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What is Rhodium Plating?


So your jeweler told you that your ring needs to be 'rhodium plated'. What in the world is 'rhodium plating'? Glad you asked!


Rhodium - the metal

Rhodium is one of the elements listed on the Periodic Table Elements. It is a very rare silvery-white metal. Rhodium actually holds the distinction of being the most expensive metal in the world! The appeal of this metal in the jewelry world is that it is highly reflective, and it is non-reactive (won't cause an allergic reaction).

Rhodium was discovered in 1803 in platinum ore by William Wollaston. It is only found in trace amounts within platinum or nickle ore. I mentioned it was rare - only about 20 tons per year are mined. As of January 8, 2015 the price was $1220 per troy ounce.

Why is rhodium used in jewelry?

Almost all white gold jewelry has been rhodium plated. The reason? Because gold in it's natural color is yellow. Think of the color of a gold nugget - it's not white. So to make "white" gold, pure gold is alloyed with white metals, such as nickel. This bleaches the color and whitens it. However, the color is more of an off-white. Kind of a dingy white-ish color. Definitely not the color of platinum or high polished silver. So in order for white gold to have a nice crisp bright white color (like platinum), the jewelry is rhodium plated. This plating really improves the appearance of the white gold jewelry.

BEFORE
BEFORE
AFTER
AFTER

Note: We also upgraded customer's diamond to a 1ct Ideal Cut. Notice the better sparkle.

How is jewelry rhodium plated?

Here are the steps needed to rhodium plate jewelry:

  1. Polish the piece to bright finish.
  2. Thoroughly clean the jewelry in an ultrasonic.
  3. Rinse the jewelry using distilled water.
  4. Steam off the piece. (using a jewelers steamer)
  5. Electro clean: Set temperature at 120F, 4 volts for 2 minutes in a stainless beaker with the positive lead attached to the beaker, negative attached to the piece being plated. OR 120F, 4 volts for 2 minutes in a glass beaker with a stainless steel anode, positive lead attached to the stainless anode, negative attached to the piece being plated. (Yes, this is a bit technical.)
  6. Rinse in distilled water again.
  7. Activator: Temperature at room temp, no voltage, for 30 seconds.
  8. Rinse in distilled water again.
  9. Dip in fresh distilled water.
  10. Rhodium plate: At room temperature, 4.5 volts, for 20-30 seconds, negative lead attached to piece being plated, positive lead attached to platinized titanium anode.
  11. Rinse in distilled water again.
  12. Steam clean then dry off. Some jewelers will use a blow dryer to dry the jewelry.

This is a tricky process and oftentimes the jewelry will not come out right. Sometimes a dark spot will appear on the plating, or the rhodium has a frosty look. When this happens (hopefully) your jeweler will have to redo the job.

The rhodium plating solution is expensive. We pay around $250 for a bottle. And the solution can get contaminated and go bad.

Rhodium Plating For Jewelry Rhodium plating solution has toxic sulfuric acid in it. And during the plating process acidic fumes are produced. So the jeweler needs to do this in a well ventilated area and use a breathing mask and goggles. Otherwise these fumes will just about knock you out. And very unhealthy.

Does the rhodium plating last forever?

It depends on the piece of jewelry and how much friction it gets. For earrings and necklaces, the rhodium plating may never wear off. But for rings that are worn daily, the rhodium plating may only last a year or so. It really depends on how much wear your ring receives.

You will know when it needs to be replated. The metal color will start to show it's original "yellowish" hue. Usually this will be on the bottom of the ring, where it gets most of the wear and tear.

Also, when your jewelry is worked on by a jeweler and a torch is used, the torch flame will burn off the rhodium plating. So rhodium plating needs to be done as the last step.

What does rhodium plating cost?

Most jewelry stores will charge anywhere from $35 - $60 to rhodium plate. Remember, there are 6 steps (shown above) that are required. It's a time consuming process. And the material is expensive.

However, you don't have to get your jewelry rhodium plated if you don't want to. But it will have the off-white, yellowish hue color. Just advise your jeweler you don't want it done.

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