White Gold vs Yellow Gold: Which Is Better?
When it comes to planning weddings, you often strive to achieve a balance of tradition, trends, and practicality to suit your personal taste. The same can be said for buying your wedding and engagement rings. Even when it comes down to the metal, it can be hard to choose between white gold vs yellow gold.
While it might seem purely an aesthetic choice, white gold and yellow gold have their own characteristics and value. Knowing the pros and cons of both kinds of gold – as well as where rose gold fits in – can help you find your lifetime ring.
Origins of Gold Jewelry
People have been making jewelry out of gold since 4,500-4,600 B.C. The oldest gold jewelry ever found was discovered in 2016 in Bulgaria, and it's thought that it was used in some kind of ritual. Today, we still commonly use gold for rituals; weddings, that is.
Gold is the standard for many wedding rings because it's the most culturally valued metal in the history of mankind. While the metal is synonymous with the color, that's not the only trait that makes gold excellent for making jewelry; it's malleable and doesn't react with oxygen; therefore it doesn't rust or corrode.
Pure gold is an intense, bright yellow. It is too soft to maintain a shape, so the gold jewelry you buy is a mix of pure yellow gold and other metals to give it strength. The percentage of gold in the mixture is designated by karat. For example, 10K is 46.6% pure gold, 14K is 58.3% pure gold, 18K is 75% pure gold, and 24 karats is pure gold.
Contrary to what you may read, there's only one type of gold: gold (Au). In jewelry, however, gold can be categorized as different colors.
The three main colors of gold – yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold – have different colors due to the different metals used in the alloy mixture.
What Are the Different Colors of Gold?
White gold and yellow gold are both made out of gold, mixed with different metals, which gives them different properties.
Yellow gold gets its hardness from mixing pure gold with other metals such as copper and zinc, sometimes silver. Compared to the other alloys of gold, yellow gold has a higher percentage of copper in its mix to help it retain the warm yellow glow of pure gold.
White gold contains pure gold which is yellow, but its alloy mix contains white metals such as pure silver, nickel, and palladium. This mixture gives the gold a silvery color. To give it the "white" color that platinum has, the white gold ring is then plated with rhodium, a highly reflective metal that like gold, does not tarnish or corrode.
On its own, rhodium is too hard/brittle to shape and that's why it's always added as a coating to white gold rather than being a component mixed within it.
Rose gold is another gold alloy that differs from yellow gold and white gold in the percentage of copper in its mix. Of all the metals mixed into the alloy, at least 25% is copper, which gives rose gold its pink hue. Different amounts of copper will give it different shades of color. The other metal mixed in with the copper is usually silver.
What is Higher in Gold Content: Yellow Gold or White Gold?
Either one, depending on the karats of the jewelry. A 14k yellow gold ring will have more karats than a 12k white gold ring. A 22k white gold ring will have more karats than an 18k yellow gold ring.
Since 24 karats mean pure gold, an 18 karat ring will be 18 parts pure gold and 6 parts metal alloy. Whether your jewelry is white gold, yellow gold, or rose gold, if it's 18k, it's 75% pure gold.
White Gold vs. Yellow Gold Comparison
Now that you know the differences between white and yellow gold, you might wonder what these differences entail when it comes to your wedding or engagement ring. Here's a short guide to let you know how the differences matter in terms of practical use.
In the 2020s, White gold is currently a more popular choice for engagement rings and wedding rings than yellow gold. Engagement ring trends tend to change every ten years, with platinum and white gold bands surging in popularity in the 1990s. Some trends rise quickly and fade quickly, others seem to last longer. Engagement rings with colored gemstones, for example, were popular in the 60s and 80s and then became unpopular for a while, but they're currently seeing a major resurgence. Ever since the 2010s, white gold has been one of the most popular choices for fine jewelry.
White Gold in Engagement Rings
The color complements a wider variety of gemstones. It can make diamonds seem larger and shinier, and it can bring out the vivid hues of colored stones in nontraditional engagement rings.
Colored gemstones set in white gold are especially trending on the red carpet; Karina Smirnoff's tanzanite ring is set in white gold. The rich blue in tanzanite would have clashed with the warmer tone of yellow gold. But when paired with white gold, a tanzanite engagement ring maintains a cool color palette that is elegant and royal. White gold is more diverse than yellow gold when it comes to contemporary styles. However, you have to be more careful pairing it with diamonds –you'll want to choose clear, colorless diamonds, which can be more expensive.
White gold is similar in look and weight to yellow gold but is actually more durable. This is because the metals used in its alloys are stronger. Nickel is often one of the materials used which is very strong, so white gold is less susceptible to scratches, bends, dents, and dings than yellow gold.
White gold usually still retains a slight yellow tinge due to the pure gold in it. To achieve the platinum look, most white gold is rhodium-plated. This means that in addition to being rust, tarnish and corrosion-free, it's safe for sensitive skin and those with nickel allergies. Over time, however, just like silver-plate, needs to be re-dipped every few years to replace the plating. If it has nickel in it and the plating wears off, it is no longer hypoallergenic.
