Is White Gold Really Gold?

It's called gold, but it's white not yellow. Is white gold really gold?

It's called gold, but it's white not yellow. Is white gold really gold?

"Is white gold really gold?" is a common question we hear almost daily in our office, and a very understandable one. With shows like Gold Rush, Bering Sea Gold, Yukon Gold, and many others on the ole' tube, people have seen with their own eyes that gold naturally comes out of the ground yellow. Therefore it stands to reason that maybe white gold really isn't gold? 

The answer is yes! It is still gold, it's only alloyed in a different way to change the natural yellow color of the gold content and make it appear lighter, more pale, and white-like.

 

How can white gold look different but still be gold?

Alloyed 14k white gold anchor pendant.

Alloyed 14k white gold anchor pendant.

It all comes down to how the materials are alloyed and what the gold is alloyed with. If you're not familiar with karat weights, gold alloys, and what it all means, we wrote an article explaining it in detail here. As a quick and simple example, regular yellow gold is usually alloyed by mixing pure 24k gold with copper or silver and the gold retains its yellow hue. When making white gold the 24k is mixed with other metals, usually palladium and/or nickel, or zinc, and this washes out the yellow hue because those three metals are very "white" in color.

This is why you never see white gold in a higher karat weight than 18k. There just isn't enough room for the required palladium or nickel to change the gold's color. 

Fun Fact: In the US the most commonly used metal to alloy white gold with is nickel, due to it being less expensive than palladium. This is also why some people find themselves allergic to white gold, due to the nickel, and why in Europe all white gold is required to be made with palladium.

 

True white gold isn't fully white!

You can see here on these older rings that the lustrous white color has started to fade and they've become a little yellowish. Time to re-plate them with rhodium.

You can see here on these older rings that the lustrous white color has started to fade and they've become a little yellowish. Time to re-plate them with rhodium.

After alloying the pure 24k yellow gold to have a much lighter and "white" color, the gold still appears to have a yellow tinge to it. This is because, if any of you are painters you may well know, it takes much more of a lighter color to completely wash out a darker color. White vs yellow. It would take too much white metal material to make the jewelry look fully white. The end result would have such a low content of gold it wouldn't be worth the effort.

Thank you rhodium! To remedy the problem of a slight yellow tinge to white gold jewelry, almost all of it is rhodium plated (another precious metal) plated to give the piece it's well known brilliant white and shiny look. If you already own white gold jewelry you've probably either noticed that the color is fading a little with wear, or your jeweler already informed you the best practice with white gold jewelry is to bring it back into the store and have it replated every 6 months or so. 

 

In conclusion

White gold really is made of gold, and no less valuable or more valuable than yellow gold. It does; however, require a little more work and maintenance. So comes to mind the question, "Which is better: yellow gold, white gold, or platinum?". Truly that's a personal preference question but we'll try to give you some deeper insight in the posts to come.

In the meantime, don't be fooled. White gold IS gold, just alloyed a little differently. :)