Rhodium might sound like it belongs at the end of a long list of food package ingredients. But even if you’ve never heard of rhodium, chances are you’ve worn it before. That’s because it’s a metal that is often used to plate jewelry — maybe even a piece you’re wearing right now. If you’re looking for engagement rings, wedding bands or jewelry for yourself or that special someone, you’re very likely to come across the word. That is why Modern Gents would like to share everything you need to know about rhodium plating.
What Is Rhodium?
Rhodium (Rh) is a precious metal that belongs to the platinum group. Like other members of this group, rhodium is silver-white, incredibly hard and has a lustrous sheen. Rhodium is also very rare. Only about 20 to 30 thousand tons are mined each year, comparatively lower than other metals. This rarity has made rhodium the most expensive precious metal in the world.
What Is Rhodium’s History?
Rhodium was discovered by English chemist and physicist William Hyde Wollaston in 1803. If you care, you can read his edge of your seat, first-hand account of the discovery. Being a man of science, he named the metal after the rose-color that formed when he first dropped rhodium in its natural state into a dilute solution. Most of us would unashamedly name the metal after ourselves. But one supposes that after Wollaston discovered palladium in 1802, scientific discoveries became an old habit for him.
Anyway, it wasn’t until the 1930s that rhodium first became popular for cosmetic purposes. It was used to plate cigarette lighters as well as writing utensils and jewelry. This practice ceased during World War II when the United States determined that rhodium and other metals were necessary for the war effort. By the 1950s, however, the practice resumed. And here we are today.
How Is Rhodium Plating Currently Used in Jewelry?
Just as it was a century ago, rhodium is still used to plate jewelry. Its strength helps protect your purchases and its shine helps make them even more beautiful. But if you’re wondering why not make entire pieces of jewelry from rhodium, here’s the reason:
A small amount of rhodium is nearly perfect as a protective outer layer. A large amount, however, is difficult to mold, becomes brittle and will easily break. The cost of rhodium, as we stated, is also too expensive for most. The market for rhodium, in fact, is one of the most volatile in the world because it’s tied to the availability of platinum. This leads prices to rapidly spike and drop, making solid rhodium jewelry a poor investment.
Occasionally, rhodium is used for grand and one-of-a-kind items. The British Royal Family may not have had a good few months, but at least Queen Elizabeth can take comfort in knowing her crown jewels are protected by rhodium plating. When fellow Brit Paul McCartney was honored as the best-selling songwriter and recording artist of all time, he was awarded a rhodium-plated disc. And on this side of the pond, it was reported that then president-elect Barack Obama planned to purchase a rather extravagant rhodium ring for his wife, though an Obama aide would later deny the story (shrug).
What Are the Benefits of Rhodium-Plated Jewelry?
How do we count the ways that rhodium is special? Rhodium’s hardness makes it a suit of armor for your jewelry, helping to protect it from scratches. Because it won’t oxidize, rhodium also keeps your jewelry from corroding. And because rhodium won’t tarnish, it enables you to wear jewelry — especially silver — that you don’t have to keep polishing. Further, its glisten is breathtaking, especially next to a stone that sparkles. And because there’s no nickel, rhodium is hypoallergenic and perfectly safe to wear.
Should You Rhodium-Plate Silver?
Even though silver is similar in color to rhodium, unlike rhodium, it will tarnish. Silver in its natural state does not normally react with oxygen or water. But in order to make silver stronger for commercial use, it is mixed with other metals, such as copper, that do oxidize. This causes silver — even sterling silver — to tarnish. As a result, rhodium-plating your silver jewelry will help maintain its luster and save you the hassle of polishing your jewelry time and time again.
How Do You Rhodium-Plate Jewelry?
While there are different ways to rhodium plate (also called rhodium dip or rhodium flash), most companies will follow steps similar to those below.
- First, your ring (or any jewelry item) is placed in a special solution to remove dirt that would keep the plating process from fully working. Then, the ring is rinsed with distilled water.
- Second, your ring is placed in an acid neutralizer to remove any acid that would keep the plating process from fully working. Then, the ring is rinsed with distilled water.
- Third, your ring is placed in a rhodium solution infused with an electric current for about 90 minutes or longer. This solution is made by taking ground rhodium and mixing it with acid and other organic compounds. Again, the ring is rinsed with distilled water.
