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Picking a white metal is a trendy choice for jewelry from engagement rings to every day hoop earrings.
Between alternatives, white gold vs sterling silver is a frequent comparison we stumble upon during shopping.
They look very similar, yet they are different materials.
Both are alloys of precious metals which have close colors.
White gold is yellow gold alloyed with other metals to make it harder and whiter. Many times, it is plated with a rhodium layer. This thin plating gives it a more uniform silvery color and protects the core from outside effects.
Sterling silver has 92.5% silver in its composition. The remaining 7.5% part comes from cheaper base metals like copper.
Let’s have a closer look and check a bonus third option for silver lovers who’d like to stay tarnish-free!
What is white gold?
100% pure gold is too soft to be a jewelry metal.
Had we used fine gold for making rings and bracelets, they would quickly deform and become unusable in little time.
This is why we use alloys, which are harder and more durable.
The three main alloys are yellow gold, rose gold and white gold. These are widely used for every imaginable piece of jewelry.
The first one is the closest to the natural gold color. The higher percentage of gold there is, the closer is the color to classic gold ore’s yellow.
Rose gold gains its color from copper in the mix. And, as you have guessed, higher the copper percentage, more the color will be a rosy pink. Check this post on Gold vs Rose Gold for more.
To produce the last one, gold is alloyed with white colored metals such as silver, nickel, zinc and/or palladium. Check this post on Gold vs White Gold for more.
This addition makes gold strong enough to become jewelry.
It also moves the natural reddish yellow color of gold towards white like silver or zinc.
White gold pieces are often plated with rhodium
This is a game changer for white gold which rose gold does not have.
Why? Because this layer surrounding white gold brings many advantages.
The obvious benefit is protection it provides for the inner gold base. Even though now, gold has an elevated level of hardness, it is not at par with steel or titanium. It is still open to scratches and impacts. This rhodium plating helps reducing these threats. This sheen finish increases hardness, giving the last touch for a durable precious piece.
This layer also gives a more uniform look as it is closer to a pure metal than the gold alloy inside. It brings increased luster with superior reflectivity. It acts more like mirror showing more sparkle.
Another significant gain of rhodium plating is its hypoallergenic property. This is especially important for people with sensitive skin who may experience metal allergies from time to time.
Gold is hypoallergenic but when it gets into an alloy things may change. Even if the alloy may not directly include allergenic metals, trace amounts of nickel, lead and other metals may enter the mix.
When the skin gets into contact for a sufficient time with a nickel alloy or similar metal and a threshold level for absorption is passed, skin irritation may occur.
Rhodium plating cuts outside contact and diminishes any possibility for metal allergy.
Beware that this is valid only as long as the layer stands intact. With daily wear and tear, it may vanish letting daylight hit the gold alloy. This will open the door for contact between the skin and the gold core.
Luckily, a re-plating session at your jeweler can easily bring back the rhodium layer. This is a simple and cheap process. It will suffice to restore the luster you desire.
White Gold Purity
Gold purity is measured in karat.
100% pure gold is 24 karat or 24k. Thus, 1 karat represents one in 24 parts of the piece.
Of course, fine gold is a soft metal which can’t withstand everyday wear and tear. So, lower gold purity alloys are used in making jewelry.
Most popular karats are 10k, 14k and 18 karat. These have 41.7%, 58.3% and 75% purity levels, respectively.
10 karat wedding band is a piece which has 41.7% gold in its composition.
14k white gold bracelet is 58.3% rich in gold.
18k white gold ring has 75% gold content.
Similarly, rhodium plated 18k white gold alloy bracelet has 18 in 24 parts gold or 75% gold in its composition.
The percentage and karat values are the same for every gold piece, no matter its color yellow, rose or white.
What is sterling silver?
Silver is a wonderful lustrous precious metal.
Its symbol is Ag, coming from the Latin word Argentum.
It’s atomic number is 47 on the periodic table.
Unfortunately, its 100% pure version is too soft for jewelry, just like gold.
That’s why we use durable alloys for silverware, utensils, wedding bands and jewelry.
Sterling silver is a very popular silver alloy, easily found in every jewelry retailer.
