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Rhodium plated jewelry rant


#1

I’ve seen platinum, white gold, yellow gold and sterling silver all
plated with rhodium. That **** stuff interferes with repairs, then
requires replating just to look like you didn’t damage the jewelry.

I want to know why? When (almost) any metal can be rhodium plated,
why would you want your plated 18k white gold to look like a plated
platinum, to look like your plated silver, to look like your plated
whatever-it-is-costume-jewelry? (No disrespect to costume jewelry -
I’ve made and bought beautiful stuff.)

Most jewelry owners can’t perceive the weight difference between
gold, silver and platinum. IMHO, rhodium plated jewelry looks fake,
worse than the middle-of-the-road costume jewelry. If I can make
fabulous rhodium plated sterling silver jewelry, why won’t anyone pay
the price for it they would for rhodium plated platinum?

A significant portion of the women who buy white jewelry where I
work would not dream of wearing silver - it must be gold (even if it
looks the same as plated silver). But they don’t want the weight of
platinum (even if it looks the same as plated gold, which looks the
same as plated silver, or plated nickel for that matter).

If tarnish resistance is the key, then let’s just plate the cheapest
metal that will wear as well as the jewelry metals. If weight is the
key, then why not plate lead? If you really want cheap gorgeous, why
not rhodium plated copper? (OK, I’m not up on the chemistry - can it
be done?)

Why wear a jewelry metal that is 91+ times more expensive than
silver, if you can make it all look the same with rhodium plating?

What I’m seeing on my end of the jewelry business is "looks"
tempered by “perceived value” with very little science (structure or
mechanics of materials) involved.

Please note: I’m well aware there are laws requiring the correct
marking of metals. I know that different metals have different
wear/abrasion resistance. I know that there are market forces
involved. I’m not asking about these…I’m asking why people want the
hard-white look ON an expensive metal when they could have the
hard-white look ON a less costly metal.

In the end it all looks like a hard-white metal, and it looks (IMHO)
cheap. Give me oxidized silver and warm-grey platinum anyday. Gold
should be yellow.

Opinionatedly yours,
Kelley


#2

I can’t think of very much platinum jewelry that I have run into that
had been rhodium plated. Platinum takes a high polish and is already
white, so there is no benefit in rhodium plating this metal, except
where later white gold solder repair seams have had to be camoflaged.
We do usually rhodium plate white gold because most 14K and !8K gold
is slightly yellow-ish, and customers like their white jewelry to
look white, not yellow. Most customers purchasing white gold prefer
the dead white look of platinum, while opting for the less expensive
metal (although this last Thur and Frithe spot prices on gold and
platinum were only @$100 apart!).

I do see quite a bit of sterling silver that has been rhodium plated,
both to prevent tarnishing and to wear a bit better, but this type of
sterling is horrible to repair, and not worth the effort and cost to
re plate in most cases. These customers are often trying to get the
expensive platinum jewelry look on the cheap. It is not the platinum
and white gold trying to look like sterling, but rather the cheap
silver trying to look like higher end jewelry.

Un-plated sterling silver jewelry has a look all it’s own, is not as
dificult to work on later, and as it is worn it aquires a soft
patina unique to silver. A quality item of sterling silver has
character that it’s cheaper rhodium plated cousins with pretentions
of looking like platinum never will.

The real horror in my opinion occurs when yellow gold is rhodium
plated. This plating never lasts, looking pretty shabby in short
order and needs to be removed, refinnished and replated continually.
The only reason I have ever seen yellow gold rhodium plated was to
be CHEAP! Either a customer already had a piece of jewelry in yellow
gold and didn’t want to re purchaseit in white, or a manufacturerer
was cutting corners with no concern or intention of producing a
quality product.

All of the above are simply my opinions, of course.


#3

Hi James,

My thoughts:

Platinum should never be Rhodium plated. Anyone who repairs platinum
with gold is certainly not one to be considered a professional.

Plating silver has its place. Depends on the look you’re trying to
achieve. A “primitive” look shouldn’t be plated and a very
"tailored" look can be. With all the anti-tarnish silver alloys out
there, plating is optional.

