There is nothing quite like the beautiful bright white finish that rhodium gives to a piece of jewelry. With its bright, glittering and reflective qualities (it is the most reflective of all precious metals) from a few feet away it’s hard to tell where the stones end and the metal begins. Because rhodium is so bright and makes stones look so stunning, almost all white gold jewelry, as well as some yellow, is rhodium plated. But what exactly is rhodium and how does the process work?
Rhodium is a very hard, silvery-white metal that was discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston when he separated it from platinum. He named it after the Latin word “rhodon” which means rose. It is one of the world’s most expensive metals and fetches about 6 times more than gold by weight. It is never found in mineral form and is only found in trace amounts within platinum or nickel ores. 80% of the world’s rhodium is found in South Africa. Because the metal is so hard, it is not ideal to use for jewelry making. However, it is great to use as a thin, decorative and protective layer over gold and silver jewelry.
Silverware makers from the 1930’s first used the electro-plating process to produce flatware that didn’t need constant polishing. During this process, which is used today, the item to be plated is dipped in a liquid solution containing the rhodium. An electric current is added to the mix that forces the tiny particles of metal to bond with the surface of the immersed piece of jewelry.
Just like going to the hair salon to maintain your color, rhodium also needs maintenance. Since rhodium is a just a very thin plate covering your base metal, every so often it is going to need to be re-plated. Most jewelry can go for a few years without re-plating with the exception of rings. Because rings are worn most often and receive the most contact with everyday substances they may need to be re-plated more often. Once you start seeing the yellowish-white gold base starting to show through you’ll know it’s time to rhodium. We do rhodium plating in our on-site repair shop for $35 each piece.