Rhodium plating, also known as rhodium dip or rhodium flashing, is often used to enhance the durability and luster of white metals. While it’s commonly used in the jewelry industry, most people are often confused about rhodium plating and its pros and cons in relation to their piece of jewelry. Here’s a quick rundown on everything you need to know about rhodium plating.
What is Rhodium and Why is it Used in Jewelry?
Rhodium is a precious metal in the same family as platinum. It’s extremely rare and this scarcity is reflected in its price, making it among the most expensive metal out there. In its natural form, rhodium is brittle and not workable which is why solid rhodium is never made into jewelry.
Its many advantages make rhodium an excellent way to strengthen and enhance the beauty of other metals. It’s sometimes used in alloys but it’s most significant use in jewelry is as a plating material. It’s most commonly used to plate white gold, silver and palladium.
Rhodium plating can add an irresistible luster to white gold. See more rings here.
Here’s why rhodium makes for an excellent plating material:
- Rhodium is extremely durable, so by plating a metal like gold with rhodium, it enhances its durability. This is especially important for engagement and wedding rings which need to be durable enough for daily exposure. The plating is scratch and tarnish resistant. It reduces the likelihood of silver tarnishing, when used to plate silver.
- Rhodium is highly reflective and shiny, giving metals like white gold their characteristic luster.
- For those with metal sensitivities, rhodium is hypoallergenic and contains no nickel. As nickel allergy is a common issue among a large percentage of people these days, this makes rhodium an attractive metal.
The Cons of Rhodium Plating
While there are many benefits to rhodium plating, there are several downsides to this process:
- Rhodium plating is just another type of plating, which means that over time it’ll flake or peel off. Rhodium plating typically lasts for about 18 to 24 months and depending on how much wear and tear the piece is subjected to, as well as your body chemistry, the time between the need for re-plating can be more or less. Over time this can add up in cost. Most retailers, like James Allen, offer free periodic rhodium plating for the life of the ring.
- Another disadvantage is that rhodium plating can be somewhat costly with a ring costing usually around $80 to $100 to be plated. This is why although at the start white gold might appear inexpensive compared to platinum, over time, the cost to maintain it adds up.
The Rhodium Plating Process
The rhodium plating process is fairly simple. It involves the following steps:
- The ring, or other jewelry, is first cleaned and the existing rhodium, any grime, pollutants and other contaminants are carefully removed. Dirt will keep the plating from bonding to the metal. The cleaning stage is the most intensive part of the process.
- Then the ring is polished inside, out and on the edges to prepare it for plating.
- It’s then typically steam-cleaned to remove any wax or residue left from the polishing.
- The ring is then placed in a rhodium bath and a positive electric charge is used to bond the rhodium layer to the metal. If the charge is too powerful, the plating will be a dark, blackish color and if its not powerful enough, the rhodium will not bond properly.
- The entire process takes about an hour and a half in total.
This video shows the stages of rhodium plating a white gold ring.
Making Rhodium Plating Last Longer
While the lifespan of rhodium plating depends on several factors, you can prolong the time between re-plating by taking reasonable care of your rhodium plated jewelry. Some steps are:
- Keep rhodium plated jewelry away from chemicals. This includes chlorine in swimming pools, cosmetics, hairspray, perfumes and household detergents like liquid soap.
- Avoid rubbing your rhodium plated ring against other objects or even against your hands. Too much rubbing can weaken the plating and cause it to flake.
- If your rhodium plated ring gets into contact with chemicals or excessive body sweat, wipe it down or rinse it off.
- Never rub rhodium plated jewelry with abrasive materials, but instead use a soft cloth or toothbrush and a mild soap to remove dirt and return it to its usual luster.
- Keep rhodium plated rings from being struck by sharp objects, as this can remove the plating in those areas resulting in the original color of the metal bleeding through.