The biggest area of concern is white gold. White gold is just not
pure white. The consumer expects that white gold is pure white and
will never change color. Consumer education is essential but even
with that, the consumer’s expectations probably still won’t be met.
Seems they only hear what they want to hear.

The “bright white” golds have their own problems. Workability,
brittleness, etc. Most of my customers don’t like those metals and
avoid them.

Anyone who plates yellow gold with rhodium only opens the door to
greater consumer disappointment and, quite frankly, isn’t a jeweler.
Just some one “clerking” and hoping to make a fast buck…not
interested in making a customer.

One metal I’ve seen a dramatic increase in has been Palladium. A
PGM, naturally white, jeweler friendly and reasonably priced,
especially when compared to platinum. No need to rhodium plate. It
looks to be the answer to the rhodium plated gold questions. Worth a
look.

Just my nickel. (My 2 cents adjusted for inflation)

Gene Rozewski
R-Findings


#4

As an outsider and an avid fan of Ganoksin Orchid i would like to
tell of my experience with plated 'white gold" it is one of the
bigest cons in the jewellery trade for many a year. IMHO (it was
never marketed that it continually needed replating) It was aimed at
the lower market in lieu of its pricing.but every one that i know has
had nothing but bad experience Age range of 21 to 41 these girls are
always comparing WITHIN 8 MONTHS EVERYONE (6) has had to replate.
once an old ring is put next to a new one the old one really looks
yellow. and full of scratches and dents.Then one of them that has
been replated needs it again 6 months later. one jeweller actually
said that after being replated 3 times it should last forever ???
Wrong in the group of 6 one has been done 3 times and is ready for
the next plating.I realise it was a fad all i heard was white gold as
if it was the super ubermost bestest rarest stuff.but sob sob sniff
it was absolute rubbish. I have passed your comments on to these
girls and it looks like they are all going for the pure stuff in
future.However gold is not on the list 'too much like granny’
apparently

thanks for the pure truth
Frank


#5

Hi Gene.

I personally do almost no soldering on Platinum jewelry, as the
Platinum loves the laser and there is vertually no risk of damaging
even when doing prong repair, when you weld carefully with
the laser. That’s me, and not every one has access to a laser, or is
as comfortable using the laser in tight spots.

There is, though a definite need to use white gold type solders
during certain repairs or alterations of today’s Platinum jewelry,
realizing that even the lower melting temperature platinum solders
are mostly white gold or similar non Platinum bearing alloys, and
will not match the color of the Platinum itself.

Specifically, when working with the modern, massively pave set or the
"invisable" set styles of Platinum jewelry that are so popular these
days, the small stones are neither possible nor acceptable
ecconomically to remove and reset. Any torch soldering in areas near
these gems with Platinum alloy solders would burn/destroy the
diamonds because of the extremely high melting temperature of any
Platinum bearing alloy. For this reason any alterations or repairs
near these stones have to be done with solders that melt at
temperatures low enough to avoid damage to the customer’s gemstones.
Even if not visable immediately these seams will still eventually
discolor and show over time. The final step of rhodium plating here
produces a professional finnished product that does not show any sign
of the repair.

Plating is just one more tool in the arsenal of the craftsman. it has
it’s place in some jobs, but like any tool it’s not perfect for every
job or situation. Other than the above or similar situations I’d
agree totally with you.

Jim


#6
Anyone who plates yellow gold with rhodium only opens the door to
greater consumer disappointment and, quite frankly, isn't a
jeweler. Just some one "clerking" and hoping to make a fast
buck...not interested in making a customer. 

Gene, when a customer has a piece of yellow gold jewelry that they
want to wear, but in white, only rarely are they willing to purchase
the piece again in a different color. Also, unless it is brand new
to start with, it is probably unavailable for purchase in ANY metal,
given the high rate of change in today’s jewelry designs. If you
turn away these customers, I guarantee you that they WILL find
someone to do the job, and become their personal jeweler. Sometimes,
you have to choose between doing a bad job (with full customer
disclosure) or losing a customer for life.

