Rose Gold: Everything You Need to Know

Either I’m crazy, or rose gold has gained a *lot* of popularity in recent years. It seems like almost every technology device from phones to Fitbits now come in a metallic pink color dubbed “rose gold.” (The same goes for office supplies and home décor.)

Rose gold was never something I thought much about prior to getting my engagement ring. Something that I never realized is that true rose gold isn’t pink at all- it’s copper. Being the science nerd that I am, I immediately wanted to know why.

In this post, I wanted to take a deep dive into rose gold, including how I became interested in it, why we use gold for jewelry, what rose gold even is, whether you should get a rose gold engagement ring, what it means for jewelry to be gold-plated, and more.

My Engagement Ring

Personally, I’ve never liked the look of yellow gold, so I had always assumed my engagement ring and wedding band would be white gold. Rose gold simply wasn’t something I had really seen before I got my engagement ring.

My husband worked with my best friend (who could access my Pinterest) to design a custom engagement ring using the diamonds from my mother-in-law’s rings. They knew I didn’t like yellow gold, but ended up choosing 14K rose gold. It really surprised me, but I immediately loved it. The contrast between the copper color of rose gold and the diamonds made my ring pop in a way that white gold never could.

Why Wear Gold Jewelry?

Why do we use gold so much for jewelry in the first place?

Generally, metals are elements or compounds which are shiny (“metallic”) and conduct heat and electricity well. Many metals undergo a process called oxidation– chemical reactions with molecules in the air that alter their properties or appearance. A common example is oxidation is when metals like copper and silver tarnish. Tarnishing occurs when metals react with chemicals like oxygen or sulfur dioxide to form a dark, grey, or black film that covers the metal surface. This reaction is usually limited to the surface of the metal, so it can be removed via polish or chemical reaction.

Another familiar example of oxidation is rust, which forms when iron reacts with oxygen to produce reddish brown iron oxide. Over time, a sufficient buildup of rust can compromise the structural integrity of iron, which has contributed to numerous building and bridge collapses.

Iron products (like this chain) have a tendency to react with oxygen to form iron oxide, aka rust. Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on

There are a handful of metals which tend not to react with oxygen in the atmosphere- including palladium, platinum, and (surprise!) gold. It isn’t just oxygen: gold doesn’t react with most chemicals (including most acids and bases). In other words, it stays nice and pretty and shiny without much upkeep. It’s also fairly soft, which makes it easy to form into jewelry. (Fun fact: gold is also a great conductor of electricity, so it is used in a fair amount of electronics too).

Is rose gold “real” gold?

In short, yes. (Or at least, it’s not any less “real gold” than most yellow or white gold rings)

In its pure form, gold is a bright, soft, yellow metal. When we think of gold in jewelry, most people think of yellow gold, which is more or less the color of pure gold. However, pure gold is very soft, which makes it poorly suited for jewelry (especially rings). Most yellow gold rings are made of 14 or 18 karat gold- which are only about 58% and 75% gold, respectively. In other words, yellow gold rings are made of a gold alloy: a mixture of gold and other elements, typically copper and zinc. Alloys are substances which are formed by a mixture of metals and one or more other elements. Combining metals to form alloys can alter their properties. In the case of gold, alloys tend to have increased hardness or a different color compared to pure gold. The purity of gold is measured by Karats, topping out at 24 Karat gold (which is 99.9% gold).

Most people are probably familiar with white gold. White gold is a gold alloy made with silver-toned metals such as nickel, silver, and/or palladium. Rings which are 14 or 18 Karat white gold are as much gold as 14 or 18 karat yellow gold rings- the only difference is what the gold is mixed with. It is worth noting that white gold can potentially be irritating if you have nickel allergies.

Similarly, rose gold is also a gold alloy, but is made instead with copper (although it may also include small amounts of silver). A ring which is 18 Kt rose gold is roughly 75% gold and 25% copper (hence why the color resembles copper), although the exact amounts of different metals may vary between sources. Because it is mixed with gold, the copper in rose gold shouldn’t tarnish like pure copper. However, high durability of copper compared to the metals in yellow and white gold supposedly can make it more durable than yellow or white gold.

