Gold Jewelry Alloys, What’s in Yellow and White Gold?
In the thirty six years I've been a jeweler, I've been asked, "what is in the alloy mix, (metals mixed into gold for strength and ease of jewelry making,) for white gold and yellow gold?" People have also asked how do the alloys react to skin? The light bulb just went off in my head that I need to blog about this.
Have You Ever Wanted to Know What Makes Yellow Gold White? Or Rose?
Only yellow gold is a naturally occurring gold color. To get other colored golds, such as white gold and rose gold, metals are alloyed (mixed in) with pure gold to create the color the designer desires. I'll give you formulas for the creation of colored gold.
Why do They Alloy Gold?
Pure gold, 24kt, is very soft and not suitable for jewelry making. The alloy metals used with gold give it strength so it can be made into beautiful lasting jewelry. Beyond the strengthening purpose, alloying allows for colored gold. The most common colors of gold today are white gold and rose gold. However green gold is also used by some designers as accents.
White Gold With Nickel, The Most Common Mix
The most common and least expensive white gold is comprised of a percentage of gold mixed with white metals like silver, zinc and nickel.
This combination gives white gold its durability and strength. Nickel white gold does need to be rhodium plated as part of its upkeep. See the blog about rhodium plating.
White gold (and yellow gold) is measured in karats. There are 24 karats in 100% pure gold. This is too soft for jewelry making. There is 58% pure gold by weight in 14kt gold. The balance of metal is the alloy mix chosen to be combined with the pure gold. In metals purity is measured and marked by karat. This is different that carat which is the weight system used for gemstones.
What Alloy Metals are in Standard White Gold with Nickel Jewelry?
14k Standard White Gold with Nickel
58.3% fine gold
From - Precious Metals West
18K Standard White Gold with Nickel
75% fine gold
10 % copper
Information from Innovateus.
The above recipes for gold and alloy metals are just one example. There are other percentages used for these basic alloy metals. Many companies offer their own recipes or mixes of alloys and each has reasons they feels theirs is a superior mix. When jewelers use a casting service, their caster often chooses their favorite alloy recipe that works best with their casting equipment.
What if You Are Allergic to Nickel?
To digress for a moment, I recently wrote about nickel allergies and white gold. The blog post about nickel allergies was written for people who want more information about when jewelers use nickel in gold jewelry, so they can avoid it.
This current post on gold alloys is a more technical dive into various alloys used in the karating of gold.
There is law in the EU regulating the use of nickel in jewelry, referred to as the Nickel Directive. They recognize that more women than men react to nickel and moved to control it's use to prevent jewelry from causing allergic people from the harm of contact dermatitis.
The US has no such law. If you are concerned that you may have a nickel allergy, do request nickel free white gold if you have chosen a white gold piece of jewelry. You may need to have a custom make a piece of jewelry if you want nickel free white gold.
White Gold with Palladium Alloy, the Alternative Mix
Palladium is a hypo allergenic, (rare cases of palladium allergies do exist), sturdy, long wearing and naturally white metal. It is in the platinum metals group. It offers an excellent white metal choice for jewelry. I like to use it as an alloy choice with white gold for clients with nickel allergies or suspected allergies.
Palladium is lighter weight than gold and platinum and has a similar malleability as a metal, to platinum. This means it is not as "hard" as nickel white gold. For some designs the nickel white gold holds its shine longer and its firm feel is preferred.
Palladium white gold is less likely to show that strong yellow cast that can occur over time with the white gold alloyed with nickel.
What Alloy Metals are in White Gold and Palladium Alloy Jewelry?
14kt White Gold - Palladium Alloy
58.33% pure yellow gold (AU)
32.17% silver (Ag)
9.50% palladium (Pd)
18kt White Gold - Palladium Alloy
75% pure yellow gold (AU)
25% palladium or platinum
Information from Innovateus.com
Yellow Gold for Jewelry Making
Yellow Gold used in jewelry making is a gold alloy mix that consists of combining gold, copper and silver. Yellow gold purity is also measured in karats.
Yellow gold is the only type of gold that can be used in jewelry making as 24-karats. Since white gold and rose gold require other metals in order to achieve their unique colors, there cannot be 24kt white gold or 24kt rose gold.
Yellow gold jewelry that is made in 24kt is 100% pure gold. This would not be practical, because of the softness of gold. But it can be done.
What Alloys are used in Yellow Gold Jewelry?
14K Yellow Gold
58.5% fine gold
12.5% fine silver
18K Yellow Gold
75% fine gold
10% fine silver
Rose Gold for Jewelry Making
Rose gold is a very popular alloy comprised of traditional yellow gold and copper, which lends a beautiful pinkish color tone to the metal.
Rose gold is also be known as “red gold” or "pink gold."
Because rose gold is a man-made alloy, “pure” rose gold does not exist.
Rose gold with its higher copper content is a more difficult metal mix to work than yellow or white gold. With its rising popularity, I want people to know that when rose gold jewelry needs repair, you need to be sure to go to a jeweler experienced in working on rose gold. Also know that your rose gold ring will probably need repair more often than yellow or white gold.
This is because of the higher copper content. I have written a blog detailing rose gold's unique characteristics and why you should be aware of possible problems with rose gold.
Some of this information is from Wikipedia.
