Whether buying trendy fashion jewelry or an expensive diamond ring, it’s likely you’ll have come across the term ‘rhodium plating.’ It’s one of the terms in the jewelry world that causes a lot of confusion because people have no idea what it means.
Luckily for you, our jewelry experts are here to provide a complete guide to rhodium plated jewelry. Below, you’ll find answers to all of your questions, including:
- what sort of jewelry can be rhodium plated
- the benefits of plating your jewelry with rhodium
- if rhodium plating is safe to wear
What is Rhodium plating?
Rhodium is a precious metal and part of the platinum family. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive precious metals out there! This is because, unlike gold and silver, it’s pretty rare and only found as a by-product of mining other metals like platinum.
The precious metal was discovered all the way back in 1803 by a man named William Hyde Wollaston. He managed to isolate it from platinum and named it ‘Rhodium’ after the Latin word for rose, ‘Rhodon.’ Today, around 80% of the world’s Rhodium is found in South Africa. We only yield around 20 tons per year, hence why it’s so expensive to buy.
You may be wondering why you can’t buy jewelry made from solid rhodium? This is down to its expensive cost and the fact it’s a little too brittle. Having said this, it makes an excellent plating material. It’s most commonly used on white gold jewelry but rhodium plating on silver has its benefits too.
Rhodium plating process
It is thought that the rhodium plating process dates back to the 1930s. Silverware makers began using it to improve the finish of their cutlery and eating implements, so it didn’t need polishing as often.
From there, jewelers began using rhodium plating on white gold and sterling silver jewelry to make it more attractive and durable. After World War II, the advances in technology also led to Rhodium plating being used on cheaper costume jewelry i.e. the trendy fashion jewelry we know and love today.
How rhodium plated jewelry is made
Before a piece of jewelry can be plated, it needs to be cleaned. Dirt tends to stop rhodium plating from holding in place. Some companies may use distilled water to clean your jewelry, others may use a steam cleaning or electro cleaning method instead.
Once the jewelry is clean, it is dipped into a rhodium solution and an electrical charge is used to fuse the rhodium to the base metal, which may be white gold, silver or even yellow gold. It’s important the electric current is just right or the rhodium plating may turn black.
Some people choose to have black rhodium plating on their jewelry, however, this tends to be created by mixing rhodium with ink.
Getting the right thickness of rhodium plating is also important. Most jewelers aim for between 0.75 and 1.0 micros. It sounds quite thin but it’s sufficient for rings, necklaces and other jewelry items that get a lot of wear.
Sometimes to get a piece of jewelry plated with rhodium, soft gemstones like pearls, opals, and topaz have to be removed. Diamonds and hard gemstones like rubies and sapphires are robust enough to withstand rhodium plating without risk of damage.
4 Benefits of Rhodium Plated Jewelry
1. Rhodium increases the durability of jewelry
One of the main benefits of rhodium plating is that it makes jewelry stronger and more resistant to scratches. Rhodium plating on silver jewelry can also prevent it from tarnishing. If you are spending a lot of money on a piece of jewelry, it’s worth checking to see if it’s rhodium plated, as it’ll give you the peace of mind that it’ll stand the test of time.
2. It can be used on several precious metals
Rhodium is suitable for plating a wide range of base metals including white gold, silver, and yellow gold. It tends to be used on white gold as standard to increase its durability and brilliance. It sounds a bit silly but white gold will look much whiter if it’s been rhodium plated.
Some people choose to have their yellow gold rhodium plated too. This may be to lighten the color of the gold or make it appear whiter. This isn’t a permanent color change though, as when the plating wears off, the yellow gold color will return.
3. Rhodium makes jewelry look more attractive
Rhodium plating will increase the shine and luster of your jewelry, making it look more aesthetically pleasing. It’s a popular choice for diamond engagement rings and wedding rings, as it enhances the brilliance of the gemstone and makes it pop.
4. It’s hypoallergenic
A final benefit of Rhodium is that it makes jewelry hypoallergenic because it’s nickel free. Around 10% of the US population has a nickel allergy and numbers are rising all of the time. If you’re part of that statistic, choosing rhodium plated jewelry is a wise choice to make.
