SILVER VS. WHITE GOLD:
WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
White gold vs. silver: it's the age-old debate that continues to spark heated conversations in jewelry circles. Both white gold and silver are beautiful in their own right, both precious metals with a glittering history - so what's the difference?
Although white gold and silver look very similar, they have several distinct qualities, such as their durability, cost, maintenance, and subtleties in their color. In this article, we'll compare white gold vs. silver and explore their many unique characteristics.
Q: WHAT'S IN WHITE GOLD?
A: White gold is a gold alloy made from the precious metal pure gold and a mixture of zinc, silver, nickel, palladium, and/or copper (the recipe isn't exact as this mixture varies for different jewelers). The other metals in white gold give it a much-needed color change and increased durability.
Pure gold naturally has a very saturated yellow gold tone; some even call it harsh (bordering on orange). This presents a problem as this "orangey" color differs from the traditional yellow gold hue that most jewelry buyers think of when considering purchasing gold. So, a blending of metals is needed to alter its finished look - make it less yellow, paler, and a full-fledged "white metal."
In addition, the durability level of pure gold also presents an issue. Pure, yellow gold on its own can't be made into jewelry because it's a very soft metal (if you bite it, it'll have teeth marks!).
Q: WHAT'S IN SILVER?
A: Pure silver is a valuable, precious metal with a grayish-white color. Like 100% gold, pure silver is one of the more brittle, soft metals. It doesn't require the addition of other metals to adjust the color. However, silver in its purest form does need alloying with other metals for increased strength and durability. Sterling silver jewelry is 92.5% pure and 7.5% other metals, usually copper.
Pure silver is often confused with fine silver, which contains higher silver content than sterling silver, as high as 99% pure. Thus, fine silver will also come with a higher price tag when buying jewelry. This type of silver, although it contains two metals, is great for sensitive skin since it only has trace amounts of alloy white metals.
1) WHITE GOLD ALLOYS:
Silver and zinc are common in white gold alloys. Zinc is a naturally rust-resistant, strong metal with a bluish-white color. It’s the perfect metal to be combined with white gold. Since gold has a very deep yellow hue, adding up to a quarter of zinc and silver just isn’t enough to transform its yellow undertone, and pieces may still require a dip in rhodium.
2) STERLING SILVER ALLOYS:
Most silver jewelry is sterling silver, which is the pretty name for silver alloy. By default, anything with 92.5% pure silver content is called sterling silver. If you see the number 925 on your silver piece, it’s sterling silver. The other 7.5% is usually a mixture of alloy metals (such as copper, zinc, or nickel).
In addition, alloy metals are commonly used in costume jewelry because a dash of copper in the mix adds a substantial amount of durability to a jewelry piece, even though copper develops a thin layer of green patina over time. Zinc adds durability too, and nickel adds sparkle.
Don’t confuse sterling silver with fine silver! Fine silver products have 99% silver content, making them much softer but less likely to tarnish than sterling silver.
1) WHITE GOLD COLORS:
White gold has a shiny white appearance mimicking a platinum setting. But this shiny appearance actually doesn’t come from the gold or the alloy mixture but from a metal called rhodium.
Rhodium is a precious metal from the platinum family of metals (which includes other white metals like platinum, palladium, rhodium, etc.). The rhodium coating gives jewelry a bright white shine and makes it resistant to scratches. Without rhodium plating, white gold will have a yellow undertone (which some people love). However, others prefer a brilliant white appearance. Thus rhodium plating is required to change the color of the base metal.
2) STERLING SILVER COLORS:
Sterling silver has a lustrous appearance with a grayish white hue. However, it is still not a bright, shiny white like white gold with a rhodium coating. Thus, sterling silver is often rhodium-plated.
THE PRICE DIFFERENCE:
1) WHITE GOLD PRICE:
White gold, a consumer favorite in fine jewelry, is among the top higher-priced metals. However, it is still less expensive than platinum (another precious metal). Your jeweler may charge more for white gold than yellow or rose gold because of the rhodium plating or the addition of palladium in the alloy (which is more expensive than gold).
However, the higher price tag comes with additional benefits for the jewelry wearer. White gold jewelry offers more strength because of its alloy metals and rhodium plating. It's also resistant to high impact, so you can use it as the setting for precious gemstones, making it a popular choice for an engagement ring.
2) STERLING SILVER PRICE:
Silver is less expensive than gold because silver is more abundant in nature than gold. Thus, the supply of silver is greater, and the price is lower than white gold.
1) WHITE GOLD DURABILITY:
When shopping for a piece you'll wear every day, like an engagement ring or stud earrings, white gold is a much better bet for long-standing durability and resistance to wear. White gold jewelry is stronger, thus, more scratch resistant than silver. The combination of metals gives white gold its color and durability. Without it, pure gold is just as soft as pure silver. In addition, white gold is usually rhodium plated, a protective layer that gives it a shiny top layer.
2) STERLING SILVER DURABILITY:
Silver on its own is too malleable and soft. Even when alloyed (sterling silver), the silver will still scratch quicker than the harder white gold.
Q: DOES IT TARNISH?
1) WHITE GOLD TARNISH:
Similar to silver, gold in its pure form doesn't tarnish. There's little to no chemical reaction between pure gold and the environment, but other metals contained in alloys can react with the environment. That's why the lower the gold karat of jewelry is, the higher the alloy content and the faster it will tarnish.
2) STERLING SILVER TARNISH:
Silver in pure form doesn't tarnish, but the other metals in the alloy mixture might. You'll see how silver jewelry (alloyed) develops a patina (a dark grey to black film formed on the surface) as it reacts to the environment. It's not the silver that is causing the tarnishing process to occur. Instead, it's actually the alloy metals like copper which are susceptible to tarnishing. Silver jewelry is usually alloyed to increase its durability, thus it is more susceptible to tarnishing.
1) WHITE GOLD CARE:
A white gold alloy is usually well protected by a layer of protective rhodium plating, even though the rhodium plating won't last forever. After a few years, it will fade and need reapplication. When you see a yellow tinge peeking through, you'll know it's time to re-do that rhodium plating!
Simply take your jewelry to a plating house for a quick, relatively inexpensive re-rhodium plating.
If your white gold jewelry is palladium based, you might not need rhodium plating to enhance the color. This means it's much lower maintenance than a rhodium-plated white gold ring. So if you plan on getting a white gold ring, always ask the jeweler whether it's rhodium plated!
2) STERLING SILVER CARE:
Silver jewelry is relatively low maintenance, but you do need to take care of it just like any other type of jewelry! Clean your silver alloy pieces regularly with a polishing cloth, warm water, and mild soap.
White gold vs. silver, how do you choose? So many options are available to suit every budget in white gold and silver, and both make a beautiful, timeless choice. However, both silver and white gold have pros and cons, so it's up to you to decide which works best for your lifestyle. White gold is a good option if you want something that will stand the test of time. But if you're all about low maintenance with a hint of vintage charm, silver might be the one for you. Either way, both are beautiful metals; it's a win-win situation.
Did you enjoy this post? If so, check out our other blog posts for more jewelry tips.