What is Rhodium Plating?

Silver bracelet with cut out pebble shapes

Most people know Rhodium-plating as something that is carried out on white gold jewellery, although it is a process that is also used on high-grade sterling silver jewellery. 

Rhodium plating has a beautiful, bright-white lustre but has many more benefits besides.  We’ll attempt to illustrate all these benefits of rhodium plating in this article.

What is Rhodium Plating?

Rhodium is a very hard metal but it’s also brittle and very expensive (even more expensive than gold).  In fact, Rhodium is the most expensive precious metal. Therefore, it is not used to make entire pieces of jewellery but used, instead, to plate, or encase, other metals. 

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Why Do We Rhodium Plate Some Jewellery

1. For Protection

Because rhodium is a very hard metal, it is perfect for protecting another precious metal underneath, which may otherwise show knocks or scratches.   

2. It’s Hypo-Allergenic

As rhodium is an inert metal, it doesn’t contain any components likely to cause irritation.  Therefore, a protective layer of rhodium will help if you are allergic to the metal underneath. 

Some people are even sensitive to a precious metal like silver, therefore rhodium can help form a barrier between you and the irritant.

Indeed, it is not an uncommon problem to have a ring that will suddenly start to irritate your skin.

I have had a number of customers come in to ask why the ring they have worn for years has suddenly started to cause a dermatitis-like irritation on one of their fingers. Our bodies change and we can suddenly react to jewellery we’ve happily worn for years, sometimes medication can cause our body ‘chemistry’ to change, our hormones fluctuate and may cause skin sensitivities.

If this happens to you it could be a good idea to try rhodium plating your favourite ring and see if it solves the problem.  

3. It Doesn’t Tarnish

Unlike sterling silver, rhodium doesn’t tarnish (although it does wear over years).  This is one of the reasons why high-quality silver jewellery brands may rhodium-plate their silver jewellery to keep it tarnish-free, protect it from scratches and give it a high-sheen.  

Also, bear in mind that whilst sterling silver tarnishes, a quick wipe with a jewellery cleaning cloth will bring silver back to its former glory quickly and effortlessly.

4. To Revamp a Yellow Gold Ring or Piece of Jewellery

Rhodium-plating a piece of old jewellery can be a great idea to revamp it, whether because you are tired of it or you may want to pass it on but the recipient doesn’t wear yellow gold. 

I did just this with my yellow gold diamond ring I had been given by my husband.  Whilst I no longer wore the ring I had kept the ring, I didn’t want to dispose of it as it held many good memories for me.  Our daughter quite liked the ring but didn’t wear yellow gold. So we had the ring rhodium-plated and gave it to her on her 21st Birthday.

It looked absolutely fantastic afterwards and really modernised it. She now loves it and wears it all the time. 

The Disadvantages of Rhodium-Plating

1. The Slightly Darker Appearance

Whilst it has a high shine and is white, rhodium-plating can still look darker than sterling silver, even to the point of looking a little grey against sterling silver. 

Therefore, some customers don’t like the appearance of rhodium-plated sterling silver. 

2. It Wears Off Over Time

Jewellery pieces that are subjected to more ‘wear’ such as rings or chains, will require periodic re-plating where the layer of rhodium-plating will eventually come off. 

This shouldn’t be too frequent – maybe every five years or so, with a ring.  The ‘harder’ you are on the ring the more frequently it will need re-plating.

A white gold ring if the rhodium has worn through may cause irritation to the wearer.  By rhodium plating your piece of jewellery again it will look as good as it did when it was new. 

The Process of Rhodium Plating

The process of Rhodium plating involves electro-plating by hydrolysis. 

Electro-plating is where a layer of metal is applied to a surface of another metal (or plastic).  It involves running an electrical current through a solution (called an electrolyte) which causes the atoms in the solution to split and adhere to the metal of the item of jewellery being plated (the item being the electrode).

Thereby the rhodium is attracted to the precious metal.  

Is Rhodium Plating Safe for Items with Gemstones?

As gemstones don’t conduct an electrical current, they won’t attract any rhodium like the metal will. 

Gemstones like diamonds, sapphires and rubies are strong and hardy enough to withstand the electro-plating process. Softer, more fragile, gemstones such as turquoise or emerald may not and your jewellery workshop will know whether these stones should be removed prior to rhodium-plating the item of jewellery.

How Much Does Rhodium Plating Cost?

Unfortunately, during the lockdown and subsequent increase in metal prices worldwide, the cost of rhodium increased enormously and this now costs approximately £70 to rhodium plate a ring.  If the item is much bigger or the stones need removing, this will cost more.  

Ensuring Rhodium Plating Lasts As Long As Possible

To Sum Up

We hope this has given you an idea about what rhodium-plating does, what it is used for and what it can be used for which you may not have considered before.

Do drop us a line in the ‘Comments’ if you have any questions or other ideas around rhodium-plating.

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