Sterling has 92.5% silver in its mix. In other words, it has 925 parts in 1000 silver by weight.
The remaining 7.5% consists of a cheaper metals like copper, zinc or nickel.
This addition makes the metal harder.
Of course, it will be still softer than stainless steel jewelry, yet the hardness will be significantly increased.
Now, this alloy has become suitable for household items such as flatware, utensils, pens, watches and of course, jewelry.
Fine silver , which is marked as 999 SILVER, is not a good choice because of lacks hardness.
Even though the additional metals decrease purity, thanks to increased strength, sterling becomes a much better option than 100% pure silver.
925 silver is hard enough to keep its form and soft enough for artists to work on.
Sterling silver does tarnish
Silver has a beautiful shiny appearance, but unfortunately it is prone to tarnish with daily wear.
925 silver demands proper care and regular cleaning to postpone tarnish as much as possible.
Tarnish is the black spots that appear on the surface of silver. These result from the reactions of sulfur compounds with silver. This is a self-limiting phenomenon that stays on the outside and does not penetrate through inner layers.
Moreover, this tarnishing tendency increases because of the added metals.
This additional metal part is most commonly copper, which oxides easily. This reaction is enhanced in humid environments and in the presence of chemical agents.
And of course, these are always present in air, which is impossible to escape from!
But, there is no need to rush and help tarnish developing. Simple precautions like avoiding contact with water and chemical substances like detergents, shampoos or pool chemicals, not wearing sterling jewelry at the gym or at an outdoor activity will help you postpone tarnish and reduce the need for care and maintenance.
However, you can also prefer a higher quality alloy, with significantly higher tarnish resistance.
Meet Argentium silver.
This is a modern silver alloy which brings more than its shine.
Argentium offers high tarnish resistance.
Germanium which is added into its formula, elevates its anti-tarnish qualities.
This means less maintenance as your wedding ring will keep its luster for a much longer time.
The most used Argentium versions are 935 and 960.
These have 93.5% and 96% purity respectively.
On the other side, white gold does not tarnish.
It keeps shining for a longer time. Even so, it may change color.
If you see your white gold ring is getting yellowy, you might guess the plating is wearing off.
As this layer is very thin, it may diminish slowly by friction and chemical effects.
After it gets rubbed off, the inner base, which has a closer tint to yellow than rhodium, will becomes visible.
White gold is more durable than sterling silver
Sterling silver may get scratched more easily than white gold.
For everyday wear, a rhodium plated white gold ring will perform better in terms of durability.
It has higher scratch resistance. It will keep its form against physical impact to a higher degree.
When the protective rhodium coating wears off, you can simply ask your jeweler for a re-plating and your piece will be nice and shiny again!
Maybe you are keeping your pieces in a jewelry box, without putting them in small pouches or ziplock bags. In this case, sterling pieces would be more open to scratches than rhodium plated pieces.
Sterling silver jewelry demands more care than white gold jewelry
As sterling is a softer material, you must be more careful wearing it.
It has a 2.5-3 grade on the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness.
On the same rating system, white gold receive about 3.5 and rhodium a 6 grade.
It is clear that sterling demands more caution than white gold, especially rhodium plated ones.
In general, you should not wear fragile pieces of jewelry at outdoor activities, during gym sessions, while doing garden work, in the shower or at the swimming pool.
If you have your ring, bracelet or earring on, they may get lost, get scratched or get damaged by physical impacts like a falling object or another accidents. Harsh chemicals also pose danger for precious items… so beware.
Click here to see Sterling silver jewelry on Amazon.
Keep your jewelry clean
After taking your bling off, cleaning it, is always a good idea. Take a soft cloth and wipe it gently to make it ready for the next time.
Furthermore, you may want to keep your precious items in separate pouches or transparent plastic bags.
By this way, you will cut the air flow and avoid airborne agents from reaching your jewelry.
Plus, you will prevent items from scratching each other in your box or drawer.
All these precautions are more important for your sterling than they are for rhodium plated items.
White gold jewelry is usually more expensive than sterling silver jewelry
Gold is more expensive than silver.
Thus, we should expect that between similar wedding rings, the gold one will command a significantly higher price.