Lee Cornelius
Vegas Jewelers


#7

Yup, that’s some rant there.

I’d say it comes down to customer preference. We do what sells or
else we won’t be doing it for long. I like making jewelry…I like
eating more. I need to feed my body more than my head.

If I can make fabulous rhodium plated sterling silver jewelry, why
won't anyone pay the price for it they would for rhodium plated
platinum? 

Because people aren’t stupid. The ‘look’ of jewelry is only part of
the equation. They want the material because it is THE material. (we
don’t typically rhod on plat)

Most jewelry owners can't perceive the weight difference between
gold, silver and platinum But they don't want the weight of platinum 

Hmmm? I don’t follow.

..I'm asking why people want the hard-white look ON an expensive
metal when they could have the hard-white look ON a less costly
metal.

Because they want the expensive metal. Maybe I’m missing something
but, if someone wants to pay you $1,000 for a genuine doober, why are
you going to talk them into a similar looking frammalator for $50?

Honestly, and I don’t mean this as mean or condescending (really,
just trying to help) but, if you’re having this much trouble with
your clientele perhaps you should revisit either your target
clientele or what you do for them. You apparently haven’t got them
figured out so the mismatch could be costing you money. Its certainly
costing you aggravation.

But philosophically… Why is it ethically OK to color treat the
surface of copper but not white gold? (I know this isn’t the copper
thread but it seems to converge to a degree)


#8

Neil -

OK, now comes the time for full disclosure:

At home, in my own workshop usign tools that I own with a torch
system that I can afford and metal that I can afford, I make lots of
silver jewelry. Some of it’s pretty nice, some of it is REALLY nice.
But no one who buys from me will pay (white) gold or platinum prices.
If you want white metal from me, it will be silver. If you want
yellow metal from me, it will be yellow gold.

At work (a jeweler/goldsmith shop), I see all levels of
manufacturing come in for repair. I’ve seen good yellow gold plated
white (for reasons stated by others above), I’ve seen silver, and
white gold plated white. The silver was particularly irksome in that
it didn’t have artistic merit, but it was plated to begin with and
now looked like garbage after the repair, so we plated it. I’ve seen
platinum plated because the owner expected a bright white look. (OK,
only once; on a different ring the owner refused because she loved
the warm grey look that screams, “PLATINUM!”)

At work, we sell what the buyers want. If a buyer wants this lovely
gold thing in white instead of yellow, then rhodium plating makes the
sale. From an ethical standpoint, we would never sell rhodium plated
silver as rhodium plated gold (yellow or white). But the customer
can’t tell the difference! My silver earrings look the same as the
mass-manufactured (name your metal here) earrings. (Other than the
fact that the rhodium plated earrings won’t tarnish and my non-plated
silver earrings will.)

Is my perception wrong that people will pay for an expensive metal,
even if it looks like a cheap metal…but won’t pay for a cheap metal
even if it looks like an expensive metal?

Since I like to eat & pay the mortgage, what can I do to capitalize
on this situation? (Keep in mind that I expect to act within the law,
and to prosper on the ethical path.)

thanks for the enlightening discussion,
Kelley


#9

Frank, you call yourself an outsider. I’m not sure what you mean by
that so forgive me if you already know the following…

First off you need to understand the basics of the rhodium process.
A piece, whether new or old first has to have the final polish. It
goes into an electrocleaning bath to remove surface impurities so the
rhod can stick. Then it goes in the rhod. Recipes vary but the plate
buildup is a function of voltage and time and cleanliness. longer
time or higher voltage means thicker deposit of rhod. Unclean
surface…no stick or blotchy.

The instructions on my electrocleaner say 30 seconds at 10 volts and
my rhodium bath says 30 seconds at 3 volts. I assume that’s what most
jewelers do. I typically electroclean for a minute at 10V and rhod a
minute at 4 V. Sometimes longer if I know the customer is
particularly tough on jewelry. Costs me more. But for me to have a
rhodium comeback is extremely rare. And if I do have one, I redo the
ring for free. Would be the same if its platinum, free refinish. I
service what I sell, its only fair.

