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Rhodium plating on silver jewelry

(2002)

Q. My company is purchasing sterling silver jewelry as a promotional item. We do not normally buy jewelry, so I am not very knowledgeable about it. I received samples from a trader in China. The samples are very bright, brighter than most silver in department stores. The packing slip stated silver plate finish, so inquired as to whether or not it was 925 sterling silver or just plated. They have assured me that it is 925 sterling silver, but with a silver plate finish as opposed to a rhodium finish. What is the difference (other than price)?

Michelle R [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Fayetteville, Georgia


simultaneous (2002)

A. Michelle,

Rhodium belongs to the Platinum group of metals. All of them present outstanding chemical inertness (will not react or change easily) thus, rhodium will not tarnish whereas silver will. They are very expensive, so only a very thin plate is applied to reduce the amount of metal in the jewel. If not subject to excessive friction and wear, they will retain their look indefinitely.

Guillermo Marrufo
Monterrey, NL, Mexico


(2002)

A. You are right that the price of silver and rhodium are very different. Today silver is $4.66 per Troy oz. and Rhodium is $925.00 per Troy oz. It is not uncommon for manufacturers to silver plate sterling silver items. They do this for two reasons. First, the silver as plated from a bright bath is brighter than can be achieved by polishing; and second, the fine silver deposit will tarnish a little slower than sterling silver. Rhodium is much harder and will not tarnish at all, but aside from being expensive it is also a little bit gray compared to silver.

Neil Bell
Red Sky Plating


Albuquerque, New Mexico



(2004)

Q. I retail only one ring as a novelty item so I try to keep my price down. It has been brass; however, my supplier suggest that I do a rhodium finish on the brass. Would that fix the tarnishing problem or should I just go ahead and do a silver ring with a rhodium finish?

Michelle S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Nashville, Tennessee


(2006)

A. Rhodium plated silver is the best type of silver to buy on the market cause it will never tarnish, looks better than real white gold, and a tenth of the price.

Jake T [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Brooklyn, New York


(2007)

Q. I sell a great deal of costume jewelry and would like some help as to how to explain to a customer the pros and cons of rhodium jewelry vs. sterling silver. I have found that many customers have no idea what Rhodium is and feel that sterling silver is much better, since it is "real". Any explanation and help regarding the above would be very much appreciated. Thanks.

Jean Ramsay
Buyer - Lexington, Kentucky


(2007)

A. The basic issue, Jean, is that silver tarnishes. Although some people like that natural look, many don't, so it can be hard to offer and sell tarnished jewelry at your jewelry counter.

So we look for ways to delay or prevent that tarnishing and one of several ways to do it is to plate a very thin layer of rhodium on top of the silver. Rhodium is a precious white metal that doesn't tarnish and is never significantly less expensive than gold and sometimes 10x as costly as gold. So there is nothing cheap or duplicitous about rhodium plating silver jewelry, and your customers should be able to understand the situation easily.

The difficult customers would be the ones that demand a natural silver that will readily tarnish, but they want it to be shiny and untarnished when they buy it! This demands either careful sealing or constant polishing until you sell it :-)

Ted Mooney   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


April 3, 2008

A. I have read all the comments, and haven't seen a message posted by a manufacturer. I am a manufacturer of high end silver jewelry from Thailand, exporting mainly to European countries. So I would like to share manufacturer's perspective.

As you guys said, rhodium is much more expensive than silver plating. But it's worth it if your market is high end. Because apart from the fact that silver plating can be tarnished easier, it also can be oxidized easier (look not shiny and gone black).
Rhodium, if proper plating is applied, will be more shiny and durable for a long time.
For the point that rhodium is a little bit blacker than silver plated, in my opinion, I think it looks like white gold jewelry, because white gold jewelry is also plated with rhodium. My company does high end product and the design is in line with gold jewelry, so all products are rhodium plated.

For the point that when they said silver plated, is the material is silver or just plated with silver? Looking on the back side, if it is stamped 925, it is made of silver.

Kulthida Piankijagum
Silver Jewelry - Bangkok Thailand


sidebar September 14, 2011

Q. Rhodium plated jewelry and sterling silver wash so quickly on me, am now afraid of getting them yet; the Brazillian yellow ones last well on me but the white ones still don't last at all. They become hard every day I wear them and have to rinse with water and then dry before they get flexible again.

My friends wear plated jewelry well but they don't last on me except the Yellow gold plated Brazillian Bruna and Rommanel ones that last a bit.

What could be wrong?

Oluwaseun Oladele
Hobbyist - Lagos, Nigeria

October 28, 2011

A. Natural silver, while requiring a little effort to keep it's shine is a much nicer finish than the others suggested.

Jay Stell
- Ljubljana, Slovenia

sidebar July 31, 2012

Q. I just bought a "925 sterling silver filled" ring from ebay, and I loved it, but when I got it, after wearing it after a day my finger had a green ring when I took it off. I'm kinda upset about it. Did I buy fake silver? And what makes the green ring on your finger? My other silver rings did not do this.

