Looking for that perfect wedding band? A white gold wedding band and engagement ring is the ideal set: a modern classic you will be proud to wear for decades. This symbol will outlast every memento from your wedding – and may even become a family heirloom to pass to the generations! There are five critical questions should you ask before you fall as much in love with a potential ring as you love your fiancé.

Wedding BandCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fordos/

1. How important is the modern look to me?

If you compare the white gold ring of your mother or grandmother to the rings in today's stores, you'll see a distinct brightness difference. Modern bands are coated with rhodium (more on that later) to create an extra-brilliant effect. Heirloom bands were made differently, and will never achieve the same brightness as a modern ring unless you choose to have them plated.

2. What is the ring's white gold color index?

The Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America (MJSA) established a completely voluntary rating system for the color of white gold in 2005. Before we explain the ratings, lets look at why you care.

Why there's a rating system

Like modern jewelry, the metal in grandma's white gold wedding ring was actually a mix of yellow gold and another light-colored metal. There is no such thing as white gold in nature – you'll never see a white gold mine. The white color comes from diluting gold's yellow color with the other, lighter metal.

Where grandma's ring differed from many modern rings is that it usually wasn't plated. Because of this the metal was mixed to have a stronger natural whiteness – they were moderately white to start with. Modern white gold rings are often actually much yellower than grandma's under the rhodium plating. Some jewelers realized most engaged couples don't ask about the metal under that rhodium plating. All well and good, until that plating starts to wear off.

How the index works

MJSA's index divides white gold into three grades.

Grade 1: Good White. This grade is what grandma probably had. Grade 1 alloys measure less than 19 on the “CIELab and ASTM Yellowness Index” – basically, a very light-colored mixture. You don't have to add rhodium plating to a Grade 1 white gold wedding band unless you want i extra bright.

Grade 2: Reasonable White. Plating these wedding rings is a judgment call. The yellowness index ranges from 19 to 24.5

Grade 3: Poor White (incomplete bleaching). This grade is for a yellowness index from 24.5 to 32. This will nearly always be sold rhodium-plated, and you will want to re-plate when it wears down. 

3. What alloy is being used?

More than 10% of the population develops an allergy to nickel. If you or any family members have nickel allergies you'll want to be particular about the metals used in the white gold engagement sets you consider. Since white gold usually includes nickel or palladium, you'll want to verify exactly what metal was mixed with the gold to create the white alloy. Most white gold in the United States uses nickel. Nickel whites tend to have a cooler white color, while palladium whites tend to run warmer. Palladium-based white gold is typically more expensive. Nickel is used far less in Europe specifically to avoid allergies.

4. Is the ring white gold or light-colored?

Not light-colored wedding bands are white gold, and beautiful alternatives exist. You may start thinking you want white gold but fall in love with a titanium or tungsten band instead. And, you have nickel allergies it may be worth considering alternatives to white gold anyway. Titanium wedding bands are exceptionally durable and very hypoallergenic. (Note: “durable” also means harder to resize, just something to keep in mind.) Tungsten bands are strong but somewhat conductive of heat and electricity. On the other hand they are often reasonably priced and are very attractive. 

5. How thick is the plating?

As we've already discussed, modern white wedding rings are nearly always plated with rhodium to improve the brilliance. Some believe the rhodium will improve the durability and strength of the ring as well. Look for a coating at least 0.75 microns thick. (Ring platings generally range between 0.75-1.50 microns.)

So what's the downside? In a word, re-plating. The rhodium plating will eventually wear off of the band, leaving you to choose between having it re-plated or living with the yellowish discoloration. At the time of this writing rhodium is priced about $1,100 USD per ounce – which translates to a 'dipping' fee at the jeweler. The price ranges from around $30 for a thin dip to as much as $200 for a quality plating. A thicker, good quality plating will last longer and is usually the best investment over the longer term.

Now you have the insider's perspective on how to look at white gold jewelry. Enjoy finding the perfect set!

Side note: if after reading this you've decided white gold isn't for you, check out this InfoBarrel article about rose gold wedding bands to explore your options.