Nevertheless, both of these rings are alloys of precious metals with cheaper more abundant metals.
While rhodium is also an expensive metal, other metals are more abundant and affordable.
So, all in all, it is likely that the white gold ring will take a bigger chunk of the wedding budget.
Of course, there are many factors commanding price, such as supply and demand, design, brand, etc.
Thus, prices do fluctuate and every case should be treated separately.
Be aware of allergies: Stay away from nickel alloys
Some people with skin sensitivities may show adverse reactions to prolonged contact with metals.
Most of the time, the allergenic factor is nickel in the alloy.
For both of the metals we look at, if there is nickel in the alloy, there might be undesired skin reactions.
To avoid any itches and other unwanted effects, choose nickel-free items.
This is valid for every piece you may think of: from rings to earrings.
Although, we must note that there is no guarantee than even nickel-free jewelry will not cause allergies.
Avoiding it, can only guarantee preventing nickel allergies, yet people with highly sensitive skin may have extremely rare allergies.
However, for people with skin sensitivity choosing hypoallergenic metal pieces, which do not contain nickel, is a good, safe move.
The Verdict: White gold vs Sterling silver: Which one should you choose?
White gold and sterling silver both have their pros and cons.
925 silver is open to tarnish, but the white gold is not.
So, sterling will demand more care and maintenance from you to stay bright and shiny.
Unfortunately, with time, white gold may lose its rhodium coating. After this, its inner yellow tint will take the place of the lustrous white color.
Yet, this has a simple solution: a re-plating session at the your local jewelry shop.
Depending on the type of your piece, you may ask for an extra layer to increase the thickness of the plating. Obviously, this will last longer.
On the other side, sterling is the same metal inside and out.
This means even if you scratch it, you’ll still have sterling below.
White gold is a harder, more durable jewelry and demands less care.
While its already harder than silver, with rhodium plating it gets much further ahead in terms of durability.
However, this does not mean its ready for high adrenaline outdoor activities or a clashes with dumbbells at the gym.
Avoid heavy physical impacts and encounters with chemical agents. Detergents and harsh chemicals can damage your precious pieces.
Gardening and woodwork is also not jewelry friendly activities!
Just avoid them and apply common sense whenever you question if your jewelry will get any harm.
With both metals, for people with sensitive skin, there should not be any skin sensitivities, as long as the pieces are nickel-free. In this regard, the more pure rhodium plated white gold is a safer bet against metal allergies.
In terms of price, white gold is probably going to be more expensive, every other factor being equal.
If you are a die hard silver lover but can’t stand the tarnish, then before making a decision, check Argentium silver. It is an excellent option, as it carries a similar luster for much longer time with much less cleaning!
1. Which is more expensive white gold or silver?
Gold is traded higher than silver.
Thus, we would expect a white gold piece to be priced higher than a similar 925 silver version.
2. Is Sterling Silver 925 worth anything?
It is made of real silver: it is an alloy which has 92.5% silver purity in its composition.
Fine silver lacks hardness and durability. It is too soft for jewelry.
Thus, we make it into an alloy in order to elevate its hardness and durability.
3. Is 925 silver good quality?
Sterling is a very widely used standard.
It has 92.5% silver in its composition.
It is identified with various stamps such as STERLING, SS, 925 SILVER or 0,925.
Sterling is a precious soft material which enables artists to do their craft. At the same time, it is hard enough to become a jewelry.
4. Is 10k white gold good?
10k white gold is a very popular jewelry metal. It is made of real gold.
Regular gold is made into an alloy for better durability.
When it is mixed with white metals, it gains a white silvery color.
A 10k piece has 41.7% gold content in its composition.
5. Is white gold valuable?
Yes, white gold is valuable.
Gold is a precious metal. It has been as an unit of wealth and financial security for thousands of years.
Moreover, it can be resold and recycled.
If you fancy, you can calculate the gold amount and price in your ring.
Assuming there is no gemstone and the ring is homogeneous with no rhodium coating, measure its weight.
Then find the gold weight by dividing with 24 and multiplying with the karat value.
If you multiply this with the trading gold price, you’ll reach the gold value in your ring!