Crystal Chaviers
- Linton, Indiana USA


August 1, 2012

A. Hi Crystal.

"Silver filled" means it has a thick plating of silver, with silver comprising 10% of the weight of the piece, and other metals like copper comprising 90% of the weight. It is not solid 925 or Sterling silver. I am from the plating industry, not the jewelry industry, so I can't comment authoritatively on misleading advertising, but "925 sterling silver filled" certainly fooled you, didn't it?

The underlying metal is copper, and copper salts leaching through the coating is probably what is turning your finger green, although it surprises me that it could do so if the cladding is actually as thick as advertised.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

September 18, 2012

Q. Dear Ted,
Which is more popular between regular 925 and rhodium plated 925 in today's market? Thanks.
Khin Goodkin.

Khin Goodkin
- S Ozone Park, New York


September 18, 2012

A. Sorry, Khin, I'm not in the jewelry industry and would not know the relative popularity ... but rhodium plating isn't the only anti-tarnish treatment for silver either.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

December 10, 2012

Q. Hi,
I want to know that is it necessary to have a base of nickel before plating of rhodium over silver, or we can directly plate rhodium without base?

Gaurav Verma
jewellers - Indore (M.P), India


December 12, 2012

A. Hi Guarav. No, it is not necessary... if we are working from the same assumptions. A common use of rhodium on silver is not to give silver a permanent rhodium look, but as a temporary anti-tarnish treatment, so that it can be put in a showcase for display and sale without constant re-polishing.

If you are selling it as special non-tarnishing silver, however, then you probably would need the longevity and freedom from porosity of nickel (or white bronze) plating, or possibly high purity silver plating under the thin and porous rhodium plating. That's my understanding.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


June 13, 2013

Q. I have some sterling silver pieces that I gave to a jeweler to Rhodium plate. The pieces had some tarnish on them, one chain was clean though, no tarnish. When they called me to pick up the pieces all of the tarnished pieces looked yellowish and the color of stainless steel with little shine, while the clean piece came out immaculate. I'm familiar with rhodium on gold. I understand for silver they need to use another metal such as nickel as a barrier between the silver and rhodium. I was told by the jeweler that the color of the rhodium is dramatically affected by the quality of the silver and that most of my pieces were poor quality silver. I don't buy this. I believe that they didn't polish or properly clean the tarnish off prior to applying the rhodium. Please advise. Does the quality of the silver, all 925, affect the final color of the finish? My understanding is the rhodium should be bright white and shiny regardless of the metal being finished.

Thanks
Becky

Rebecca S
- Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, USA


A. Hi Becky. There are a dozen reasons for various colors and 101 for misunderstandings. Unless we understood thoroughly what the jeweler did and said he did it's unfortunately very difficult to form any opinions.

Sometimes a heavy layer of rhodium is plated over a layer of nickel or white bronze to give that scintillating look of white gold engagement rings; Kulthida P says his company offers that kind of high end costume jewelry. Other times a very thin and virtually transparent layer of rhodium is applied just to deter tarnish, leaving the soft color of silver. Then too, most jewelry shops are not high end multi-million dollar instrument controlled electroplating factories; often they're virtually plating out of a tea cup with a $400 plating setup and contaminated solutions and that causes discoloration.

Maybe try another jeweler and carefully explain that you want your jewelry to look like his white gold engagement rings, and get the agreement that he can or can't do that before you commit. Good luck.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



Ring is not stamped; is it sterling?

September 25, 2014

Q. I bought a ring they claimed was 925 silver plated with rhodium but the ring is not stamped 925 the only markings I see on the ring is CHINA GM. What does that mean? I have never seen this marking before. By the way the ring looks gorgeous and looks as shiny and new as the day I bought it. Also has a number of brilliant cz's in the sun.

Pat Caldwell
- Summerfield, Florida, USA


September 2014

A. Hi Pat. Sterling is usually stamped "925" or "sterling", but so what? Silver is only a semi-precious metal and the intrinsic value of a small silver item like a ring isn't much anyway; the important thing is how it looks to you and how durable it is. So don't worry, be happy :-)

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



January 23, 2015

Q. Good Morning,
I have a small start up company and we make sterling bracelets and souvenir charms. However I am having a problem with my manufacture. Now that I have over five hundred charms to sell, I find the rhodium plate seems to dull inside a month of wear. I discovered they were plating a thickness of 0.05 microns (?). What is the proper thickness for lasting rhodium, and can I re-rhodium the charms I have that have been unworn. We bill ourselves as high end luxury jewelry and cannot afford the discoloring of our jewelry.
Thank you
Colleen

colleen mclain
- naples, Florida USA
  ^- Privately contact this inquirer -^


January 2015

A. Hi Colleen. As I've said earlier in this thread, I could be wrong because I'm not a jeweler and all I know about this subject is just from handling hundreds of these Q&A's. But let's review my understanding, and I hope that you or someone will correct me if I'm wrong ...

