Rhodium: fueling our fascination with white alloys...
The allure of silvery white metals permeates fashion, and it’s easy to see why. Their bright color symbolizes refinement and understated class, and they accent the depth and sparkle of gemstones without muddling their gorgeous hues.
However, some alloys need a little help to achieve this beloved silver-white tone, and that is where rhodium comes in.
In this article, we’ll answer:👇🏻
- What is rhodium and rhodium plating?
- What types of metals need rhodium plating?
- How much does it cost and where can I find plating services?
- How can I ensure my rhodium lasts as long as possible?
The ins and outs of rhodium
What is rhodium? What does “rhodium” mean?
Rhodium is a member of the platinum family, and it can cost 10 to 25 times more than gold! Discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston, rhodium gets its name from its pink compounds: rhodon is Greek for pink.
Rhodium is a noble metal with a very high melting point, and it takes extremely strong acids to dissolve its compounds. Although it’s durable and stronger than gold, rhodium is brittle and cannot be shaped into jewelry. However, when added as a coating to other metals, it can increase their strength and longevity.
What is rhodium plating?
Rhodium plating is the process of adding a layer of rhodium to the surface of other metals. By rhodium plating rings and other pieces, jewelers increase their shine, strength, and resistance to scratches and corrosion.
Jewelers add rhodium to the surface of jewelry via an electroplating process, and this requires a rhodium plating kit with four vessels. Two vessels contain distilled water for rinsing, and the other two carry chemicals for the actual plating. The two containers with chemicals are where the anodes are dipped to assist in adhering the rhodium to the piece’s surface. For the entire process, the jewelry piece hangs on conductive hooks made of silver or copper.
First, the piece is cleaned with a degreaser to avoid any dirt or debris hanging onto the surface. If any skin cells, hair products, or other materials are stuck to the piece, the plating will not hold.
Next, the piece is rinsed, and the third liquid, known as plating liquid, comes into play. This plating liquid usually contains sulfuric acid and rhodium sulfate. The piece is dipped into the plating liquid for 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on the item’s fineness, and an electric current is used to adhere the rhodium to the piece. Finally, it is rinsed off with the last vessel of water.
The effects of the process are stunning: just look at this piece with rhodium plating before and after the procedure!
How long does rhodium plating last? Does rhodium plating wear off?
Rhodium plating lasts about 2–3 years before replating is required. However, this time frame depends on how often the piece is exposed to chemicals that can wear down the layer and each person’s body chemistry. Believe it or not, some people’s skin will wear down the rhodium faster than others!
What types of metals need rhodium plating?
Typically, jewelers rhodium plate silver metals. The purpose of rhodium is to provide a white sheen to your already silvery alloys, and so rhodium plating white gold, palladium, or silver is a popular process.
That being said, other metals may also be rhodium plated to provide a unique look. For instance, rhodium plating yellow gold completely changes the tone of the metal. While the newly plated piece will look more white than yellow, it will have a faint sunny hue that shines through. Anyone considering rhodium plating their yellow gold should keep in mind that, as the plating wears off, the yellow gold will become very visible.
Another option is black rhodium plating. To turn rhodium black, additional chemicals are added to the compound solutions during the plating process. The result is a deep, smoky black that can be used to plate an entire piece, although it works best on textured surfaces. For example, it can highlight filigree and other design elements of any item. However, it does not last as long as regular rhodium treatments, so handle with care!
What should I know about rhodium plating services?
How much does rhodium plating cost?
Cost often comes down to how much rhodium is required to coat your piece. Large or heavier items will cost more because they will pull more rhodium from the solution during the electroplating process. Professional rhodium plating services may cost $50–$150, but some jewelers, such as Kay, may provide such services for as little as $46.
However, many jewelers waive the cost of a periodic rhodium plating if you purchase the piece from their store. As part of their service package, they will offer free or discounted repairs, cleanings, and plating. For example, James Allen offers free rhodium plating when needed on their products!
