What is white gold?

What is white gold? The answer to this question is there’s no such thing as white gold. Gold is a pure (24ct) yellow metal found either as native nuggets and flakes or more commonly extracted from ore.

There are however a range of white gold alloys available for us in jewellery manufacture. These alloys combine pure yellow gold with a range of other metals including copper, nickel, silver, palladium, platinum and a few other unusual metals. The resultant gold alloys can range in colour from white through grey to some fairly unattractive brownish/yellow colours. Ideally a white gold alloy should be as white as possible with good strength and durability properties. At Metal Urges in Tasmania we don’t believe that a gold alloy of less than 75% (750 18ct) has the correct properties for hand making fine jewellery. We pride ourselves on our position as Tasmania’s finest 18ct gold and platinum manufacturing business. Therefore for the purposes of this article we will mainly refer to 18ct alloys of white gold.

Early last century white gold came into vogue due to the trend toward the white metal platinum. At the time platinum was experiencing a surge in popularity over the traditional yellow and rose gold alloys. Platinums higher price and higher manufacturing skill requirements lead to the increased demand for white gold alloys. It is fair to say that most Tasmanian, Australian and in fact jewellery businesses worldwide do not offer a truly high quality platinum service. The reason being that to effectively work platinum, workshops require specialty equipment and knowledge that is just too expensive for most businesses to bear. All of these things make the use of eighteen white gold alloys much more desirable. White gold alloys are by far the most popular metal in the western jewellery market at this point in history.

There are a number of different metals that can be used to produce white gold alloys. However the statement ‘you get what you pay for’ applies in the extreme in the case of white gold alloys. The gold content remains constant at 75% in 18ct alloys - only the alloy components vary. Low quality alloys lead to a number of highly undesirable jewellery emergencies. Poor metal quality issues range from simple unattractive metal colours through to potentially lethal outcomes for those unlucky enough to suffer allergenic shock reactions to some alloys.

As a general rule mass produced items will be made of lower quality alloys. There are obviously some exceptions to this rule but by and large it is correct. Most people either own or know someone who owns a piece bought in good faith as a white gold piece that has turned out to be yellow or dark grey colour once the showroom polish has worn off. There is a very good commercial reason for this, one which we will attempt to explain in the example below.

When an Indian or Chinese jewellery manufacturing company is tasked with producing an engagement ring design for an Australian Jewellery company the following usually occurs: To maximize profit the manufacturer will use cheaper alloys to save a dollar or two per ring at cost. No big deal at a ring by ring level but if the order is large enough, say over 10,000 pieces  then the saving in production costs becomes very attractive the manufacturer.

In contrast the above example saving of a couple of dollars per ring is no incentive to a one off ring design jewellery business such as Metal Urges. There is simply no point ruining our great word of mouth advertising and reputation for such a small increase in profit. Our clients in Hobart, Tasmania, Melbourne, Sydney and across Australia have come to expect this type of honest and simple business philosophy from us.

The most common metal which causes significant whitening when alloyed with gold is nickel. Nickel is cheap and in 18ct alloys provides a good colour match for platinum. It also produces an extremely hard metal in 18ct alloys, it is great for pins and catches. Unfortunately it also has a serious negative in that most people have an allergic reaction to nickel, causing skin conditions such as dermatitis. At present most of the western jewellery trade understand that the use of nickel in gold alloys is not acceptable in jewellery items worn in close contact with the skin. Metal Urges do not use nickel based alloys of any type.

Palladium (a close relative of platinum) is the best metal for use in white gold alloys, Unlike platinum, palladium is reasonably inexpensive. Palladium alloys beautifully with gold to produce an excellent white/grey high end jewellery metal displaying perfect properties for making heirloom style jewellery. At Metal Urges we work extensively in this type of palladium white gold metal and believe it provides a great alternative to the expense of platinum. Handmade Metal Urges rings will give you a lifetime’s honest wear and still be in good enough condition for the next generation.