If these ladies are getting just a few months wear I might suggest
there is a deficiency in the original rhod plating. I knew a jeweler
who maintained steadfastly that a thin plate was as good as a heavy
plate. Makes no sense right? He was only looking at brightness not
durability. A cheap flashplate was fine for him because once it was
out his door he didn’t care.

The reason I point this out is that all jewelers are not created
equal. Maybe your friends have been buying from jewelers who don’t
have their own reputations or their customers’ best interest at
heart. There are many fine jewelers who go the extra mile and don’t
crow about it, its just how they do business. I think its wrong to
frame rhodium in general as a “con” based on limited experience with
sellers who maybe aren’t up to snuff.

So what’s your alternative if you dislike rhodium? Well, you could
$pony$ up for platinum but I’ll tell you straight out right here that
platinum WILL need refinishing from time to time. About as frequently
as re-rhodium because wear is wear(its the abrasion the ring is
subject to that is the culprit). You could opt for stainless steel or
carbide but those aren’t precious metals and don’t convey that
special meaning and they look dull by comparison.

The jewelry trade is entirely market driven. That means you, the
customer makes the rules. You tell us what you want. Nobody NEEDS
jewelry. It won’t keep the rain off you, it won’t prevent hunger. So
no one has a gun to your head when you make a buying decision. But
overwhelmingly the market has told us they want rhodium. They vote
with their bucks. I know other Orchidians disagree with me and
that’s fine. MY livelihood depends on pleasing my customers. I listen
very closely. Maybe the jeweler who sold to your friends was not of
that ilk. Maybe they need to find craftsmen who actually understand
the materials and processes they’re selling or servicing and are
willing to do the job well.


#10

The metal used for making a piece of jewellery has it’s own colour
and that should be the finished colour without any shame.
Unfortunately customers don’t see it that way; there is a sort of
"mine is whiter than yours" when customers compare jewellery with
friends and relatives. They want their white gold rhodium plated
knowing full well the shortcomings, and so I do it.

Rhodium plating is an expensive complication with most white gold
jewellery, not to mention the mismatch of white golds and solders
found in previously repaired items that need covering up.

In fact white gold is the problem and rhodium plating is the
solution!

Alastair


#11

Kelley,

I take it then that you have two things going on. A day job and your
own business? So maybe you’re perturbed at the junk repairs that get
forced on your day bench? Rhodium plate on copper plate on
STERLING??? What’s up with that? “They BUY this goop?” or something
like that, is that kinda the problem? Meanwhile you try to do good
work and maybe it doesn’t sell as fast as how your perceive the junk
to sell? Am I reading that reasonably close?

Welcome to the jewelry world, sometimes it is fusterating. As long
as your boss takes the junk in you’ll have to deal with it. What he
may not know is that he might be losing money on it if he prices it
by piece value instead of actual labor cost. Junk is harder to fix
than fine jewelry. And it often comes back for a no charge re-do. Not
your fault, its the nature of cheaply made goods. Silk purse/Sow’s
ear and all that.

I’d suggest you find a way to make peace with it all. Accept that
the day job pays the bills and its not reflective of your viewpoint
at all but what YOU do at home is something different. Keep your
standards at night to the level YOU want.

But the customer can't tell the difference! 

That may be more indicative of your boss’s clientele than the type
who is more apt to buy artisan stuff because its artisan. What you
could do here is differentiate your work from the mass produced
stuff, isn’t that the point of artisan anything?

Is my perception wrong that people will pay for an expensive
metal, even if it looks like a cheap metal...but won't pay for a
cheap metal even if it looks like an expensive metal? 

Well, there’s no accounting for taste but people(depending) will pay
for expensive metal if the overall design/configuration is suitable
for them. If they have two visually identical things to choose from
they will often buy the cheap, though. The trick here is to make
something expensive, that plucks their magic twanger, that doesn’t
look like anything cheaply available. You want to make them
think…“I love it AND its genuine”. The material backs up the design
you might say. The expensive piece you make must have a certain
character, something that says “I AM the real deal, take me home”

If its costly but looks cheap I think its hard to sell(again,
discounting for poor taste, highly subjective). If its cheap and
looks cheap its easier because bargain buyers make concessions for
price. Costly goods that look costly are maybe as readily saleable as
cheap goods that look costly. The difference is in the bottom line
for you on a per piece basis.