Where can I get my piece rhodium plated?
Most full service jewelry stores offer rhodium plating: Jared, Albert’s, and Kay are just a few of the bigger names that offer plating services. If you’d rather patron a local jeweler, just make sure you call ahead. Most often, jewelers who offer design or setting services typically perform rhodium touch ups.
You can always start an internet search for “rhodium plating near me” to see if there are any jewelers in your area who offer this service. Or, most online retailers have a “Find a store near me” function that will help you identify your nearest location. For instance, both Jared and Kay have this function, so you could easily type in your address and figure out which store is closest to you!
✅Bonus tips to make rhodium plated jewelry last longer
Avoid harsh chemicals
When cleaning or performing any duty that requires chemical solutions, remove your plated jewelry. Chemicals will eat away at your rhodium plating, meaning you’ll have to visit the jeweler much sooner. Also, try to keep your pieces free of perfumes or cosmetics, and wipe away residue if you forget to take them off beforehand!
Limit touching the surface of your jewelry
Try to keep jewelry rubbing and twisting to a minimum. If you continually rub the surface of your plated piece, you will wear off the rhodium rather quickly! Those who work in jobs that require washing your hands or rubbing them together frequently may want to consider avoiding plated rings or wearing them on a chain while working.
Do not wear your jewelry for every activity
There is no need to take your jewelry with you everywhere, especially if you want it to last longer. Do not wear your plated jewelry while showering, as contact with shampoo, conditioner, and soap can be damaging. Similarly, do not wear your plated jewelry in pools, hot tubs, while working out, etc.
Avoid metal on metal rubbing
Rings that spin or pendants and bangles that bump into each other will lose their rhodium much quicker over time. As such, the yellowish base alloy can show through more prominently if your pieces continue to make contact with other metals. Make sure your rings are properly fitted and any bracelets or necklaces stay in place to limit rubbing.
🧐Other FAQs about rhodium plating
Can I plate my piece yearly?
❌No! Do NOT rhodium plate your piece yearly, or you will add decades of wear to your piece within a few years. Each time your piece is serviced, it is initially stripped down to its base metal, polished, and then replated. Repeating this process frequently will just wear down the base metal faster.
Can I be allergic to rhodium?
If you’re worried about a rhodium plating allergy, fear not! It’s free of nickel, which means it’s hypoallergenic and great for wearers with skin sensitivities.
Does rhodium plating affect gemstones?
It depends. Softer gemstones, like pearls, opals, and turquoise, cannot withstand the sulfuric acid used in the electroplating process, so they may sustain damage during plating. In contrast, diamonds, rubies, and sapphires are durable and do just fine during rhodium plating. If you have a soft or included stone, it may need to be removed by the jeweler before the rhodium can be added. In this case, they will reset your stone upon completion.
How long does it take to plate jewelry?
The rhodium plating process usually takes about an hour and a half, but it really depends on the piece’s design. If it has intricate filigree or several gemstones, your jeweler may ask for a bit more time to ensure your piece gets the most even layer of rhodium possible.
Will rhodium plating conceal scratches or dents in my jewelry?
Unfortunately, rhodium plating cannot hide any surface imperfections on your jewelry. In fact, the reflective sheen of rhodium will only make scratches and dents more noticeable! If your piece is damaged, make sure you take it to a professional to polish the item before adding rhodium.
An expensive metal that provides an inexpensive solution to wear
Rhodium plating is an inexpensive way to add a platinum-grade metal to your personal jewelry. While it’s not perfect and requires servicing every few years, you can easily make rhodium plating a part of your regular jewelry maintenance.
Although rhodium plating may accrue a lifetime cost if your piece is not covered by a service guarantee, it’s important to weigh this cost against those of alternatives. Cheaper metals will need to be replaced more often, whereas more expensive pieces like platinum cost much more upfront. Rhodium plating is a mid-range alternative to both options, offering exceptional shine and superior strength.👍🏻