The other day a customer came in with a ring she purchased about a year ago. She asked me, "Is it just me, or does this look like my white gold ring is turning yellow to you, too?" Before I could answer, she promptly informed me the store where she purchased it told her it was 14kt white gold. She felt she was misled and the ring was some base metal that had been plated and she was obviously upset about the situation.

Unfortunately, we run into this in the jewelry industry far too often. Why? Because we as jewelers do a poor job explaining the metals and gemstones we sell. We are also guilty of assuming that everyone has all the basics of jewelry knowledge that we possess. These two items lead to more confusion and anger on the part of our guests than anything else we do.

What does 14kt really mean?


3380711Any understanding of why white gold turns yellow and behaves the way it does should begin with a definition of the word karat. Karat is a measure of the purity of gold, not to be confused with carat, which is the weight of a diamond. In the karat system, pure gold is defined as 24 karat. So what is 14 karat and what does that mean? Substitute the word karat with parts, so 14 karat becomes 14/24 parts of gold.

Now, some basic rules with the process of creating different gold colors: more copper in the alloy gives you pink gold; more silver gives green; more nickel or palladium gives white. Sort of. In 14 karat and above, the majority of the metal alloy is gold and therefore yellow. So the color will always have some inclination to the yellow shade. Pink and green cover the color well because of their darker tone. White not as well.

Consider a cup of coffee. It starts as dark brown. You decide to add creamer, which is white. What is the resulting color? A light shade of brown.Certainly not the true color of coffee, but also not the pure white of the creamer. Adding nickel or palladium to gold is no different than adding the creamer to the coffee. It simply makes the alloy less yellow, not white.

Why are the white gold rings in a jeweler's case so white?

Ok, how do jewelers get their white gold rings to be white? All the white gold you see in a jewelry store is plated with a white metal called rhodium. Rhodium is an element on the periodic table, just like gold and platinum. In fact, rhodium is in the platinum family and shares some of the properties of platinum. The property jewelers like it for is the color. It is a naturally white metal. It is also very precious and usually trades at prices similar to gold and platinum but can sometimes greatly exceed them as well when supply tightens.

So, what makes white gold turn yellow?

This plating does wear off in time, exposing the metal beneath. How long that takes depends on the person wearing the jewelry and the conditions they put the jewelry in. The rule of thumb: the more the jewelry rubs on things, the faster it wears. Rings tend to wear the fastest, while earrings seldom need the rhodium replaced. On average, plating on a ring will generally be nearly or completely gone within one year's time. Lastly, full-service jewelers like Day's Jewelers can replace the plating on your ring in store. The process usually takes about 2-3 days.

What happened with the guest?

I offered to inspect her ring for her and it was indeed 14 karat white gold. She had been wearing the ring daily for just about a year and the ring was showing a mild tint of yellow on the base of the ring and the sides. The rhodium finish was clearly worn off and needed to be replaced. Unfortunately, the jeweler who sold her the ring neglected to explain these simple facts to her and created an upset guest. Once I had assured her this was indeed normal and they simply did not explain white gold properly, she decided to leave the ring with me to have the rhodium replaced. When she picked up the ring, we had returned it to her as it appeared when she first purchased it. She left happy and with a better understanding of jewelry which made us happy as well.


About the Blogger:

MarkPoulinMark Poulin, Store Manager, Day's Jewelers Auburn

Mark's favorite part about his job is customer service, he loves working with customers and teaching them about jewelry. He provides his customers with all the information they need to make an informed decision about their jewelry purchases. He has a wealth of knowledge and is always willing to answer questions.

Learn more about Mark.