But I suspect this type of customer may not be the same as your
boss’s store sees on a regular basis. I don’t know if you play to his
clientele(not meaning competing behind his back, just the general
type of person). You might do better to find the clientele that suits
what you do and what you envision yourself doing. Find your audience.

In the early stages of my career I was very much cost conscious. And
to get low price you have to cut corners. I finally realized that
quality is more profitable in the long run. I mean who doesn’t want
quality if they can afford it? I think one of the hurdles is getting
passed the idea that your customer thinks like you. If a jeweler
comes from maybe a more humble background(me) he/she might already be
primed to think low price on everything. I could not fathom people
spending $$$ for something not a necessity. I assure you they are
people who will pay pretty good money for what floats their boat.
You just have figure out what does that.

Sorry, I rambled into a rubble. Hope at least some of that helps.


#12

My few comments…

Custom gold work and repair (for an employer) I used rhodium. I also
made him a lot of money stripping rhodium off of basically simple
silver repairs. (Usually cost more than the piece was worth new.)

I am not fond of the stuff,and it makes repairs much more time
consuming. But I still have a bottle in the cupboard and all of the
under plating stuff for silver.

I make what the client wants. A brass ring with a camel dung
patina… yes sir, do you have a willing camel?

Jeff
Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing
http://www.gmavt.net/~jdemand


#13

James,

I guess I was speaking in generalities. You’re correct. There are
some rare occurrences, with micro-pave’ for example, when the
preferred method isn’t economically or realistically feasible.

Have you ever tried Palladium solder on Platinum? It’s a PGM. I
don’t know of anyone who has. I’m wondering if it may work better
than karat solder.

Lee,

I still have to respectfully disagree about rhodium plating yellow
gold. I’ve been down that road a number of times, always to correct
someone else’s job. I’ve been in the jewelry business long enough
(please don’t hold it against me!) to have seen the fashion change
from white to yellow, back to white and, I’m sure down the road, back
to yellow. With each change of color, there are always people that
want the newest fashion trend but are unwilling/unable to afford to
change. At the same time, there have always been salespeople willing
to plate jewelry just to make a sale. Back when I was in the retail
end of the business, you wouldn’t believe how many instances I saw
where brand new yellow pieces were plated white because the
salesperson couldn’t get the piece in white or it would take too long
to get the piece in. Sometimes disclosures were given, sometimes not.
But in all cases, the consumer was disappointed with the results and
performance of the product. Seems that most consumers only hear what
they want to hear and disregard the rest.

When a customer came in and wanted to plate an item, I graciously
refused. If they didn’t want to wait long enough to produce the item
in white, I apologized and explained that quality jewelry takes time
to make it correctly. If they implied that they were going down the
street to buy it and have it plated, I explained the shortcomings of
having it done and wished them luck. I only sold products I could
stand behind. I still do!

I was looking to build a relationship with my customers by doing a
complete professional job. If the guy down the street wants to take
shortcuts, let him. He’ll have to deal with the consequences and
customer ill will. Let him be married to the job. Haven’t we all
done something against our better judgment and had to live with the
consequences over and over again?

Besides, do you want a customer who wants everything for nothing all
the time? Have you ever done a freebie for someone? They keep coming
back time after time don’t they? Usually for something for nothing.

Do you really want a consumer who wants everything cheap or simply
can’t afford it as a customer? Not me. I deserve to make a reasonable
profit. And I don’t want to waste my time.

Making a sale without profit is like eating soup with a fork…you
keep busy but you’re still hungry!

Gene Rozewski
R-Findings


#14
Well, there's no accounting for taste but people(depending) will
pay for expensive metal if the overall design/configuration is
suitable for them. 