What Alloys Are Used in Rose Gold Jewelry?
14kt Rose gold
18kt Rose gold
Hopefully I've answered any questions you have about the alloy metals used in making your jewelry. Ask any questions you may have in the comments.
Another great post Calla. This is a really good coverage of gold alloys. I love the fact you’ve included specific breakdowns of the various alloys. Thanks for sharing the information. All really useful.
Thank you for your thoughts and telling me what you liked about this. I get asked about this just enough that I thought, yeah, better write that up!
Your Jeweler Friend,
I really never knew I cared what alloy metals were mixed in to create white, rose and yellow gold. But this was really interesting. It was a great explanation and it was easy to understand. Thank you Calla!
I was a jeweler for many years before I looked under the hood and found out about the alloy metals used in gold. I got curious because I noticed that rose gold seemed to wear faster, yellow was in the middle and white gold seemed to be the firmest and wear the slowest. My curiosity led me to investigate. Once I learned about the alloys, my clients magically started asking about it.
Years later here is my post about it.
Your Personal Jeweler,
I’ve begun the search for a gold alloy that will play well with an orange-gold sapphire I recently acquired. I’ve read that adding quantities of zinc to a gold/copper alloy can make a reddish or dark yellow gold. Do you have any experience with this? Looking for a good jeweler to help me in the SB area!
Hi Lindsey, I work with a very green gold refiner. The refiner mixes the alloys for the golds and platinum that I use in casting. This is a short photo album from my visit to the refiner for a refining demonstration for the Gemological Institute of America: https://www.facebook.com/callagoldjewelry/posts/10156015083110414 My refiner’s website is: http://www.preciousmetalswest.com/ My caster uses various recipes in his various castings. He has 14kt day, 18kt day, white gold day, yellow gold day and rose gold day. If the color of gold you wish to use is one of these I can help you. If you want a custom… Read more »
By accident, while researching how the different colors of gold are created, I happened upon your very informative writing. This totally made sense after the fact but never in the slightest, did I think my 14k gold jewelry was made up of the alloys mentioned in your writing. Not sure how I could have gotten all of what I thought I knew so wrong, esp. since I’d taken the time to understand the percentages of fine gold that determined 10k, 14k, and 18k. I wonder what I thought was mixed with the 58% of fine gold that becomes 14k etc.… Read more »
I’m hopeful that your 14kt white gold ring will look as lovely as all other white gold rings. The alloy mixes harden the gold to allow for jewelry making. I do not think you’ll have any funny colored skin changes going on there.
I am always fascinated with the behind the scenes knowledge of how things are made.
I’m glad you enjoyed finding out too.
Your Personal Jeweler,
I am a fertility nutrition coach, and found your post as one of my clients started getting discoloration under her yellow-gold ring with some diet changes she introduced. That told me her body’s trying to pull in trace minerals in general or copper specifically (what I learned from your post!).
Helpful in a way I’m certain you didn’t expect. 😉
Thank you for your most interesting comment. That is a fascinating additional to the conversation.
Your Personal Jeweler,
I just bought an 18k white gold ring, and the manufacturer specifies gold, silver, and palladium as the alloy used. Have you ever worked with an alloy like that, and what are the typical porportions?
Hi Frank, As a jewelry designer I often specify to my caster that I want palladium white gold. I write about it in this post: https://www.callagold.com/education/nickel-allergy-white-metal-choices/ I used the proportions of a respected refiner in this blog, but I am personally not a metallurgist. I am a designer. That said the ingredients you mention do not sound off. I do not memorize proportions. I would not be able to tell you how much silver they’d have used in addition to gold and palladium. The alloy metals you mention remind me of the metals we use in 14kt white gold with… Read more »
I have about 20 pounds of yellow jewelry alloy in the form of casting sprues. Do I need to send this to a refinery in order to cash out the silver? Or does anyone in the business buy this?
I think going to a refiner is your easiest option. People in the business who buy it are likely to just take it to their refiner so you’ll probably get the best price going to the source.
Your Personal Jeweler,
Hi a jeweler is making me a men’s gold bracelet weighing about 135 grams, he is charging me 35.00 a gram,y question is how much actual gold is in it? He also told me it will be 10 k gold, how much gold is actually going into this bracelet that I’m paying 35.00 a gram for?
I’m a jeweler, not a mathematician. The price sounds great if it was 14kt. I’m not so sure because I do not sell 10kt. Sorry, but I draw the line at doing the math.
Your Personal Jeweler,
Thanks for those really interesting info about gold. I have what may sound as a stupid question here. My friend has an old statuette, 14 karat. He says it is made with silicium and nacre( French name, I am French). Is that possible? Thank you.
Hello Gail, There are gold items made with enamel decoration, coated with silicone and otherwise added to. I’m sorry to say that the only nacre I am familiar with is the nacre coating pearls that is deposited by the oyster creating a pearl. This would not be an alloy used in or on gold. However nacre in French may be a completely different material. As far as silicium goes, I have this from wikipedia: Silicon is a chemical element with symbol Si and atomic number 14. It is a tetravalent metalloid, more reactive than germanium, the metalloid directly below it… Read more »
Thank you Calla, this means a lot to me and nacre is the same word in English. Your reply is appreciated.
I’m so pleased.