Rose gold is made of gold alloyed (mixed) with copper and silver. Pure gold is too soft for everyday wear, so alloy metals are used to increase its durability and create different colors of gold.
Copper is what gives the alloy its redness, while the addition of silver helps to soften the color to its distinctive pinkish hue.
In this comprehensive guide to rose gold jewelry, we’ll be covering the history, properties, and pros and cons of rose gold jewelry, as well as the practical considerations of buying and caring for it.
A Brief History of Rose Gold
Rose gold is is a relative newcomer to the fine jewelry scene. The alloy was first brought to prominence by the jeweler Carl Fabergé (of Faberge eggs fame), who introduced its striking pink hue to the Imperial court of Russia in the late 1800s. Originally known as Russian gold, the metal was renamed to rose gold following its rise to global prominence in the early 20th century.
The golden age (pun intended) of rose gold began in the 1920s. The Art Deco period saw jewelry designers explore bold geometrical designs, intricate filigree lines, and non-traditional metals such as rose gold. The jewelry house Cartier released their famous trinity ring of overlapping yellow, white, and rose gold bands, which remains an iconic piece to this day.
Rose gold’s popularity waned in the mid-20th century, partly due to white gold taking center stage. Platinum jewelry was prohibited during WWII, as platinum was needed for military use. Fans of white precious metals turned to white gold, palladium, and sterling silver as substitutes. White gold was the market favorite, and remained popular even after jewelers were allowed to use platinum again.
Since the 2010s, rose gold has made an enduring comeback, both as a jewelry metal and as a color for clothing and accessories. Big brand jewelers now typically offer many engagement rings, wedding rings and other popular pieces in rose gold, alongside yellow and white gold options.
Composition and Variations of Rose Gold
18K Rose Gold vs. 14K Rose Gold vs. 10K Rose Gold
As is the case with yellow gold and white gold, most rose gold is made in one of three standard karatages: 18 karats, 14 karats, and 10 karats.
- 18k rose gold: At 75% pure gold, this is the highest possible karatage of true rose gold. Increase the gold content any further, and the copper’s redness won’t show through. Its high gold purity makes 18k rose gold lustrous and dazzling, while the copper imparts a blush pink hue.
- 14k rose gold: At 58.3% pure gold, 14k rose gold has deeper color than 18k rose gold, but less of a bright luster. It’s also more scratch-resistant as it has higher amounts of copper, which is harder than gold.
- 10k rose gold: At only 41.7% pure gold, 10k is the most durable and affordable type of rose gold alloy, but also the most susceptible to being discolored through oxidation.
|18K Rose Gold||75%||22% to 23%||2% to 3%|
|14K Rose Gold||58.3%||31% to 33%||8% to 10%|
|10K Rose Gold||41.7%||37% to 39%||19% to 21%|
Jewelers can’t go below the required gold content amounts for each karat value – for example, genuine 18k rose gold must contain at least 75% pure yellow gold. But jewelers can and do vary the ratios of copper and silver metals according to their preferences.
This variation in alloying metals is why two rose gold rings can have slightly different colors, even if they’re both the same karatage.
Pink Gold and Red Gold
Rose gold metals can take on different colors and become known as either pink gold or red gold, depending on their alloy compositions.
Pink gold uses more silver and less copper than traditional rose gold, which gives the metal a softer, cooler pink hue.
|18K Pink Gold||75%||19% to 21%||4% to 6%|
|14K Pink Gold||58.3%||28% to 30%||11% to 13%|
|10K Pink Gold||41.7%||34% to 36%||22% to 24%|
Red gold uses only gold and copper with no silver, resulting in a richer, darker red alloy.
|18K Red Gold||75%||25%||0%|
|14K Red Gold||58.3%||41.7%||0%|
|10K Red Gold||41.7%||58.3%||0%|
There’s nothing inherently better or worse about rose, pink, or red gold – they’re all precious metals, and which one you like best is simply a matter of personal preference.
Just keep in mind that 14k and 10k red gold jewelry might be more likely to oxidize due to having higher copper content.
Solid vs. Plated Rose Gold
Solid rose gold is made entirely from rose gold alloy all the way through. When talking about rose gold jewelry, solid rose gold is the classic and default option.
There are also several types of plated rose gold, which are more affordable as only the jewelry’s outer layer is gold. The thicker the gold plating, the longer the piece lasts.
- Filled rose gold refers to a piece of base metal jewelry that’s had a relatively thick layer of rose gold mechanically bonded on top of it. The rose gold has to account for 5% of the piece’s total metal weight.
- Rolled rose gold items are made in the same way as filled ones, except the gold plating has to account for just 2.5% of the metal weight.
