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What is Rhodium?

an assortment of jewelry what is rhodium blog post

Rhodium (ROH-dee-um) is a chemical element. It’s “Rh” on the periodic table. It’s a silver-white metal that is very reflective, doesn’t tarnish or corrode, and it’s durable.

Rhodium is used to plate white gold, silver and some other metals. Some metals tend to start looking yellowish or gray as they tarnish. A layer of rhodium can be electroplated over the metal to make it shiny, “white,”/silvery and more durable.

What’s plating?

The plating process involves submerging metal items in a solution bath and using an electric current to deposit dissolved metal ions on the surface. I wrote about gold-plating, and it’s the same idea, just using a different solution. You need special skills, equipment and chemicals to do this process. Plating is the final step when manufacturing a finished jewelry product. Lots of manufacturers send out products to a plating facility instead of doing it in-house. 

The plating will wear off. This depends on how thick the layer is, and how much wear and tear the jewelry gets. Rhodium can be reapplied to the piece.Rhodium alone is brittle and not very malleable, so it’s not ideal for making jewelry. It’s also expensive. It is great for hiding imperfections in a piece of jewelry, protecting jewelry from scratches and giving a lustrous white or silver sheen to jewelry. Also, since rhodium is nickel-free it helps to have a layer of it on sterling silver, or other metal that may cause you to have an allergic reaction.

Here are some reasons I’m not a fan of rhodium plating:

  • The solution used in this plating process is harmful to the environment if not disposed of carefully. A small jewelry operation can feasibly do this if they aren’t doing many rhodium platings. But mass manufacturing companies may not be as mindful. In the United States, there are regulations, and I do hope that manufacturers here are adhering to those. But much of that mass-produced, super-shiny jewelry is cranked out in factories in other parts of the world. Often, these factories put the environment and its workers behind profits.
  • The fumes are toxic, so I don’t use them (though I have when I worked at a jewelry store/repair shop).
  • I like the look of the metal without it! The occasional plating is fine, but the process is often done for mass-produced, trendy, fast-fashion jewelry. That’s just not my jam. 

I figure the more that you know about jewelry techniques and processes, the better decisions you can make when buying jewelry (even if it’s a honking-big rhodium plated ring!).