- Fourth, your ring is placed in an acid dip. Then (you guessed it), the ring is rinsed with distilled water and then dried.
We think Wollaston would be proud.
It is generally accepted that the ideal thickness for rhodium plating on a ring is between .75 to 1.0 microns. This is thick enough to protect your ring while thin enough not to break and offer shine at an affordable price.
The More You Know
You might not have asked, but while we’re on the subject, rhodium has been in the news lately and plays an important role in protecting the environment.
Rhodium is an often-used metal in catalytic converters. Every car, including yours, is required to have a catalytic converter, which is an exhaust emission control device that reduces pollutants and toxic gases. To put it simply, rhodium sits in a pipe on our cars that toxic gases pass through. When toxic gases interact with rhodium, a chemical reaction occurs that turns these toxic gases into non- or lesser-toxic fumes.
This effort to curb carbon emissions, however, has seen both the demand for, and price of, rhodium skyrocket. Rhodium’s other industrial applications include:
- High temperature and corrosion resistive coatings
- Measurement of neutron flux level in nuclear reactors
- And the manufacturing of reflecting surfaces for optical instruments
Are There Caveats to Rhodium?
Nothing in this world is perfect, except maybe your significant other. Usually.
Rhodium plating on jewelry will unfortunately wear down over time and may need to be replated. Jewelry that is worn sparingly and handled with care will require less attention. Jewelry that is worn more frequently may need to be replated every two or three years.
When you’re in the market for a new ring or other piece of jewelry, shop Modern Gents’ wide selection of hand-crafted, affordable jewelry that won’t break the bank. For about the same price of replating your jewelry, you could purchase one of our gorgeous sale items in the latest industry trends and styles.
Does Modern Gents Use Rhodium?
We sure do. Modern Gents is proud to specialize in high-quality, affordable wedding rings, affordable engagement rings and jewelry made from conflict-free materials — that won’t turn your finger green.
Each of our ladies’ bands are made of 925 sterling silver and finished with your choice of rhodium plating or rose gold to ensure your ring is as strong as the relationship it symbolizes. Our jewelry also comes in a variety of styles to match the personality of every woman, whether she prefers classic, modern or vintage.
Love rose gold? Browse our rose gold wedding rings for women and find the perfect ring, complete with both rhodium and rose gold plating.
Looking for bridal jewelry? We’ve got you covered for that as well. Discover our collection of affordable bridal jewelry to complete your look for the big day. Choose a rhodium-plated bridal necklace, bridal earrings or wedding bracelet.
Whatever you’re shopping for at Modern Gents, it’s important to know that just because our price tags are lower, our quality isn’t. We chose to offer rhodium-plated rings and jewelry because they include conflict-free materials that don’t turn your finger green.
Tips for Protecting Your Jewelry
We know that you care about the integrity of your jewelry and want to maintain it as long as possible. For this reason, below is our quick guide to preserving your jewelry and keeping it clean, whether you purchased from us or another store.
- Try not to wear your ring in bed, while exercising or during strenuous activities. This movement could increase the likelihood that a stone becomes dislodged. Please also be careful when removing a ring so it doesn’t fall down a drain.
- Try to keep jewelry from contacting harsh chemicals including chlorine (i.e., swimming pools), bleach (like when doing the laundry) and hairspray, among others.
- Avoid using jewelry cleaner (we know, we know). Believe it or not, the chemicals in jewelry cleaner will wear down the rhodium plating on jewelry.
A safer way to keep dirt and oils off your jewelry is to:
- Mix half a teaspoon of mild dish soap in a bowl of warm water.
- Soak your jewelry in the bowl for about three to five minutes.
- Next, take a soft bristle toothbrush and lightly scrub your jewelry under fresh water.
- Dry and polish your jewelry with a non-chemical microfiber cloth.
Maybe you already knew the information above. Maybe you even wrote a paper about Wollaston in high school. We hope there were helpful things you learned from this blog and, if so, that they include this:
Modern Gents designs much of our high-quality jewelry and affordable engagement rings with rhodium plating to ensure our rings, bracelets and necklaces are no different than the women who wear them: stunning, strong and guaranteed to shine.