Have you ever heard of rhodium plating? The process of plating a piece of jewelry doesn’t only alter the look of the piece, but can also change how strong and durable the jewelry is.
If you want your jewelry to last longer and stay in good condition, getting it rhodium plated might be worth considering.
However, there are high costs involved and also a question of whether or not rhodium is a harmful substance. To learn more about whether rhodium plating is harmful to jewelry or your health, read on to discover an in-depth analysis of this element.
In the Post
- Rhodium Facts – What is Rhodium?
- Why Rhodium Plating?
- How Does Rhodium Plating Work?
- Benefits of Rhodium
- Other FAQs
- To Wrap Up
Rhodium Facts – What is Rhodium?
- It was discovered in 1803
- Rhodium is a silvery white metal
- It’s rarely used, with production worldwide estimated to be somewhere between 3 tons and 30 tons a year
- Rhodium is the rarest of the nonradioactive metals in the world
- Rhodium is durable and hard, but it is also brittle
- Its atomic number is 45
- On the periodic table its symbol is Rh
- It doesn’t tarnish and is resistant to corrosion
- It is a member of the platinum group. As well as rhodium, this group includes palladium, platinum, iridium, ruthenium, and osmium
- Rhodium is chemically inert, meaning that it is not chemically reactive
- Rhodium is one of the most valuable precious metals
- The demand for rhodium increased in 1976 when Volvo started using it
- Interesting fact – rhodium is ever so slightly present in potatoes
Why Rhodium Plating?
Rhodium is extremely hard and durable, which are desirable qualities not only in the jewelry business but also in other industries. However, if you’re interested in discovering why rhodium is used for jewelry, it’s clearly down to the durability of the element.
Gold and other metals used in jewelry are quite soft and can easily be scratched, dented or broken. By using rhodium plating on your rings, necklaces, bracelets and more, you strengthen the surface and make it more durable.
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Because of the color, rhodium is often used as a protective coating on jewelry made from white gold. Rhodium can also be used to plate cheaper metals such as bronze, but as rhodium is so expensive, people only usually bother to get their most expensive pieces of jewelry coated in rhodium.
If you’re wondering why you can’t find jewelry made purely from rhodium, apart from the fact that it would be very expensive, the reason is that rhodium jewelry would break.
Rhodium isn’t malleable and in its purest form would simply break, which is why it is used as a plating to coat other metals.
Plating on jewelry can wear off over time, especially if it’s a piece of jewelry that you use regularly or even wear daily. If this happens, your skin could be exposed to the metal underneath the rhodium, potentially causing an allergic reaction.
How Does Rhodium Plating Work?
First you take a piece of jewelry with a weaker metal that you’d like to protect. Typically, this will be white gold but could also be an even cheaper metal, such as silver.
Rhodium is plated onto the metal using an electroplating process. The jewelry has to be thoroughly cleaned first and is then placed in a bath with a rhodium solution.
Sending a positive electric current into the solution will permanently fuse the rhodium onto the silver. Over time the plating will wear off and need to be re-plated, but the rate at which this occurs depends on usage.
For jewelry that you wear every single day, re-plating might need to be done every one or two years. For something you only wear occasionally like a special necklace, re-plating once every decade should be sufficient. When used for plating jewelry, its known as rhodium flashing.
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Benefits of Rhodium
Aside from the fact that rhodium plating can make your jewelry stronger and last longer, there are other benefits that this element can offer.
Rhodium is a hypoallergenic element. Some people can’t wear certain types of jewelry because of their allergies, and rhodium can help to solve the problem by providing an allergy-free barrier.
White gold contains nickel, and anyone who is allergic to nickel will be unable to wear white gold jewelry. It may sound like a niche allergy, but actually about 15% of the population is allergic to nickel. Using rhodium plating prevents skin from getting irritated by the nickel in white gold.
Although dangers are involved with industrial uses, there do not seem to be serious health issues when rhodium is used in jewelry.
To plate jewelry, you use rhodium in its state as a powder so if any danger occurs, it’s at this stage when the rhodium is being used as a powder. Once used as plating on jewelry, and no longer in a powdered form, rhodium isn’t dangerous to the wearer of the jewelry.
However, not everyone agrees with this. There’s an article that claims using rhodium plating on jewelry should be banned.
As we’ve mentioned, wearing rhodium plated jewelry isn’t generally considered to be dangerous to the wearer. People who work with the substance can be exposed to rhodium in the workplace by inhalation. But, all workplaces will have in place their own rules and systems for ensuring the safety of their staff.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specified the legal limit for rhodium exposure in the workplace. It is limited to 0.1 mg/m3 over an 8-hour workday.
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has also set their limits for maximum exposure to rhodium at the same number. At levels totaling 100 mg/m3, powdered rhodium is known to be immediately dangerous to life or health.
This of course is much higher than the permitted levels, and so isn’t a risk if companies are following the guidelines. Rhodium powder is also flammable, so companies will have regulations to ensure that the substance doesn’t come into contact with a naked flame.
Does it make a difference?
Plating your silver or white gold jewelry in rhodium will make it stronger, but will it really make a difference to how your jewelry looks?
Just look at this picture, showing the same yellow gold ring before and after rhodium plating. Can you see the difference? It’s immediately noticeable that the plated ring is much brighter and shiner, but other than that, no other differences can be noticed.
However, plating jewelry with rhodium isn’t so much about what you can detect with naked eyes, but what attributes and benefits are bestowed to the integrity of the base metal.
What will it look like?
