What is Rose Gold Really Made Of?
Written by Serena Norr
April 16, 2018
Rose gold is a beautiful, romantic take on the traditional yellow gold that seems to be the most common choice when it comes to fine jewelry. Where traditional gold is a rich yellow and white gold is a more silvery-white, rose gold can be anything from a soft pink color to a deeper red. This color is a nice variation in appearance from the other two options and the metal itself is actually more durable in some ways. This gold looks good on any skin tone and invokes romantic, nostalgic connotations due to its beautiful color and popularity throughout the decades during the height of various fashion periods.
But what is rose gold actually made of? Lets take a look at what gives this gold its unique appearance and why it is so popular.
What is Rose Gold Made Of?
The pinkish-red color in this particular metal comes from its unique blending of gold and alloys. Some people may think this means it's not “real” gold since it isn't pure but is mixed with other metals.
There is an important distinction that needs to be made here: all gold used in jewelry is mixed with other alloys. In the common marketplace there is no such thing as “pure” gold jewelry.
This is because gold in its purest form is soft and malleable. This makes it a very poor metal for jewelry as it could be easily damaged, bent, or scratched. In order to make gold durable enough to be worn it needs to be mixed with other metals. Even yellow gold is mixed with a combination of copper, silver, and zinc. When used together, these alloys don't affect the natural yellow color of the gold, but do make it harder.
When we refer to gold in karats we are referring to the amount of gold vs. alloys in the mixture. Pure gold is 24k, or 24 karats. Since this is too soft, jewelry is generally made in variations of purity ranging from 22 – 10 karats.
Here is a table showing alloy ratios and the various levels of gold purity they relate to:
22 parts gold + 2 parts alloy = 22 karat gold (approx. 92% pure)
18 parts gold + 6 parts alloy = 18 karat gold (approx. 75% pure)
14 parts gold + 10 parts alloy = 14 karat gold (approx. 58% pure)
10 parts gold + 14 parts alloy = 10 karat gold (approx. 42% pure)
Obviously the higher karat the gold is the more valuable it is. This is because it has a higher percentage of gold which is the precious metal in the mix. The alloys are always less expensive metals though their value varies depending on the type of gold you are looking at. The percentage of alloy determines the value of the gold, but the type of alloy is what determines its color.
As mentioned previously, yellow gold is mixed with copper, silver, and zinc to various degrees which determines the value of the metal, but not the color.
White gold, on the other hand, is most commonly mixed with nickle as the hardening alloy. The nickle affects the color of the gold by lightening it significantly. Unfortunately many people are allergic to this alloy. To get around this, white gold can be created using platinum or palladium as the alloy though these are fairly precious metals themselves which can increase the cost of the piece. The gold and chosen alloy mixture is coated with rhodium to enhance the silvery-white appearance. An 18 karat white gold ring and an 18 karat yellow gold ring both contain the same amount of yellow gold, and are both 75% pure gold.
The more trendy rose gold is the result of copper and yellow gold being mixed together. When copper is used as the alloy it results in the pinkish-red color that makes this metal so distinctive. The levels of copper will affect the color of the metal: the more copper present, the darker the color will be. So a 22 karat ring will generally be a lighter pink color while a 14 karat ring will be closer to red in appearance.
Properties and Characteristics of Rose Gold
This distinctive metal not only has a unique appearance but also has some distinct practical advantages over white and yellow gold. If someone is allergic to the nickle commonly used in white gold then something with a copper alloy may be a better option. White gold can be made with alloys that don't aggravate allergies. However, these alloys are significantly more expensive and will drive up the cost. So a 14 karat hypo-allergenic white gold ring will cost significantly more than a rosy 14k ring even though they have the same amount of gold (58%).
Rose or pink gold is also more durable than white and yellow gold and will require less maintenance over the years. This is because the rhodium plating used on white gold is more prone to damage over time than the copper and gold mixture is. A copper alloy ring may darken slightly over the years, but this will simply result in a richer rosy color which enhances the vintage feel. Copper also makes for a harder metal than the alloy mixture used in yellow gold. This durability makes rose-colored gold a better option for engagement rings as it can be worn on the hand for years and its appearance will only be enhanced. In contrast, white and yellow gold can look worse over time and requires more frequent maintenance.
Popularity and Nostalgia of Rose Gold
In addition to its unique color and durability, rose-colored gold is popular for its nostalgic, vintage appearance. This type of gold first rose to popularity in the 1800s in Russia. It was the height of jewelry fashion during the Victorian Era, and again in the 1920s. Platinum became the metal of choice in the '30s, but the advent of the war meant platinum became scarce and was restricted to military use. This lead to a resurgence of the more trendy rose gold in the 1940s and it has remained a popular look ever since.
In the modern era this color palate has been in the spotlight again. It's being used in clothing, interior design, and everything from watches to iPhones. Its popularity over the decades gives it a very glamorous, old-world luxury feel. This, combined with the benefits of using this metal in jewelry and it's inherent warm, beautifully delicate rosy color, is perhaps why this gold is so popular today.