like a wedding ring, can wear away in as little as two years, while a necklace or pin that is worn less frequently or comes in less contact with your skin or the elements can keep its plating for ten or more years. You can tell when the plating is wearing away by the look of the piece; the area without the plating will show the yellowish color of the original white gold. Discoloration can also occur on the unplated areas, and in some rare instances, your skin will have a slight reddening reaction to the exposed alloy.
In that case, a quick trip to the jeweler’s is all it takes to bring your piece back to life. Most jewelry items can be easily replated, although replating a two-toned piece will be more expensive because the work needs to be done by hand. Prices will also vary according to the thickness of the rhodium plate that you choose to use, the thicker the plating, the more metal is used, therefore the more expensive the process is. Choose thicker layers for items you wear every day, like a wedding or engagement ring. The extra one-time expense will be well worth it in the long run, because you won’t have to have the item replated as frequently.
Replating will not fill in dents, dings and scratches, it will only make them shinier and more noticeable! Make sure your jeweler is planning on cleaning and polishing your jewelry before it is replated. The smoother the piece is to start with, the better the effect you will get from the replating process.
Sometimes, platinum or silver jewelry is rhodium-plated. In the case of platinum, it is because rhodium is a bit brighter than platinum, so it is used to enhance the shine. For silver, it is a little bit different. Silver is actually more reflective (shinier) than rhodium, but silver is also a much softer metal, and can be scratched very easily. So the owner of a rhodium-plated silver piece is trading a small bit of shine for a longer, scratch-free life.
When the plating begins to wear away from a platinum or silver piece, it will be much less noticeable–the color difference is not as great, because the metal underneath will appear to be gray, not yellowish. Silver can tarnish, but platinum won’t, and neither sterling silver nor platinum will cause a skin reaction if exposed. In this case, have the item replated when the look of it is bothersome.
If you are shopping for a new piece of jewelry in white gold, platinum, or silver, be sure and ask the jeweler if the item has been rhodium plated. Often, customers buy rhodium-plated pieces without realizing it–knowing how your new jewelry was made will help you maintain it properly and enjoy its beauty for years.
Platinum, whose atomic symbol is Pt on the periodic table of elements, is naturally a reflective gray, or silver in color. The specific gravity of platinum is 21.5, which is heavier than gold. Platinum for jewelry, as opposed to gold, is used in a nearly pure alloy, which makes for a much heavier piece than the same design made in gold. Platinum is easily formed into various shapes, and it is usually mixed, or alloyed, with other metals such as gold, nickel, iridium, palladium, rhodium, or ruthenium to alter its properties.
Unlike gold, nearly all platinum will be stamped .950, because to be considered “platinum,” alloyed forms of this metal must contain at least 19/20 parts platinum in the overall mix. Traditionally valued much higher per ounce than gold, although the recent surge in gold prices has left the two metals much more similarly valued, platinum jewelry will still often cost more than twice as much as the same piece of jewelry made in gold. This is due to the greater density and purity of platinum as well as the extreme heat and techniques required for its manufacture.