Rhodium is a precious metal and a member of the platinum family. Rhodium electroplating is used, especially on jewelry, to provide a durable surface that will help resist scratches. It also gives a polished, reflective appearance.
Rhodium plating is most often found on white gold. The term white gold is something of a misnomer because gold is actually yellow, what you see called out as white gold, is a mixture of gold and a white metal – usually nickel, silver, or palladium (another member of the platinum family). Metals known as white are actually more of a gray color, so white gold has a yellowish cast. Because the wearer of white gold is looking for a bright white look, a very thin layer of rhodium electroplating is used to make that jewelry shine. White gold plated with rhodium will also keep its good looks longer – rhodium will not tarnish or discolor, and since it is a harder substance, it is much less likely to get scratched.
It is important to be aware that rhodium plating does not last forever. The plating on something like a wedding ring that is worn often, if not daily, can wear away in as little as two years, while something like a necklace or pin that is worn less frequently thereby coming in less contact with your skin or the elements can keep its plating for ten or more years. You can tell when the plating is wearing away by the look of the piece; the area without the plating will show the yellowish color of the original white gold.
Sometimes, platinum or silver jewelry is rhodium-plated. In the case of platinum, it is because rhodium is a bit brighter than platinum, so it is used to enhance the shine. For silver, it is a little bit different. Silver is actually more reflective (shinier) than rhodium, but silver is also a much softer metal, and can be scratched very easily. So the owner of a rhodium-plated silver piece is trading a small bit of shine for a longer, scratch-free life.
Next time you see “rhodium plated” in a catalog or part of a jewelry description, it’s okay! It just means that the designers have anticipated lots of wear of the piece of jewelry and want it to be durable enough to give you several seasons of wear.
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