Most people know Rhodium-plating as something that is carried out on white gold jewellery, although it is a process which 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 cover them 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 from but used, instead, to plating other metals.
Why Do We Rhodium Plate Some Jewellery?
Rhodium is a metal with a highly reflective white surface and therefore gives a beautiful sheen. It forms a protective covering with a smooth, tactile feel. There are a number of reasons we rhodium-plate jewellery:
1. To Plate White Gold
White gold actually starts in the same way as any other gold in that it consists of pure gold and other metals mixed together to make it more workable and stronger. The alloys chosen in white gold are selected for the white colour they will add to the gold which, has a yellowish-colour to it. Nickel and palladium are popular alloys to add to white gold as they are the whitest. Yet, this white gold alloy still doesn’t look bright white.
So rhodium, with its brilliant-white lustre, is used to plate white gold to give it many advantages along with a bright-white colour.
1. For Protection
Because rhodium is a very hard metal, it is perfect in protecting the 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 so 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 irritate you.
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 their finger. Our bodies change and we can suddenly react to jewellery we’ve happily worn for years, sometimes a medication can cause our body ‘chemistry’ to change, our hormones fluctuate and may suddenly cause it be more sensitive.
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 off over years). This is one of the reasons why high-quality silver jewellery brands, such a Diamonfire, Hot Diamonds and Clogau Gold all 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 can be a great idea to revamp a piece of jewellery you are tired of or want to pass it on but the recipient doesn’t wear yellow gold.
I did just this with my yellow gold diamond engagement ring from my ex-husband. I had kept the ring as I didn’t want to dispose of it, it held many good memories for me, yet I wouldn’t feel right wearing the ring again. Our daughter quite liked the ring, but didn’t wear yellow gold.
So I got the ring rhodium-plated. It looked absolutely fantastic afterwards and really modernised it. She now loves it and wears it all the time. It was a lovely thing for her – out of a sad situation it made her think of her Mum and Dad’s love they had for each other. I was happy as I respected he gave me that ring out of love. My ex-husband was happy that I hadn’t got rid of it or cashed it in!
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 which 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?
We charge £50 to rhodium plate most items brought to us (usually rings). If the item is much bigger or the stones need removing, this will cost more.
Ensuring Rhodium Plating Lasts As Long As Possible
The following steps may seem obvious and commonsense measures, but sticking to them really will help to prolong the life of the rhodium plating on your jewellery.
Don’t spray perfume or chemicals on yourself whilst wearing any jewellery, but especially, rhodium-plated jewellery.
Don’t do heavy physical work or housework with your rings on – both because of the chemicals in the products and the wear/knocks on the jewellery
Never sleep in your jewellery – we perspire when we sleep, we may move around and tangle or lean on our jewellery in our sleep
Don’t rub rhodium-plated jewellery unnecessarily.
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.