That’s why they call it fishing - otherwise it would be fish
harvesting. There’s a few threads right now that have one thing in
common - “How do I get people to buy my stuff?” from one POV or
another. If we knew that we WOULD all be rich. One thing for sure, is
that telling a customer base that there’'s something wrong with them
because they like or don’t like some method/technique/style/process
will get you nowhere fast. It has never occurred to me that there’s
anything wrong or strange about rhodium plating fine gold jewelry,
it’s just SOP. Some of that is to make it white, much of it is to
equalize the color over the base, maybe previoius repairs, and
solder. This isn’t tumble-plated 50 cent jewelry that I mean, it’s
standard gold jewelry. I’ve rhodiumed yellow gold tennis bracelets,
and I’ve re-rhodiumed them, too, after the yellow peeks through
again. Conversation: “You understand this is temporary, and will look
dingy after awhile? Yes, I understand that, I want it white and can’t
afford a whole new bracelet.” We’re done, it’s white, so what. It’s
not emotional turmoil, it’s another process in the jewelry business.
Like any other process, it has a place. As somebody else asked, Why
is it ok to patina copper or LOS silver but there’s something evil
about rhodium plating? It’s just another thing.

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#15

Hi John,

Conversation: "You understand this is temporary, and will look
dingy after awhile? Yes, I understand that, I want it white and
can't afford a whole new bracelet." We're done, it's white, so
what. 

What you’re talking about makes perfect sense. Full disclosure,
customer with full knowledge of what is being done and why, and that
it is temporary. It is the customer’s choice and a better solution
than having to buy a new bracelet.

What I and others object to is that the large chain store jewellers
that you find in every town all sell white gold jewellery which has
been rhodium plated, and in my experience, are extremely reluctant
to disclose the fact to their customers. I’ve bought white gold
jewellery for years from such jewellers (before I got into the
industry myself) and not once was I ever told that it was rhodium
plated and that it would look very dingy after a short time and that
it would have to be replated. The first I heard of such a widespread
practice was the extremely small print on the back cover of one such
jeweller’s catalogue. At least they were honest about it, whilst
others just don’t disclose such at all. Whether they
expect their customers to know that the majority of white gold is
rhodium plated, I don’t know. But I (and they) know full well that
most people just don’t know it and they play on that ignorance. I
explained this to my brother just the other day. We were discussing
me making something for his wife for their 25th wedding anniversary
next year and he said that she doesn’t like yellow gold. I explained
about the rhodium plating on most white gold jewellery and he was
really shocked that no jeweller had ever told him.

I’m pleased that the honest, high end jewellers on this forum are of
the full-disclosure type and that they wouldn’t dream of keeping
their customers in the dark. Sadly, the high street chain stores give
jewellers of every type a bad name by keeping their customers in the
dark - and it does happen all the time. They just want to make a
sale. They don’t care whether that customer comes back again or not.

For me personally, just starting out in the jewellery business,
although rhodium plating white gold is something that’s been
traditionally done for many years, with the new, whiter alloys
available that don’t need rhodium plating, I’d rather go down that
route and not plate.

Helen
UK


#16

My one and only experience with rhodium plating was about 40 years
ago as a beginning jeweler. I gave my husband my second cast sterling
ring. He wore it less than 24 hours and it became badly tarnished and
pitted. I showed it to my teacher who said, “That’s easily fixed”,
and he rhodium plated it for me. It looked gorgeous. After only about
1 week’s wear, the outside shank areas between the fingers was worn
off, leaving tarnish on that part of the ring with a very shiny top -
a definite downer! The whole problem was my husband’s system is very
acidic (his silver tooth fillings fell out, too). My system will
clean the tarnish off silver. The solution was to make a mold and
cast another ring in white gold (he didn’t want yellow gold) which he
wore for years with no problem. If Platinum were available and I
could have afforded it, that would have been another option. As you
may know, during the depression in the 1930’s, people couldn’t afford
it and Platinum was a strategic war material and unavailable during
World War II. So white gold was the alternative for white jewelry.
People became accustomed to White gold and the price. Because it was
unavailable for so long, many jewelers no longer knew how to use
Platinum and only in the relatively last few years are learning how
to use it again.

Jean