Yellow Gold vs White Gold: Similarities & Differences
For thousands of years, gold’s easy workability, luxurious feel, and lasting beauty have made it the world’s most treasured metal. A symbol of wealth and success, a shining example of achievement and a symbol of love, gold is a timeless treasure and an heirloom that endures to be passed down to the next generation. Gold is the most popular metal for fine jewelry because it is both beautiful and strong. Gold jewelry can be traced back to around 4,400 BC, although it may have been crafted and worn earlier. Gold jewelry will never tarnish or fade: it doesn’t react with most other elements.
But gold jewelry is made of more than just gold. Pure 24k gold is soft and malleable and a rich buttery yellow color. Pure gold is expensive, too. To produce jewelry that’s more affordable and wearable, jewelers today combine it with other metals in alloys called karat gold. The karat system comes from old metal-making recipes based on 24 parts, or equal units, of weight. Pure 100% gold is designated 24 karat. Today, the most popular gold is 14K gold, which is 58.5% gold with the balance made up of other metals other metals. Pure gold has a bright yellow hue. Choosing different recipes for the other metals can add a rose or green tint or bleach the color to make it paler. Jewelers choose different alloys to change the hue of gold or to change its properties. The two most popular alloys of gold today are 14K yellow gold and 14K white gold. Deciding between 14K yellow gold and 14K white gold for an engagement ring, wedding band, necklace earrings or other jewelry? We can help!
What Is Yellow Gold?
Yellow is the original color of gold, with the warm golden yellow hue it has had for millennia. The gold of the ancients passed down to us is yellow gold. Today’s yellow gold, the most popular recipe of this precious metal, is 58% gold mixed with silver, copper, and zinc, to make an alloy that’s harder than pure gold but still workable and warm yellow in color. In Europe, you’ll also see jewelry made of 18K yellow gold, which is 75% gold and the balance silver, copper and zinc. Because 18K yellow gold contains more gold is can be slightly more yellow than 14K gold but the difference depends on the alloy recipe. You should expect 18K yellow gold to cost more than 14K yellow gold because it contains more gold by weight.
What Is White Gold?
To turn yellow gold white, it must be mixed with white and gray metals. Just like 14K yellow gold, 14K white gold is 58.5% gold. The balance is silver, zinc and nickel or palladium or both. White gold alloys that contain nickel are the hardest and whitest. However, many people are sensitive to nickel. If you’ve ever had white gold jewelry that irritated your skin, it’s probably due to nickel since gold itself doesn’t irritate the skin. That’s why today palladium white gold is becoming the most common choice. Palladium white gold is grayer than nickel white gold. Nickel alloys are prohibited in Europe to protect people with metal sensitivity.
Because white gold alloys are mostly gold, they don’t become perfectly white. To get that bright shine, most jewelers plate white gold jewelry with rhodium, a platinum group metal. Since the bright white color of most gold jewelry is due to the thin coat of rhodium, as a white gold ring wears, scratches start to show the warmer white gold underneath. To return a ring to its bright white shine, it needs to be replated with more rhodium. Rhodium can also serve to protect against metal sensitivity.
Similarities Between Yellow Gold & White Gold
Yellow and white gold have very similar price, weight, durability, and care. You can feel comfortable choosing the one that appeals most to you visually.
Whether karat gold is yellow or white, it’s perfect for detailed jewelry designs like intricate woven chain. It can be polished to gleam or etched to create a satin finish. Even small wires or delicate prongs can be hard enough to securely hold gemstones. Today, most gold jewelry is cast. This process begins with a model of a jewelry piece. The model could be hand carved or, more likely today, printed from a design created in a computer. The model is burned away to create a mold. Molten gold is poured into the mold to create the jewel. Both yellow and white gold cast beautifully.
Both yellow and white gold are stamped with tiny marks inside that indicate the fineness or karatage of the gold. Both 14k yellow gold and 14K white gold are stamped 14k, 14K, 14kt, 585, or 14KP. Yellow and white 18k gold is stamped 18k, 18K, 18kt, 750 or 18KP. The maker’s mark is stamped next to the karat mark. These marks are how you know your jewelry is solid gold. In contrast, jewelry stamped with GE, HGE, GP, EP, or GF is not solid gold but is only plated with gold, even if it has a karat number along with the letters.
Differences Between Yellow Gold & White Gold
The most obvious difference between these two beautiful metals is their color. White gold has a silvery tone, while yellow gold has that classic golden hue.
If you want to wear a metal color that looks best with your skin tone, match your metal to pre-owned jewelry, or include certain gems onto your metal, the color will make all the difference. Since the properties are mostly the same, it all comes down to visual preference.
The warm shade of yellow gold provides contrast with white diamonds, making them look whiter and brighter. The warm shade of yellow is flattering to most skin tones. It blends well with warmed toned gems like emeralds, rubies and yellow sapphires. Yellow gold diamond jewelry, with its palette of white and gold mixes well with white and yellow metals, allowing you to wear many metals together.
White gold pairs beautifully with colorless diamonds, creating a complementary background for lots of sparkle. White gold engagement rings with lots of small accent diamonds like pave or halos, are especially popular because the metal fades into the background so the smaller diamonds blend harmoniously together with the center diamond. And white gold gives you that icy all-white look at a more affordable price than platinum and with much more long-lasting durability than silver, which scratches and tarnishes.
The popularity or yellow gold vs white gold does follow trends. Today, yellow gold is more popular for necklaces, earrings and bracelets. White gold is the most popular choice for engagement rings.
Although yellow gold has a less common option for engagement rings in the past few decades than white gold, the pendulum has swung back to yellow gold this decade. According to The Knot’s annual engagement survey, the popularity of white gold engagement rings has declined over the years. In 2017, 61% of engagement rings were white gold. By 2022, that number was reduced to 42%.
Still the most important factor in choosing between white gold and yellow gold is personal preference. Some people may prefer the classic and traditional look of yellow gold, while others may prefer the modern and sleek look of white gold. Wear what you like and what makes you feel good! Today, most people mix the two colors in layered jewelry pieces to express their own personal style.