Rhodium plating is a bit like visiting your favorite hair salon. Getting bored? Add Purple. In the same way you can lay purple over brunette, rhodium plating can cover faded looking white gold and dramatically transform the look of your jewelry.
Like adding purple to your hair to create drama, which does come out as you wash it. Rhodium plating is a topical treatment, and doesn’t go down into the gold.
What is Rhodium?
Rhodium is a rare, naturally occurring member of the platinum group of metals. It’s extremely hard. It’s silvery in color and highly reflective.
It’s inert against corrosion and doesn’t react with most chemicals. These properties make rhodium especially good for electro-plating.
Rhodium Plating: What is It?
Jewelry plating—including rhodium plating—is essentially covering one metal surface with a very thin layer of another. This is done using electrolysis. It’s called electro-plating.
In this process the item to be plated is dipped in a liquid solution containing the plating metal. When an electric current is added to the mix, the tiny suspended particles of plating metal bond to the surface of the immersed piece of jewelry.
Rhodium Plating: Why I Love It
Rhodium is often used to plate white gold jewelry. Because of the very bright and shiny nature of rhodium, it gives white gold a nice “pop.”
Rhodiumed rings look whiter and brighter. Like washing with Tide! More often than not, white gold pieces of jewelry you see in jewelry stores have been rhodium plated. It’s the final step in lots of white gold jewelry. Again, it gives pieces the “pop” and “zing” that we like and come to expect.
Likewise, silver jewelry is frequently rhodium plated. Not only does this add shine and sparkle to the piece, but it helps in resisting tarnishing.
As you can imagine, rhodium plating is a relatively inexpensive way to turn a yellow gold piece of jewelry into a white gold piece of jewelry. It can be as easy as getting your hair done at the salon!
How Does Rhodium’s Hardness Compare to Other Jewelry Metals?
Getting technical here. Platinum is 4.3 on the MOHs scale of hardness. Rhodium is 5.5. The scale is not an even one, so the translation is that rhodium is ten times as harder than platinum.
Moving over to the Vickers Scale, a hardness scale for materials, is also useful for comparing rhodium’s amazing hardness to various alloys of platinum used in jewelry. Pure platinum is a 40, 850 platinum with iridium is 160, (85% pure platinum and 15% iridium), 950 platinum with iridium is 80, platinum with cobalt is 135 and platinum with ruthenium is 130. Rhodium soars at 800.
That high number is why I like to use rhodium to plate over platinum jewelry to slow the effect of platinum dulling that occurs on daily wear rings.
To give equal time to white gold which I use frequently in wedding rings, 14kt white gold on the Vickers Scale is a 230.
Graciela’s Heart (A Heart-Warming Tale)
Graciela had me do repairs on her current jewelry. I was at her home delivering her pieces. She said, “it’s like having new jewelry, I love it.” I asked if she had any non-broken jewelry that she wasn’t wearing. “Oh yes!” she said immediately. A few minutes later she came back with a diamond necklace. She said it hadn’t seen the light of day for a while. I could tell by just the look in her eyes and the way she looked at it, that it had a great deal of sentimental value.
Sure enough, she told me she had received the diamond pendant from her husband. The center larger was surrounded by many smaller diamonds. She really wanted to wear the ring and I could tell she loved both of them a lot—her husband and the ring.
I looked closely at the pendant, it was almost pretty…but not quite! The problem with the piece was that there was too much yellow gold showing between the older diamonds. Graciela regularly wore yellow gold, so her husband had taken inherited and very old diamonds and had the pendant made in yellow gold. “I just don’t reach for it. It looks, not great.”
I explained how yellow gold prongs can make white diamonds look smaller, by covering the diamonds. I also pointed out that diamonds can look a bit off color with the yellow gold next to it. The older diamonds in the pendant were not that white to begin with. I thought that if we made the prongs look white that it might very well improve the look of the diamonds. Often when diamonds are held with a white metal it enhances their color, making them look whiter. If the prongs blend in and didn’t compete with the diamonds, the diamonds look bigger and better. At this point I told her that we could ‘white’ her pendant with rhodium plating.
A week later I sat next to Graciela on her living room couch. She was now excited and hopeful and animated all rolled up into one. I handed her the bag with her name on it. She eagerly reached inside and pulled out the little package. As she unwrapped the purple paper, revealing her pendant, her smile couldn’t have been wider.
“I love it!” she said. She tilted it this way and that. “The diamonds look whiter and the whole piece just looks better. A lot better.”
“That’s the magic of rhodium,” I said.
What about You?
Do you have jewelry like Graciela’s? Jewelry that hasn’t seen daylight for a while? Jewelry that looks dated? Out of style? Not quite right? Dull, scratched, and a slightly faded?
A little rhodium plating is all it might take to transform your old jewelry into something new and exciting. A touch of rhodium is all it might take for you to love your jewelry all over again!
Black Rhodium – Yes There is Even Black Rhodium
Here’s my blog post about black rhodium.
Here’s my black rhodium video about it:
What’s My Motto?
“Wear It Don’t Warehouse It!”