Perhaps you’re worried that plating your precious jewelry in rhodium will alter the look of a ring or necklace that you love. If so, there’s no need to worry.
When you have a piece of jewelry plated in rhodium, a very small amount is used. The jewelry won’t look bulky or feel heavy after it has been electroplated, as shown in the above video and picture.
That’s because the ideal thickness for the rhodium plating is as little as .75 to 1.0 microns. It’s a thickness that’s appropriate for use as plating jewelry, but is considered very thin when you look at the actual amounts of rhodium used. To make a difference to their durability, even if they’re exposed to rough wear.
For jewelry items such as earrings or pendants that you save for special occasions and wear less frequently, a thickness of just .10 to .50 is acceptable. Once your jewelry has been plated, you’ll notice that the surface of the metal is now bright and shiny, free of any yellow tone.
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Which are the best metals to plate with rhodium?
Although typically used for plating white gold or silver jewelry, you can use it to plate jewelry with any color of metal.
However, this comes with a warning because plating something of a different color will change the appearance. For example, if you have a ring of yellow gold that you want to have plated in rhodium, the color will change to white.
This might be the look that you’re going for, but once the rhodium starts to wear off, the original color of the metal will show through. This isn’t a desirable look, so we recommend that you stick to plating jewelry in silver or white gold as their colors match that of the electroplating process.
Will the process of rhodium plating damage the gemstones?
This is a common question that people ask if they want to get a piece of jewelry plated. If your jewelry is made entirely from a metal such as silver or white gold then the process is easy. However, if your jewelry has pretty gemstones, there are precautions you should take.
The question of whether or not the plating process will damage your jewelry depends on the gemstones it includes.
Damage can be in the form of the gems having a spotted or studded appearance, or just being broken entirely. For more information, ask your local jeweler. Soft gemstones that you need to watch out for are:
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How to care for rhodium plated jewelry
Rhodium plated jewelry is lustrous and highly reflective. To keep it looking its best, you will need to take special care of your jewelry and make sure it’s kept clean.
Don’t use harsh chemicals or abrasive equipment to clean your jewelry. You might be used to using toothpaste for cleaning some of your other delicate jewelry, but we wouldn’t recommend it for rhodium as toothpaste is quite abrasive and could cause the rhodium to flake quicker.
A mild liquid washing up or hand soap with warm water and very soft brushes or cloths are the best tools to use when cleaning your precious jewelry. Don’t use jewelry polishing cloths like those you get for gold and silver as they aren’t appropriate for rhodium plated pieces.
Aside from cleaning your jewelry when it becomes dirty, you can also take care of your rhodium plated jewelry by wearing it with care.
A piece of jewelry that is worn daily will have the rhodium showing signs of flaking much quicker than a piece that’s only worn occasionally. Plating can be damaged by cosmetics or perfumes, so remove your jewelry before putting your make-up on to ensure it’s kept clean. The plating can also be damaged by chlorine so it’s important to take off your jewelry before you go swimming.
Cleaning tasks can also cause damage to your jewelry. Remove your jewelry if you’re going to be doing any sort of cleaning using hard chemicals, or any task (such as doing the dishes) that will see your jewelry coming into excessive contact with water or abrasive surfaces.
Also read: How to Clean White Gold? (Steps with Hints)
Is rhodium plating worth it?
You might be wondering what the cost is to get a piece of jewelry plated in rhodium. As we’ve mentioned, rhodium is one of the most expensive elements, even more expensive than gold or platinum, so the cost will be high.
Price varies depending on where you get the work done and the size of the piece, but because rhodium is very rare, the process will always be expensive. Re-plating a white gold ring can cost you around $100, but this is a rough estimate with many factors involved.
While $100 might not seem like a lot of money to protect a precious ring, if this is a ring that you wear every day, bear in mind that the process will need to be repeated every one to two years if it becomes worn. For an occasional piece that doesn’t need re-plating often, the cost will seem more reasonable.
However, if you’re looking at the long-term costs for some daily wear jewelry, it might be something you want to reconsider.
What else is rhodium used for?
Although you might be familiar with rhodium for its use in plating jewelry, there are many ways in which this element is used. The element’s predominant use is as one of the catalysts used in the three-way catalytic converters found in automobiles. This makes up approximately 80% of world rhodium production.
When you think about precious metals, the list of honors usually goes like this – bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Just think about the Olympics or other events – you’ve probably never heard of a rhodium medal, but we’ve all heard of a gold medal.
That said, rhodium has indeed been used for awarding a high honor or to signify elite status of something. This happens in cases where other metals, even esteemed metals such as gold or platinum, are deemed insufficient.
One example came in the 1979 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. Do you know the singer Paul McCartney? He’s famous for being in the band called the Beatles, as well as his solo work.
He was awarded a rhodium-plated disc, rather than a gold disc, to celebrate his title as one of the world’s best-selling songwriters and artists of all time.
To Wrap Up
Where or not you decide to get your jewelry plated in rhodium will be a personal choice depending on many factors. The high price of the process means that it will instantly be ruled out by people who can’t afford to keep up with paying for such an expensive process every few years.
While some people are quick to point out the dangerous aspects of rhodium, it’s important to bear in mind that these factors have very little to do with wearing jewelry made with rhodium. Any dangerous aspects relating to rhodium are at the production stage, and even then, precautions are taken to uphold regulations and keep the workers safe.
If you want to protect your silver or white gold jewelry and make sure that it is free from tarnishing, plating it in rhodium is a great idea. Not only will your jewelry look clean and shiny, but it will also be strong and last for longer.
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