Written By: Vahid Moradi
When people think of gold, they imagine its titular warm and sunny shade. However, there’s more than one color when it comes to this precious metal—enter white gold.
Some skeptics might doubt its value but white gold can be just as beautiful, “real,” and valuable as any yellow gold. So besides color, what makes these two metals any different? Read on to explore the major differences between white gold vs yellow gold.
Gold: How It’s Made & What Types Exist
Untarnishable and rare, gold has remained one of the world’s most valuable materials for millennia. However, this metal must take a few steps before becoming any gold ring. To understand the difference between white gold and yellow gold, it’s crucial to know how gold is made. Let’s dive into the formulation and types of gold jewelry created by humans.
The word “metal” carries a strong and sturdy reputation. Yet pure gold is actually very soft and malleable. To make wearable pieces, jewelers have to combine gold with harder metals—a gold alloy.
An alloy metal can change gold from inside-out, transforming its texture, color, and chemical properties.1 However, jewelers must balance an alloy’s properties with the content value of gold. As a result, metal alloy content must stay between 0% (pure 24 karat gold) and 58.3% (10 karat gold) to qualify as gold.2
Depending on the desired outcome, jewelers often use one or more of these alloy metals:
Types of Gold
How does pure gold turn into different shades? It all comes down to the alloy formula.
All raw gold starts as yellow. The less alloy metals used, the more yellow the gold remains. With more alloy metal, raw gold can transform into a range of gorgeous colors.3 Here are the most common gold types that rise from the alloy process:
- Yellow gold – To maintain its sunny shade, raw gold requires as little alloy metal as possible. Most jewelers use small percentages of copper and silver to create stable yellow gold from its pure form. You can use pure yellow gold in jewelry or luxury rings (also known as 24k gold), but its softness makes it risky to wear.
- White gold – Many jewelers combine raw gold with titanium and nickel to create white gold. These alloys dilute the yellow shade, creating a clean and striking “white” color (in fact, any alloy besides copper will whiten natural gold). Unfortunately, some wearers find that unplated gold-nickel alloy women’s wedding bands or mens wedding rings trigger an allergic reaction. Palladium is a wonderful hypoallergenic alternative, although not quite as hardening.
- Rose gold – Copper and silver alloys create the romantic pink-ish tone of rose gold. Once a vintage style, rose gold has experienced a slight resurgence in popularity.
Differences in Strength & Maintenance
Both white gold and yellow gold are high quality metals for your jewelry. However, they do differ significantly in strength.
Thanks to its higher content of alloys, white gold jewelry is more resistant to dents, scratches, and damage than yellow gold. For highly active wearers, white gold might be a safer choice. Despite this, yellow gold offers some benefits, including resizing and zero plating.
To compare, let’s explore the maintenance needs of each gold type:
- Plating – ome makers plate white gold in rhodium for extra strength and shine. This silvery metal is resistant to oxidation and erosion, enhancing the “cool” tones of white gold.4 While rhodium plating blocks nickel allergies and scratches, it also requires replating every year (which can be costly). No yellow gold has rhodium plating since it dulls the yellow color.
- Polishing – The more scratches, the more polishing. Since yellow gold is more susceptible to damage, it often needs frequent polishing and rebuffing. White gold (especially rhodium-plated) requires less polishing, just one or twice per year.5 So, before you decide which engagement or wedding ring to choose, research on how to clean wedding ring first.
- Resizing – The softness of yellow gold can actually work in your favor. If you need to resize a ring, yellow gold easily adapts to a new size. White gold’s harder structure could make resizing difficult.
Cost Differences in White Gold and Yellow Gold
From metals to gemstones, the pricing of jewelry depends on its quality. For gold, quality is determined by purity, not color. Luckily, gold has a measurable purity value—the karat.
A karat is a unique measurement of pure gold in jewelry.2 A higher karat value means more pure gold, often raising the price. A lower karat value indicates less pure gold, creating more affordable jewelry. Both white and yellow gold range across karat values, broken down into these standards:
- 24 karats – The highest value possible, 24K indicates at least 99.7% pure gold. Due to the lack of alloys, only yellow gold can be 24K. This karat value is incredibly soft, making it impractical for any gold engagement ring or everyday jewelry. As the purest form, 24K gold costs about $59 per gram.
- 18 karats – A 18K piece is 75% gold. This value can also be described as 18 parts gold and 6 parts other metals, thus the name 18K gold. Both white and yellow golds can be 18K due to the presence of alloys (although 18K white gold might look less “clean” than lower karats). Both types cost about $44 per gram.
