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The proliferation of Rhodium plated jewelry


#1

Hello All:

I have a growing concern about the use of rhodium plating in so much
of the jewelry industry in the last few years. It seems to have
become more popular since platinum has taken it’s share of the
market, and many more women have taken to white gold because of
platinum’s popularity.

Manufacturers that are casting in 18K white are using more Paladium
white and other alloys that are better for casting and setting but
have a grayish or yellowish color. In order for the item to look
bright white instead of dull yellow it is plated with rhodium.

For earrings and pendants and broaches, this is not such a big deal
because the wear rate is much slower on them. For rings, I think it
is a very bad idea and is leading to customers being dissatisfied with
their purchase because as they wear the ring the plating wears off to
reveal off-colored shanks and prong tips. The idea of polishing the
customer’s jewelry for them when they come in is pretty much out.

As a bench jeweler I am now forced to have a complete plating set-up
in my shop and be exposed to the hazards of plating solutions.

Every time I size one of these rings I must replate. Every time a
sales person buffs a customer’s item without knowing it is plated, I
have to replate it. Every time a customer comes in wondering why the
ring we sold them is turning yellow on the bottom or the prongs, I
have to explain to them that it is plated and then refinish it and
replate it.

There is no disclosure of this to the customer at the
time of purchase and it is completely legal to sell it as 18K white
gold jewelry, but should we?

My boss buys lines that sell, whether they are well made or not. He
doesn’t really know if they are built well or not, because he is not
a jeweler and has no mechanical ability. I have cautioned him time
and again that selling that kind of jewelry is going to come back to
bite us, since we size and repair for no charge, anything that we
sell, forever.

How would you like it if you bought a brand new white Jaguar only to
find that after six months of driving it, it looks primer gray? Some
manufacturers are casting the whole item in yellow and then rhodium
plating over the stone setting or pave work. This is and has been an
acceptable procedure as long as the area was recessed. When the
rhodium plating is applied to an area that is going to wear off, then
it is just bad workmanship.

I have even received rhodium plated stud earrings and wedding bands
from Stuller. This makes sizing and alterations, like changing posts,
a pain.

Has anyone else noticed this in the lines carried by the store you
work in or the stores you do work for?

Michael R. Mathews Sr. J.A. Certified Master Bench Jeweler
Victoria, Texas USA


waxcarver@geocities.com


#2

Michael

Absolutely, in fact only yesterday I had a customer call me a liar
before walking out of my shop. I was trying to explain the white
gold claws on her diamond ring were only rhodium plated following a
question regarding their yellow colour.

She had purchased the ring elsewhere and I was being asked to retip
one claw. As a result of this experience and through no fault of
my own I lost the job and probably the customer and inevetably
everyone else she tells.

Regards Alan Lewis UK


#3

I hate rhodium plated jewelry and yes, there seems to be more out
there. I buy a bit of jewelry online-site unseen-and numerous times,
rings that are described as “sterling silver and sizable” show up
rhodium plated. I consider it “junk” because it’s not durable or
worth sizing. It’s bad enough that sometimes it’s not disclosed, but
it really makes me sick when it’s represented as comparable to
platinum and makes your jewelry even more precious than just gold or
silver. While we’re talking about it, does anyone know how one might
go about removing the rhodium plate from sterling silver and
refinishing it? Could it be done using a tumbler? I’d like to make
some of my “junk” better than new. Linda :wink:

I’m not crazy - I’m just fascinated by shinythings! Linda on Cape Cod


#4

Hi Michael, Rhodium is a curse. It allows manufacturers to use less
expensive alloy formulas which fit their particular needs…not
those of the customer. My company services jewellery made by many
hundreds of manufacturers, and I refuse to set up for rhodium
plating. Been there, done that. When we have damaged the plating
through our good work, we are excused from any responsibility by a
disclaimer which we served to all of the retailers we work for. They
have taken responsibility for sending the work out to someone else
who will re-plate, because they are the ones profiting from the
sale of the items in question. This saves me from some very
expensive pissing around with rhodium removal, repolishing, masking,
and re-plating.

There are alloy formulas available which are much whiter than the
18k white gold commonly used by the big guys. Ask your refiner. They
may cost a little more, and may be a bit harder to work, but the
end result is a better product, and isn’t that the objective?

Without the long-term satisfaction of customers, the jewellery
industry is on a slippery slope. I cannot imagine a customer being
pleased about having to return an expensive item time and time
again, just to have it only temporarily beautified.

If more retailers were fully aware of the downside of rhodium plated
jewellery, they would be actively seeking out merchandise which is
rhodium-free, and voting with their dollars for the manufacturers
and wholesalers who carry it.

David Keeling
www.davidkeelingjewellery.com


#5

Don’t get me started on rhodium plated white gold …

Oh well, OK. As you say rhodium plating conceals the greyish colour,
solder seams etc of much commercial white gold - especially now the
whiter varieties containing zinc and nickel are out of favour for
technical and allergy reasons. For a manufacturer to rhodium plate a
yellow gold item and describe it is as ‘white gold’ is unethical - as
agreed by the International Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) a few
years ago.

But folk now often also rhodium plate silver jewellery and even
base-metal ‘costume’ jewelry. I was taking to a European jewelry
producer recently who was planning to produce a range in rhodium
plated white gold, rhodium plated silver and rhodium plated base
metal. Just why would anyone ever buy the white gold version? OK
there might be gold buried inside, but it is never meant to be seen!
If a bit of the gold peeps out on an abraded corner it’s a 'fault’
and the while thing replated as fast as possible. So is white gold
the precious metal nobody is intended to see? Thoughts of emperor’s
new clothes and what will the jewelry-buying public think of all this
once they understand what is going on spring to mind.

I think the thing to do is to insist that buyers are told if any
material has been ‘treated’ to alter its appearance or durability in
a way not readily obvious to the buyer. Just extend the guidelines on
gem-treatment disclosure to metals. Then you can rhodium plate
whatever you like - just as long as your customers know, and
understand the benefits and downsides.

That of course needs beter educated sales people …

I said don’t get me started

Jack Ogden


#6

Jack, you comment about the European producer helps confirm what I
have long been convinced of. The masses are only interested in the
"glitter" not the value or quality. Our society says “glitter” is
good! I’d best not get started on this…I think this tendency
towards “debasement” ( pun intended) can be seen all throughout
history.

Hope you are warm. Bill


#7

Hello Michael, Several have responded, so I’ll just add my US$.02.
I don’t like the concept of rhodium plating in that it is
misleading. Even though the customer has been told about the
plating and that the piece will periodically need to be replated, I
believe that most people tend to forget the discussion. Then
consider if the piece is a gift. Is the giver apt to discuss the
pros and cons of rhodium plating with the receiver? It is certainly
a poor practice on sterling rings and I will never, ever, again work
on a rhodium plated piece. Judy in Kansas

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
Biological and Agricultural Engineering
237 Seaton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhattan KS 66506
(785) 532-2936


#8

The problem with rhodium plating isn’t the technology it is with
those who are applying it. I have no difficulty with the initial
uses of plating. Back when I used to do a lot of repairs I would
get older items that needed new heads. The new heads never matched
in color with the old metal. Plating solved this problem and
provided a more professional look.

Today, a manufacturer will use an inferior color white gold alloy
that has been formulated because it is cheaper and easier to cast or
fabricate. They know that they can just plate it. I have known
retailers who, instead of ordering a wg ring will simply plate a
yellow one and send the customer on thier way. May they both get
what they deserve in the end!

Larry