Two of the most popular metals for engagement rings are white gold and yellow gold. Some people love both and others will only ever wear one. Since this is a really important early decision when designing and deciding on an engagement ring, we wanted to put together a comprehensive comparison between the two so you’re picking the best metal for you, and your ring.
White Gold vs. Yellow Gold
The History of White and Yellow Gold
The purest form of gold used in jewelry has been dated as far back as 4000 B.C. with the earliest examples coming from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Gold jewelry was worn by both men and women and was highly coveted as a symbol of wealth and power. It was a rare luxury and was often inlaid with brightly colored stones. Gold continued to be coveted as an adornment in every single corner of the world throughout subsequent history, with extraordinary examples of yellow gold jewelry from every major ancient through modern civilization filling museums around the world.
It was discovered that mixing pure gold with other metals made stronger, more durable pieces of jewelry that were also less expensive. Yellow gold reigned supreme until white gold was invented in the 19th century. White gold didn’t really become widely popular until the 1920s when it was targeted as a platinum substitute. Platinum was needed for military machinery in the war effort, and white gold has maintained its popularity ever since.
The Pros and Cons of White and Yellow Gold
While beautiful metals, white and yellow gold each have some benefits and drawbacks that should inform your decision about which to choose.
- - A more affordable metal than its counterpart, platinum.
- - Since it’s a popular metal for engagement rings, it has a very modern feel.
- - More durable and scratch resistant than yellow gold due to being alloyed with stronger metals.
- - Complements the white color of diamonds and all colored gemstones.
- - Very complementary to all skin tones, but especially fair or rosy.
- - Historically, it was the most popular metal for engagement rings, so it has a vintage and classic feel.
- - The purest color of all golds, most hypoallergenic, and the easiest to maintain.
- - Easiest for jewelers to manipulate, so works well with intricate settings and more detailed design techniques like milgrain.
- - Works very well with diamonds of a lower color grade, giving off a pretty warmth.
- - Very complementary to all skin tones, but especially olive or darker.
- - To retain its white color and luster, it needs to be re-plated with rhodium every few years. It’s an inexpensive process, but still takes effort.
- - It’s often mixed with nickel, a metal that causes an allergic reaction in some people. It would need to be mixed with alloy metals other than nickel to be hypoallergenic.
- - Because it’s the most malleable gold, it is more prone to exhibit dents and scratches, so should be polished and cleaned regularly.
- - The metals in its alloy mixture can tarnish or corrode under certain conditions and leave a black mark on your finger. While not permanent and it can be remedied, it can be a nuisance.
The main difference between white and yellow gold is the color. Their color is derived from the metal mixture used to create them. The most common metals used to mix with gold to make it stronger and more durable are copper, silver, nickel, palladium, and zinc. White gold is mixed mainly with white metals like nickel, while yellow gold is mixed with yellow metals like copper.
White gold has a yellowish white look and yellow gold has a luminous yellow tone.
The gold mixed with different alloys affects the final hue, but the amount of pure gold present in each ring is the same and measured by the karat number. For example, 18k yellow gold and 18k white gold each have the same percentage of gold (75%), in addition to 6 parts of other metals to total 24 karats. What will differ will be the makeup of the ‘other metals’ being used to create the final hue of gold.
In non-visual differences, yellow gold is more hypoallergenic than white gold and easier to maintain. It needs just regular cleaning and polishing whereas white gold will need to be replated in rhodium every few years to maintain its white, lustrous finish. Also, white gold is slightly stronger than yellow gold, making it more durable.
White gold rings (top and bottom), yellow gold ring (center)
Rose gold (top), white gold (center), yellow gold (bottom)
When using yellow gold, you also may be able to reduce your diamond’s color by a grade or two and still have a diamond that looks quite white. This is because in comparison to the yellow gold setting, a diamond with more color to it will still look white when seen next to the yellow gold.
For the most part, the two metals will be priced equally based on the same presence of pure gold. That means that 14k white gold will be comparable in cost to 14k yellow gold. In some instances, a jeweler may charge slightly more for white gold since it has the addition of rhodium plating. Since most jewelry is made of 18k, 14k, or 10k gold, the price will be reflective of the amount of pure gold being used.
As with most things regarding the design and style of your engagement ring, metal choice will be based on personal preference. While white gold has maintained its popularity over yellow gold, the latter is coming back into the widespread appeal it once enjoyed. If you’re drawn to both colors, consider the undertones of your skin.
Cool skin tones tend to look best with the sharp luster of white gold. Consider our Lorelei, combining sculpture and symbolism in a vine-like band that contours to the finger. The lustrous white gold makes the hand-engraved bark texture and prongs crafted to look like leaves appear elegant and refined.
Those with warmer skin tones tend to make the warmth of yellow gold really pop. Consider our Katie, the epitome of subtle beauty in a classic, minimalist look. A fine, polished yellow gold band supports a bezel-set center stone for a truly vivid contrast of white diamond and yellow gold for a modern ring.
And if you don’t want to choose one over the other, mixing metal colors is a classic trend that has huge modern popularity. Metals can be mixed on one band, or a white gold engagement ring can look smashing next to a yellow gold wedding band. In our stackable wedding set, we’ve paired our antique style Kimberly set in platinum with our contoured Antoinette band, adding the sparkle of five round diamonds on a rose gold band.
When it comes to white gold, it’s hard to ignore a much loved and versatile metal. Likewise, yellow gold will forever be a steadfast classic choice. You truly can’t go wrong with either one for your engagement ring if you make your decision based on what you really love.