Some people love the soft look of silver, even though silver quickly tarnishes. But even if customers like that look, and even if they completely understand that silver tarnishes and are content to deal with it, they may not want to buy brand new tarnished silver, and jewelers may not want to try to sell it to them, because it looks dirty or used instead of new. For this application, rhodium is sometimes applied in a very thin layer (yes, about 0.05 microns) to forestall tarnish through the display & sales period (there are other alternatives to achieve the same end, including preservatives and organic or inorganic clearcoats).

But other people love the scintillating bling-y look , and they want the bling to last, not to fade as soon as they buy it. This group doesn't want their silver to look soft and to tarnish, they want it to flash like rhodium. It seems that you are selling to this second group. For this group you certainly need a significantly thicker layer of rhodium and you may need an underlayer of nickel or white bronze before the rhodium. The site's supporting advertiser Metal Arts Specialties has a good FAQ on rhodium plating at http://artisanplating.com/electroplating-faqs/rhodium-plating/

Luck and Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


simultaneous January 24, 2015

A. Good day Colleen.

Please see letter 58715.
I strongly believe a barrier layer of nickel/palladium is required to prevent the tarnishing. I believe 0.05 microns (0.0000017 inches) should be adequate, I targeted 0.000002 - 0.000003 inches. The rhodium bath must be free of contaminants/metallics/organics/impurities and at minimum 1.0-1.25 g/l. Also, cleaning prior to rhodium is of utmost importance. E.g., if your charms are nickel plated, you need to remove the brighteners/wetter from the surface by electrolytic cathodic alkaline electrocleaning.
You can replate rhodium, but I would like to suggest a polishing operation and an electrolytic cathodic 5-10% sulfuric acid activation for 5-10 seconds, as rhodium is quite passive.
Hope this helps.

Regards,

Eric Bogner, Lab Tech.
- Whitby, On, Canada


January 23, 2015

A. Rhodium is extremely difficult to electroplate crack free, especially with the jewelers who never learn the purity of the more sophisticated rhodium plating in the electronics industry. The silver corrodes right thru the cracks, Dip your parts in a cyanide solution, rinse, dip in 5% acetic acid and apply an organic tarnish retarder.

Editor's note:    
   Mr. Probert is the
   author of
Robert H Probert
Robert H Probert Technical Services

Garner, North Carolina


January 25, 2015

Q. Each reply here seems to point to the cleaning the material before the plating process, including a bond of an in-between metal before the final bath of rhodium. I have to reread some of the answers to fully understand the cleaning system. I was originally told something simple as a jeweler's pickle for a cleaning process, however this apparently is too simple?

My manufacturer has volunteered to recall all of my merchandise and correct the problem. (yes, my clients are the bling-y types) he is suggesting white gold plating which I am suspect. The key I must pass on to him is the cleaning and the nickle plate in between.

My net understanding is that the procedure for cleaning and plating is too complex for a home laboratory?

Colleen McLain
- naples, Florida USA


January 2015

Hi Colleen. Yes, cleaning is essential. The jeweler's pickle will remove the oxides and sulfides, but not oils, greases, and fingerprints. In production, the usual cleaning is by immersion into strong hot alkaline solutions. But for low volume custom work the pieces can instead be scrubbed with a tampico brush and a solution of fine powdered pumice & detergent. The sequence is clean, rinse, pickle, rinse, plate.

But if you think that you as a customer can gather information on the internet to instruct an inexperienced plater you will be disappointed. The plating shop needs to be experienced, and absolutely must not need to be told how to clean parts. Please consider sending a sample lot to one of the site's supporting advertisers, listed below, who are experienced jewelry platers. You probably will not be able to sell your stuff in Europe if you use nickel plating; so white bronze or palladium as an underlayer, or a heavy rhodium plating by an experienced shop could be a better idea.

I hesitate to say that you can't do it yourself -- many jewelers do it themselves. General plating can be quite difficult because of the often complicated pretreatments required, but if you already have well prepared and polished silver charms and just need to scrub, pickle, and rhodium plate them, I think it's doable with patience and dedication. Good luck.

Rhodium Plating
Solution

Plating
Rectifier

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



May 19, 2015

Q. Hi. I'm just an ordinary sales lady. We have accessories in our shops and most of them are "brass rhodium plated". Our customers are always asking what does it mean. I just want to have a short and clear explanation about it. They are asking if it changes color, or the shine will fade, etc. Please help. Thanks.

shane y [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- dubai uae

 

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