There are variations of rose gold, depending on the amount of copper used. 18 K Pink gold is rose gold which uses slightly less copper (~20%), whereas 12K red gold is rose gold with a higher percentage of copper (~50%).

Rose, yellow, and white gold jewelry are all made of gold alloys. Image from Diamonds Pro

Things to Consider

Gold Plated vs. Pure Gold Jewelry

I’m not going to beat around the bush- gold is expensive. For this reason, a lot of people (including me) tend to opt for cheaper options- like gold-plated or gold filled jewelry.

What does that mean? This post by Automic Gold illustrates the differences very well.

Gold-plated jewelry is any metal (silver, brass, etc.) coated with a thin layer of gold. It’s cheaper than other options because it uses less gold. Gold-filled jewelry is basically gold-plated jewelry, but with slightly more gold. The drawback of these kinds of jewelry is that the gold can rub off or wear down over time, revealing the metal underneath. Unlike tarnished silver, you can’t fix this because the gold is simply gone. This is something I’ve had a lot of issues with when it comes to rose gold jewelry in particular. As my friend Amanda put it: It’s all rosy until it’s not.

Quite simply, you get what you pay for with gold jewelry. With gold plated jewelry, you may find yourself having to replace the items every few months (a cost which adds up over time). I’ve purchased a number of rose gold plated jewelry, and most of them have not stood the test of time. Not only is this frustrating, it’s not very sustainable either. Gold mining is a major source of mercury and other types of pollution, and that worn-down gold plated necklace will most likely end up in a landfill. For items you wear regularly, it might be better to purchase solid gold. When you consider the cost of having to regularly replace gold-plated items, the cost of one solid gold piece may not actually be much different. Bonus: there are companies like Automic gold which make solid gold jewelry from recycled and reclaimed gold (which helps minimize the impact from gold mining, since roughly 50% of new gold production goes towards jewelry).

There is a time and place for gold-plated jewelry- especially for items you don’t wear often. Ironically, I would recommend gold-plated options for special occasion jewelry (like wedding jewelry). For my wedding, I opted for rose-gold plated earrings and bracelet, which has been fine since I’ve only really worn them once. By contrast, my engagement ring and wedding band (which I wear everyday) are both solid gold and have held up extremely well.

For my wedding jewelry, I opted for rose gold plating since I knew I would not be wearing the pieces regularly.

Style & Fashion

Personally, I’ve really come to love rose gold. As someone with fair skin, I like the warmth that it brings while contrasting nicely with my skin. However, it’s definitely not as common as yellow or white gold. If you have a rose gold wedding band or engagement ring, it can be hard to find everyday, durable, affordable jewelry in rose gold.

If you’re considering a rose gold engagement ring, I would ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Do you mind mixing metals? In other words, will it bother you if your necklace is silver and ring is rose gold? Your everyday rose gold options may be pretty limited, so rose gold may not be a good fit for you if you like wearing jewelry but don’t like wearing mixed metals. (If that sounds like you, white gold may be a better fit since sterling silver jewelry is pretty easy to come by. Even if it tarnishes, that can be remedied pretty easily with some polish and a cloth).
  • What colors are in your wardrobe? Personally, I don’t think rose gold goes well with all colors. Take stock of your wardrobe and ask yourself “do I like how this looks with the color copper?” If you feel like it clashes, you might want to pick a more neutral metal. Most of my wardrobe is neutral colors, so rose gold meshed well with most of my clothing.

If you don’t think either of those will be an issue for you than rose gold might be a good option for you! Although each type of gold alloy has their pros and cons, they are all well suited for rings. At the end of the day, your choice of metal for an engagement ring, wedding band, or other jewelry should largely be based on your personal preference.

Final Thoughts

To recap:

  • Gold tends not to undergo chemical reactions, which is part of why it is so popular in jewelry.
  • Yes, rose gold is “real” gold.
  • When it comes to jewelry, solid gold pieces are more sustainable and durable than gold-plated ones.
  • I really love my rose gold engagement ring, but it’s not for everyone. It’s something that should likely be left to personal preference.

How do you feel about rose gold? Would you get a rose gold engagement ring? Let me know in the comments down below!

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