The process of re-plating rhodium is usually inexpensive, especially if you are able to find one of the jewelers who offer this service for free. Otherwise, its hardness means that it requires fewer scratch repairs than yellow gold.
While yellow gold isn't as trendy of a choice for engagement rings in current fashion, it has a timeless look that goes back to antiquity. While white gold resembles platinum, yellow gold is the only metal with that color. The color pairs well with warm skin tones, and is particularly striking on darker skin tones. Because it's the most classic metal for jewelry, yellow gold is a great option for vintage styles. This vintage appeal also makes it popular for accent rings. Even though yellow gold was the standard for wedding rings for a long time, the fact that white gold has been the standard since the 2010s means that yellow gold engagement rings are becoming a trendy choice for 2021.
Yellow Gold in Engagement Rings
You have some leeway when it comes to pairing diamonds with yellow gold in your engagement ring. You can have a yellowish diamond and the gold will bring out its warm tones in a complementary way. Yellow gold can also complement other warmer gemstones, such as citrine. You will want to make sure that its color doesn't overwhelm or clash with the color of the stone and any accent gems, however.
Due to the softer metals mixed in its alloy, yellow gold is more malleable than white gold and much more prone to scratches. It will end up with many more scuffs in its lifetime, which means that if you have a really active lifestyle, you may want to consider a 14k yellow gold wedding ring over an 18k or above.
Yellow gold rings are not plated and therefore do not require re-plating (this is different for gold-plated or gold-filled jewelry, which is made of a different metal and only coated in gold alloy). Because yellow gold isn't mixed with nickel, it is softer, but also hypoallergenic. This is why a lot of people with sensitive skin will only buy yellow gold or sterling silver earrings.
Yellow gold requires regular polishing and cleaning due to its softness. You can usually do this at home and it's not expensive. However, higher karat gold wedding rings (18k+) should ideally be taken into a professional jeweler every few years for scuff removal and repairs. Because yellow gold is soft, repairs are typically quick and inexpensive.
White Gold vs. Yellow Gold: Pros and Cons
Which is right for your wedding jewelry, white gold or yellow gold? Here's a list of the pros and cons for you to consider.
White Gold Pros
- Elegant silver color
- Cheaper than platinum
- More durable and valuable than sterling silver
- Currently more popular than yellow gold
- More durable/scratch-resistant
- More versatile – can pair with diamonds or colored stones
- Better white diamonds
- Complements pale/rosy skin tones
White gold achieves the sophisticated look of platinum – people can't tell the difference by looking at it – but is much cheaper. This color tone is perfect to accentuate clear white diamonds, as well as sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and more. Its rhodium plating strengthens it and adds luster, making it more resistant to damage.
White Gold Cons
- Needs to be re-dipped in rhodium every few years
- Not always hypoallergenic
You may have to spend more time on maintenance, taking your white gold ring in to get it re-plated with rhodium when necessary. If you have sensitive skin, it's a good idea to buy white gold made without nickel (ask jewelers for the specific metal components), and if you can't, make sure you re-plate it whenever it wears off.
Yellow Gold Pros
- Vintage feel – unique color
- Historically significant, great for antique settings
- Recently gaining popularity
- Easy to match lower grade diamonds to it
- Malleable, easy for jewelers to repair
- Easy maintenance
- Complements skin tones that are olive and darker
There's something alluring about the color of gold; it's hard to imitate and creates unique looks. If you like vintage wedding rings and want to recreate an older style, yellow gold is the perfect option. It's also trending as a less popular alternative to white gold engagement rings. It's hypoallergenic – if you have really sensitive skin, go for 18k or higher. You can save money from its low maintenance, and you can get away with pairing it with cheaper diamonds since the color of the band complements yellow tones.
Yellow Gold Cons
- Subject to scratches and dents
- Needs to be polished
- Not as versatile in gemstone pairing
Yellow gold's biggest drawback is that it's prone to receiving scratches. It's typically going to be softer with higher carats. If you're really worried about scratches, it might be better to buy gold jewelry that's 14k or lower. It's also more limited by its color in which gemstones pairs well with it. If you're considering a colored engagement ring with a sapphire center stone, yellow gold is probably not the best choice to compliment the sapphire.
Deciding on the color of gold you want your engagement ring or wedding ring to be will depend a lot on the kind of look you wish to achieve. If you want to recreate a vintage style, yellow gold will probably fit that role the best. If you're interested in nontraditional and unique engagement rings and want to achieve that kind of personality by emphasizing the special color or cut of your gemstone, white gold is probably going to be your best bet, and possibly with diamond accents.
White gold's durability is an additional pro to consider — especially with rings, which are more prone to wear than other jewelry — since you want your wedding rings to last forever. Yellow gold can make a great choice for necklaces and bracelets for a mixed-metal look.
When in doubt, your safer bet with engagement rings is white gold. For more tips and facts to help you choose an engagement ring, check out our jewelry guide.