Does rhodium plating last?
Although there are many benefits of rhodium plating, there is a downside – it’s lack of longevity. Plating is very thin and therefore tends to wear off over time. The more you wear your jewelry and the more it’s exposed to, the more often it’ll need replating. 2-3 years is considered the norm.
Several factors will affect how quickly you need to replate your jewelry. These include:
- Your body chemistry – Rhodium plating will wear away more quickly on some people’s bodies than others. If your skin is quite oily or you sweat a lot, the plating may wear away quicker.
- Washing your jewelry – Don’t worry, we’re not saying you shouldn’t ever wash your hands or shower again. That’d be pretty outrageous! Just make sure you don’t expose your rhodium plated jewelry to a lot of water or soap. Read our post on how to clean jewelry safely.
- Exposure to harsh chemicals – Chemicals can damage the plating of your jewelry. Either remove it or protect it (i.e. wearing rubber gloves to cover your rings) before doing any cleaning. It’s also important to take off your jewelry if you go swimming, as the chlorine in the pool water won’t do your jewelry much good.
- Wearing perfumes and cosmetics – Do your best to avoid spraying perfume directly onto rhodium plated necklaces and other jewelry. If you accidentally catch it, wipe it straight away. It’s also worth keeping in mind that any lotions or perfume on your skin can affect your jewelry, even if it’s soaked in. We’re not saying don’t wear it. Just be mindful that it may make your rhodium plating wear away quicker.
Is Rhodium plated jewelry safe to wear?
The good news is that rhodium plating is completely safe to wear. As we mentioned earlier on, it’s hypoallergenic and does not contain any nickel. This means you shouldn’t get any nasty rashes or other painful reactions.
If you do have a nickel allergy, it’s worth looking into rhodium plating as a solution. You never know, it may mean that you can wear some of the trendy fashion jewelry you have your eye on, problem-free!
Do keep in mind though that if you are wearing a piece of white gold jewelry, it may contain nickel in its alloys. Although white gold is usually rhodium plated, once the plating wears off, you may be exposed to the nickel. If you start to notice a rash on your skin, it’s worth checking your jewelry to see if it needs to be replated.
Price of rhodium plating jewelry
The price of rhodium plated jewelry will vary depending on the base metal, design and gemstones featured.
Rhodium plating isn’t just for expensive jewelry pieces. It’s often used on trendy fashion jewelry, to give it shine and make it look that little bit more expensive. Rhodium-plated fashion jewelry will, of course, be much cheaper than say, a rhodium plated white gold engagement ring.
Cost of replating your jewelry
Remember, Rhodium is rare and expensive so it’s not going to come cheap. If you are looking to have your jewelry replated you should expect to pay around $60-$120. The price will vary depending on the type of jewelry, the quality of the rhodium and the jeweler’s level of skill.
Some jewelers may offer rhodium re-plating free of charge when you purchase your piece of jewelry. This should be written into the warranty. It’s always worth making the inquiry as it could save you a lot of money on preserving your jewelry in the future.
Alternatives to rhodium plated jewelry
The on-going maintenance required to keep rhodium plated jewelry intact is something to consider before making a purchase. It’s going to add a significant amount to the price of your jewelry over time. If you can’t commit to replating every few years, it may be better to choose jewelry made from a different metal, like platinum that doesn’t need plating at all. However, regardless of the metal you choose, there are bound to be some maintenance costs involved, so you could argue, rhodium plated jewelry is no more expensive long-term.
Buy rhodium plated jewelry
With so many benefits, it’s no wonder that so many people are choosing to buy rhodium plated jewelry. Not only does it look beautiful but it’s also highly durable and safe for those allergic to nickel. Next time you’re shopping for a piece of jewelry, take a look and see if it’s rhodium plated. Your new-found knowledge of rhodium is sure to help you make wiser jewelry purchases in the future.
Do you own any rhodium plated jewelry?
Tell us about your favorite pieces in the comments below!