Option, options, and more confusing options; that is the jewelry world for you. And if it’s your first time to search for the best sterling silver jewelry, you might end up not buying anything or buying the wrong piece, thanks to the plating varieties and the fact that some sterling silver jewelry has nickel in place of copper. But whether you are trying to choose from white gold, platinum or rhodium plating, don’t let the outward similarities between the pieces confuse you.
To simplify the search for you, today we look at sterling silver in its raw form and in its rhodium-plated forms. Which of these two is better than the other?
Rhodium-plated Sterling Silver Vs. Sterling Silver
Rhodium-plated sterling silver refers to a piece of sterling silver that’s coated in a thin (microscopic) layer of rhodium.
Rhodium is a non-reactive metal that belongs in the same group of metals as platinum. Rhodium might be expensive (more expensive than gold), brittle and hard to mold, but it doesn’t tarnish or fade, and it doesn’t corrode.
Genuine sterling silver, on the other hand, is softer than rhodium, malleable and cheaper, but it tarnishes, and it easily reacts with different elements in the environment.
Therefore, to protect sterling silver pieces from tarnishing, a thin layer of rhodium is applied. As a result of the plating, sterling silver lasts longer, it’s more resistant to wear and friction, and it looks brighter, shinier, and it has a mirror-like finish. Plating of sterling silver with rhodium is done through a process called electroplating.
Going by these descriptions, rhodium-plated might be the next best alternative to sterling silver.
Pros of Rhodium-plated Sterling Silver
- Enhanced durability
Rhodium plating of sterling silver enhances the inherent value and durability of sterling silver. Although rhodium is brittle, it is hard and durable. Therefore, plating sterling silver with rhodium will transfer the durability of rhodium to the sterling silver piece. At the same time, rhodium is scratch resistant meaning that you won’t have to worry about scratching for a very long time.
The durability of a rhodium-plated piece is further enhanced by its corrosion-free state. If you have a rhodium-plated sterling silver piece, you won’t have to worry about corrosion from exposure to water and hard surfaces.
Just how hard is rhodium?
The hardness of metals is determined by the MOH hardness rating. This rating determines the hardness of metals, relative to their resistance to scratching. On this scale that runs from 1 – 10, rhodium is rated 6 while sterling silver is rated 3. Therefore, rhodium is more resistant to scratching than sterling silver.
- It looks great
Sterling silver is known for its natural glossy finish, but we also know that sterling silver tarnishes with time, leaving you with an ugly looking piece. Rhodium, on the other hand, doesn’t tarnish and it has a bright, mirror-like finish. As a result, a rhodium-plated sterling silver piece will look great throughout, and you won’t have to worry about tarnishing. Rhodium-plating keeps a piece of jewelry looking great from the time you first buy it to its next reapplication.
Today, your search for the best jewelry piece is guided by several elements of the jewelry and on top of that list is whether the piece will react with your skin or not. With most of us suffering the effect of the nickel allergies from jewelry, having a non-reactive piece of jewelry is a welcome relief.
Rhodium is non-reactive, making rhodium-plated jewelry safe to wear as jewelry. You don’t have to worry about contact dermatitis, reddening, swelling, or itching when you wear a rhodium-plated sterling silver jewelry.
Cons of Rhodium-plated sterling silver
- Need for re-plating
In rhodium-plating, the layer of rhodium applied to sterling silver is quite thin, actually microscopic. Therefore, this thin layer will need to be reapplied after some time, depending on how you wear/ use that jewelry – often, between 6 and 24months. Re-plating is expensive, and it must be done by a professional. Also, the re-plating process takes a bit of time since the old rhodium layer has to be removed before a new coat is applied.
Note that the need for re-plating doesn’t make sterling silver a superior option by a big magnitude – since sterling silver tarnishes, you have to clean and polish it after some time to restore that natural silver luster.
Rhodium-plated sterling silver will not tarnish, hence little to no need for polishing – note that is the plating thins and starts to wear off when polished, it means that you are not dealing with a rhodium-plating. Fading plating on sterling silver is flash plating, and it involves the use of pure silver. Also, chemicals don’t affect rhodium-plated surfaces.
Plain sterling silver, on the other hand, tarnishes and requires polishing. Since the polishing cloth provided by the jeweler is soft, you don’t have to worry about polishing lowering the value of the sterling silver.
Sterling silver is cheaper than the rhodium-plated sterling silver piece. Which is why most people contemplating between the rhodium-plated and the bare sterling silver would rather settle for stainless steel. Stainless steel is not only white and shiny, but it’s also harder (than rhodium – 9 on the MOH scale) and affordable.
Rhodium is expensive, and like platinum, it’s priced close to the price of gold. Plating with rhodium might increase the price of the sterling silver, but the price difference between the plated and bare is not big.
Rhodium-plated sterling silver has a high resale value, although this value is lower than that of while pure sterling silver which has a higher resale value.
Is Rhodium-plated sterling silver hypoallergenic?
Yes. Rhodium is hypoallergenic.
Which is better – rhodium-plated or sterling silver?
Rhodium-plated; for reasons covered above.
If you are looking for sterling silver that will last long without losing its luster or tarnishing, a rhodium-plated sterling silver could be the best alternative for you.
The plating is not, however, permanent and depending on the use/ exposure of the jewelry piece, reapplication of the rhodium layer might be necessary for about 2 years (for rings) or even 10 years (for necklaces or earrings). Also, since the sterling silver base is silver/white, the loss of the rhodium layer will not be obvious. This cannot be said for white gold with a yellow-tinged base.
Therefore, if you don’t mind spending a little more money on your sterling silver jewelry for a white mirror-like finish that will not get scratched or tarnished, rhodium-plated sterling silver is the best option for you.
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