Rhodium is a rare and precious element that can be 10 to 25 times more expensive than gold. Rhodium is a member of the platinum group of metals and is silver-hued, highly reflective and does not tarnish or corrode. It is harder than gold and is highly durable.
However, rhodium is a very brittle metal and is not easily shaped or formed. As a result, pure rhodium cannot be made into jewellery. On its own it can easily crack and break somewhat like glass. But when used to plate other jewellery, rhodium enhances the durability of the metal.
Rhodium is applied using an electroplating process. For a piece of jewellery to be plated, it must first be thoroughly cleaned to remove all contaminants. If there is any dirt on the piece, the plating will not hold.
Distilled water, steam cleaning and electro cleaning are some ways that the item is cleaned before it is dipped into the rhodium solution. A positive electrical charge is then used to fuse the rhodium onto the base metal.
Rhodium plating wears off over time and will need to be re-plated. Typically, a ring would need to be re-plated once every 12 to 18 months, but this can vary depending on the wear and tear the piece sustains as well as the thickness of the plating and the colour of the base metal.
Can I rhodium plate a yellow gold piece?
Yes. Rhodium plating can be used on yellow gold to change its colour to white. However, bear in mind that as the plating starts to wear off, the yellow colour will start to bleed through. This will result in a piece of jewellery that looks discoloured or yellow-tinted. To avoid that, the piece may require re-plating more frequently.
Is rhodium plated jewellery safe to wear?
Yes, it is. Because rhodium plating is hypoallergenic, you won’t get skin reactions by wearing rhodium plated jewellery. This is because rhodium does not contain any allergens such as nickel. In fact if you have a piece of jewellery that is causing you skin reactions, rhodium plating the piece can eliminate this problem.
Will rhodium plating affect gemstones?
Some softer gemstones such as peridot, pearls, opals, topaz, turquoise, coral and treated or heavily included rubies and emeralds can be damaged during the process. These gemstones, and many others, are not able to cope with the sulphuric acids and heat in the electroplating solutions and their surfaces can be damaged, becoming spotty and studded.
Diamonds and hard gemstones like sapphires and rubies are hardy enough to withstand rhodium plating. They don’t have to be removed when plating the piece of jewellery and don’t get damaged by the process.
Who Sets Rhodium Prices?
Rhodium prices are influenced by two things—the automotive industry and supply and demand.
Because rhodium is one of the rarest metals in the world, supply struggles to catch up to demand. Nearly all rhodium comes from South African mines, which has made distribution difficult, especially with mining strikes in past years.
Recycling also affects rhodium prices. Rhodium is now recycled from catalytic converters, which has closed the margin between supply and demand. As recycled supply rose earlier this decade, rhodium prices fell. They have risen sharply since their 2016 lows, and they’re predicted to continue doing so.
The auto industry is the other major factor in rhodium prices. Because it is the largest consumer of rhodium, its demand dictates rhodium prices above all other industries.
Rhodium Prices vs. Gold
As a much rarer precious metal than gold, rhodium has recently traded at more than three times the Gold price. Rhodium’s scarcity means that its distribution equals about 1% of gold’s availability. There are many more gold mines than rhodium mines, which accounts for the vast price difference between the two.
Rhodium is used in more practical applications, like the auto industry, whereas gold is often decorative or alloyed with other metals. Gold isn’t as hard or as durable as rhodium, which also contributes to its lower pricing.
While the difference between gold and rhodium prices may amaze you, rhodium is over 200 times as expensive as silver bullion.
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