What's the Verdict on Rhodium Plating?

What’s the Verdict on Rhodium Plated Jewelry?

Everybody wants to protect his or her jewelry and keep it looking beauteous (that’s the reason we’re in business)! There are a number of things you can do to ensure that your favorite pieces stay shiny, as well as a number of things you should avoid in order to steer clear of tarnish.

One of the more commonly purposed methods, or at least one of the more prevalent suggestions in the industry, is to have your silver or white gold rhodium plated. In fact, some of your pieces at home/pieces you procure in the future may have already undergone the rhodium plating process.

But what is rhodium plating and what does the process entail? Most importantly, is rhodium plating an efficient way to protect your jewelry?

 

To Start Us Off, Let’s Examine What Rhodium is Organically

Rhodium is a rare noble metal and a member of the platinum group. Usually found in platinum and nickel ores, rhodium is hard, durable and high in reflectance. Additionally, it is one of the rarest and most expensive precious metals in the world.

Rhodium is utilized in the plating process because of these reasons and especially due to its “shiny” appearance. Because white gold is not truly white (it's off-white), rhodium is used in order to achieve a bright white finish. It is also applied to sterling silver as a proclaimed agent of tarnish resistance.

 

The Rhodium Plating Process

Jewelers who rhodium plate their jewelry have a specific process that needs to be followed closely, otherwise things will go awry.

First, they will remove any scratches, and polish and clean the piece of jewelry thoroughly. They will then rinse the jewelry in distilled water (a vital part of the process – if tap water or anything other than distilled water is used - contaminants will adhere to the jewelry and the plating will not take).

Second, the jewelry is “electro cleaned” – subjected to electric currents with anodes to remove any further contaminants or corrosion products. Following the electro cleaning, the piece is once again rinsed in distilled water, where it is then exposed to a metallic bond activating solution.

After a final rinse in distilled water, the piece is exposed to a liquid rhodium solution, which is heated to about room temperature. Depending on the desired thickness of the plating, the piece will remain in the solution for a set period of time, where it is then returned to distilled water, steamed and left to dry.

This is a basic overview of the rhodium plating process; for a more in depth look on how jewelers rhodium plate jewelry, watch this informative video:

This Sounds Great! So What’s the Debate?

After the plating process has been enacted, the end result should be a spectacularly shiny piece of jewelry. Consequently, there may exist a status of “overly shiny”.

As mentioned earlier, rhodium plating’s high reflectance is what makes jewelry pieces remarkably shiny. This, however, gives the jewelry an unnatural look. While the two most commonly rhodium plated metals - white gold and sterling silver - contain a natural luster, rhodium forces on them an overwhelmingly loud luminosityRhodium plated silver produces an outward appearance that looks remarkably similar to white gold - an undesirable effect since silver should look like silver...and...well, not white gold!

Take a look at this image:

White Gold Rhodium Plating Phases                                                                                                                  Source: www.Krikawa.com

Notice the natural and non-plated ring on the left; in reality white gold (which is not really white) appears more yellow than it does white or silver. After undergoing rhodium plating, however, its appearance is an overpowering white. As a matter of fact, rhodium plated white gold is so white that you can no longer identify the precious metal underneath.

Furthermore, notice the third ring in the picture above…THAT’S RIGHT, RHODIUM PLATING WEARS OFF AND FADES QUICKLY. Depending on how often you wear the piece, your specific body chemistry, and taking into account the thickness of the plating itself, rhodium plating can and will wear off, as well as scratch.

This can happen in as little as a few weeks or could be prolonged from a few months up to a year. However, the fading of rhodium plating is inevitable and this can get expensive. As mentioned earlier, rhodium is rare and expensive. Due to price volatility, re-plating your pieces can run you upwards of $100.

Furthermore, serious problems can occur if a rhodium plated piece you own needs to be sized, shortened, soldered or repaired. When making these alterations, the heat of the torch will damage and / or strip the rhodium plating. While not a major issue with regards to white gold, if one intends to plate silver with another rhodium application, this can prove extremely problematic. This is especially true if the piece contains gems that are heat sensitive, such as opals, pearls, emeralds, turquoise, amber, or enamel, which are so often used in silver jewelry pieces. 

 

Final Thoughts

Due to the fact that rhodium plating fades and leaves your white gold and sterling silver exposed, you still need to worry about scratches and tarnish. This leaves many people with the following thought: Why even bother with Rhodium Plating?

If you’re simply prolonging the inevitable, then why waste your time and money constantly re-plating your pieces when it’s going to leave the jewelry susceptible to corrosive agents and scratches, anyway?

This is an important thing to consider when weighing your buying options. Jewelry should be worn and displayed for its natural beauty, not glossed over and hidden with a manufactured coating. There are more effective and less expensive methods to protect your jewelry and keep its beauty intact!