- 14 karats – A 14K piece is 58.3% gold or 14 parts gold to 10 parts other metals. Both white and yellow golds become more durable at this karat value, thanks to the presence of more alloys. On average, 14K gold costs $34 per gram.
- 10 karats – The lowest value possible, 10K gold is just 41.7 % gold. Any lower karat value, and the US government doesn’t legally consider the metal to be gold. A 10K purity often leaves yellow gold lackluster, but it can create a particularly bright and silvery white gold alloy. An affordable option, 10K gold costs just $25 per gram.
Overall, white and yellow golds are fairly priced precious metals. They outvalue sterling silver jewelry, but they significantly come under the steep costs of titanium or platinum.
Color & Jewelry Pairings for White and Yellow Gold
While obvious, one of the biggest differences between white and yellow gold is color. The shades of these metals influences their feel, as well as any potential gemstone pairings.
Yellow gold has a quintessential warm hue. Depending on the karat value, it can vary from wheatgrass tan to a dazzling sunny shade. Meanwhile, white gold captures cooler colors in its silvery appearance. Due to their undertones, each gold better matches certain skin shades and gemstones. For yellow gold, consider similarly warm or neutral-toned jewels like:
- Diamonds (clear, yellow, brown, or pink)
- Sapphires (deep blue or pink)
- Gold topaz
On the other hand, white gold compliments likewise cool-toned jewels or neutral tones. These options include:
- Diamonds (clear, blue, or green)
- Sapphires (light blue)
- Blue topaz
How to Pick White Gold vs. Yellow Gold
unsure which gold might be right for you? At the end of the day, the “right” gold is the one that makes you happiest. To find that satisfactory piece, consider these decision factors when choosing between yellow or white gold:
- Lifestyle and maintenance – Perhaps you don’t mind polishing a yellow gold ring a little more often. Or for a white gold ring, maybe annual rhodium replating is worth the protection and brightness. All in all, every piece of gold requires maintenance. It all comes down to what qualities you care most about for your jewelry.
- Cost – No matter the color, all gold has a similar price at the same karat value. Unless you want a 24K piece, both yellow and white gold come in a range of qualities and price points. If your budget is tight, consider a lower karat value.
- Preferred jewel – With gemstones, the metal sets the stage. If your heart is set on a warm-toned ruby, then you should probably consider a complimentary yellow gold. Similarly, a sharp blue topaz stone would look best on a white gold ring. To avoid clashing, try to match the undertones of your desired gem and gold metal.
- Skin tone – Certain necklaces bring out your inner glow, while others make you look ill. What gives? Metal jewelry heavily impacts skin tone, either matching or clashing with your undertones. Cool skin tones (olive, porcelain, deep) usually love white gold, while warm skin tones (beige, golden, ivory) light up with yellow gold.
- Preferred style – Above all, your jewelry should match your taste. Whether white gold or yellow gold, the only wrong choice is the one that you do not love. Follow your heart and personal style when picking out luxury jewelry.
CJ Charles—Your Guide to Luxury Jewelry
Whether white or yellow gold, your jewelry should satisfy you for a lifetime. We hope our guide can illuminate the path to the luxury piece that makes you smile.
Want to simplify your search for wedding rings in San Diego? Call on our experts at CJ Charles. From diamond rings to Cartier watches, our in-store team can help you find the best match. Visit us today or start browsing our exclusive selection online.
Written By: Vahid Morai
Vahid Moradi’s lifelong passion, dedication, and commitment for the jewelry industry led him to become the respected owner of CJ Charles Jewelers in 1988. From that moment, Moradi’s single focus in business was to become recognized as the pinnacle of value and world-class quality in the his Community. Over 34 years later, CJ Charles continues to grow and thrive as a successful, family-owned business that consistently provides exceptional service to all their clientele.
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- Total Materia. Gold and Gold Alloys. https://www.totalmateria.com/page.aspx?ID=CheckArticle&site=ktn&NM=230
- Calla Gold Jewelry. Gold Jewelry Alloys, What's in Yellow and White Gold? https://www.callagold.com/education/gold-jewelry-alloys/
- Glamour. What No One Tells You About Your Engagement ring. https://www.glamour.com/story/what-no-one-tells-you-about-en
- Jewelry Informer. The Top 15 Different Types of Gold. https://jewelryinformer.com/gold/types-of-gold/
- Jewelry Notes. Should You Polish Your White Gold Jewelry? https://www.jewelrynotes.com/should-you-polish-your-white-gold-jewelry/