White Gold is Not Antique

You may encounter white gold jewelry described as Antique, or sometimes even dated to the late 19th century. Some dealers may use the term Antique indiscriminately, but it should only be used to describe an item that is at least 100 years old. While it is often difficult to establish a specific date for many jewelry items, the use of white gold gives some clear dating information.

The first commercial use of white gold can be dated to a patent issued to Karl Richter of Pforzheim, Germany in 1915, for an white gold alloy composed of gold, nickel, and palladium. The war in Europe placed limitations on the commercial development of this alloy. In 1917, David Belais of the New York firm Belais Brothers, also acquired a patent. Their alloy was so popular that white gold was sometimes referred to as “Belais metal” in the 1920s. Many fine pieces of vintage white gold jewelry still exist from this period, including items marked “Belais”.

While experimentation with white gold alloys may date back to the 19th century, we see no evidence of commercial items being produced before the World War I era, and most white gold jewelry dates from the 1920s and later. Many early alloy products have a dull or dark color. A piece of white gold jewelry should not be dated before 1915, and pieces made before the end of World War I would be very scarce.

White gold products are often plated with rhodium, a process applied to jewelry from the 1930s onward. Rhodium is a hard and shiny white material, which does wear off over the years, often leaving a piece that is not quite as white and shiny anymore, but items can be re-plated. Some white gold alloys are still made with a platinum family metal, such as platinum or palladium, along with gold and varying quantities of other metals, including nickel. Many fine quality manufacturers prefer an alloy that contains platinum family metals, and feel these alloys are less brittle than alloys that contain nickel as the primary non-gold component.

Since rhodium plating can wear away, and an item can be re-plated, the presence or absence of rhodium plating does not clearly establish the age of an item.

While white gold became quite popular for the Art Deco and filigree creations of the 1920s and 1930s, please remember this: If the item contains white gold, it can not be Antique, as these items must be 100 years old; it can not be Victorian, because Victorian items date to 1901 or earlier; and it can not be Edwardian, because these items date from 1910 or earlier.

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