January 14, 2012

Secrets of Silver: Plated with rhodium & other stuff

Posted in jeweler, jewelry, jewelry repair, ring sizing, rings, rose diamonds, silver tagged , , , , , , at 8:19 pm by rosediamonds

Silver jewelry has come a long way.  With gold prices still hovering in the upper thousands per ounce, silver jewelry is enjoying a renewed popularity with mainstream consumers who previously only bought gold.  Silver jewelry with diamonds, fabulous silver and cz statement rings, silver designer inspired jewelry…

As a jeweler, I get several people per week that have a new silver ring they would like sized.  Occasionally, it can be adjusted the traditional way, with torch sizing.  More often, we have to settle for adding a ring guard to reduce the apparent size of the ring.  Most sterling silver jewelry is coated with a thin layer of rhodium, nickel, or some other white finish.  When jewelry is coated/plated, it will have one of three different reactions to high heat (soldering):

  1. Turns black.  When polished shows a pinkish midlayer, then a dull gray.
  2. Coating crackles like one of those crackle vases.
  3. Bubbles/peels–ruins the smooth surface of the jewelry

RHODIUM PLATING-Rhodium is a member of the platinum family and mimics platinum’s “white white”.  It also protects the piece from natural tarnishing, but it has its drawbacks, such as uneven wear, scratching and repair difficulties.  The exposure of chemicals (cleaning supplies, cosmetics) and perspiration speed wear.  Rhodium can be reapplied by a jeweler on most silver pieces.

WEAR – The layer of rhodium plated on silver jewelry is extremely thin, and over time it will wear off. It usually wears off evenly, leaving dull spots (on the bottom of rings). Most pieces can be rhodium plated again. but the labor cost may floor you.  Platinum’s cousin is also expensive, and there is a good deal of polishing and cleaning labor time involved.  If you have a sentimental piece you adore, a simple repolishing might work just as well–ask your jeweler.  Another drawback is the fact that rhodium plated pieces can be scratched easily and the scratches cannot always be polished off without ruining the finish in general. Many jewelers refuse to work on coated silver jewelry period.

We have noticed a trend of jewelry come in for repair that is not rhodium plated but nickel coated.  These platings are usually much thicker (and wear better) but make traditional repair almost impossible due to the adverse reaction the coating hast to heat).  Many jewelry stores (brick and mortar and online) allow clients to simply exchange rings ordered that do not fit upon receipt.   We approach each silver jewelry piece individually to see if repair or alteration is possible.

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