- Plated rose gold is made through electroplating: a base metal fashion jewelry item is suspended in a liquid rose gold solution, which is then passed through with an electric current. This bonds a layer of gold to the base metal that’s 0.175 microns (7 millionths of an inch) thick.
- Vermeil rose gold is also made through electroplating. The differences are that the gold is plated over sterling silver instead of a base metal, and is thicker at least 2.5 microns (1/10,000 of an inch).
See also: The Top 15 Different Types of Gold
How to Identify Rose Gold
When you go to shop for rose gold jewelry, how do you know you’re getting the real deal?
In many countries, genuine gold jewelry must be sold with a quality mark (also known as a quality stamp) to disclose its precious metal content. Such marks are typically placed in unobtrusive places, like the insides of ring bands and the clasps of necklaces.
Although quality marks aren’t a legal requirement in the United States, many jewelry pieces made with precious metals still feature them. If lacking a mark, the vendor must disclose fineness in another way, such as printing it on a hangtag or invoice.
If you shop online, most eCommerce stores will disclose gold purity on each jewelry piece’s product page.
Here are the common quality stamps for all colors of gold jewelry.
- 18 Karat, 18K, or 750. These marks disclose that 18 of 24 parts, or at least 75%, of the metal content is pure gold.
- 14 Karat, 14K, 585, or 583. 14 of 24 parts, or at least 58.3%, is gold. 14k gold technically requires only 58.3%, but many pieces contain 58.5%.
- 10 Karat, 10K, or 417. 10 of 24 parts, or at least 41.7%, is gold.
- GF, GP or GEP. Standing for gold-filled, gold plated, and gold electroplated, respectively. Usually found with a number to indicate the plating’s purity. For example, 14K GP on 14 karat gold plated fashion jewelry.
- Vermeil or 925. The item is made from sterling silver and covered with gold plating.
Yellow Gold, White Gold, or Rose Gold?
Classic yellow gold is an alloy of pure gold and other metals such as copper, silver, zinc, palladium, and/or nickel. Its color comes from its high yellow gold content.
Most yellow gold jewelry sold in the United States is 18k, 14k, and 10k. Pure 24k yellow gold is uncommon, as it’s too soft to wear day-to-day without being damaged.
Pros of yellow gold:
- Timeless and beautiful aesthetic
- Easiest and least costly type of gold to maintain
- Flattering on nearly every skin tone
- Pairs well with diamonds and most gemstones
- Yellow gold rings are easy for jewelers to resize
- Globally the most popular gold jewelry type, according to the World Gold Council
Cons of yellow gold:
- Sometimes contains nickel so not always hypoallergenic (especially below 14k)
- Can be vulnerable to tarnish in lower karatages (below 10k)
See also: The Timeless Magic of Yellow Gold
White gold is made from gold alloyed with white metals. The white metals which can give white gold its color include palladium, silver, nickel, and zinc.
White metals can’t completely mask white gold’s yellow undertones, so most white gold jewelry is electroplated with rhodium, a bright white metal from the platinum family.
Pros of white gold:
- Sophisticated monochromatic aesthetic
- Looks good with most skin tones, especially cool, dark, and neutral tones
- High durability and resistance to surface damage (if rhodium-treated)
- Low copper content makes it very unlikely to tarnish
- White metal can reflect and enhance the color of white diamonds
- The most popular metal for engagement rings, according to The Knot
Cons of white gold:
- Can contain high amounts of nickel at 14k and lower karatages (not hypoallergenic)
- Not truly white unless plated with rhodium
- Most expensive type of gold to maintain (as rhodium plating wears off and needs replacement)
- More complex to resize white gold rings than yellow gold rings
As covered above, rose gold is made by alloying gold with copper and silver. Though a newer and less traditional type of gold, it’s gained widespread popularity in the last few years.
Pros of rose gold:
- Charming vintage aesthetic with connotations of romance and glamor
- Hypoallergenic due to lack of nickel content
- Relatively easy to maintain
- Warm metal color can mask the yellowness of lower grade diamonds (meaning you can spend less on the diamond)
- Flattering on most skin tones (though best suited for warm, dark, or neutral skin tones)
Cons of rose gold:
- Historically more likely to go in and out of style than yellow and white gold
- Fewer design options available at some jewelers
- Rose gold rings are more difficult to get resized
- More prone to oxidation due to using more copper
- High copper content can cause skin reactions in some people (very rarely)
Types of Rose Gold Jewelry
Rose Gold Engagement Rings
A unique benefit of rose gold engagement rings is how they pair with diamonds. Clear stones reflect the color of the metal they’re set in, so white diamonds set in rose gold take on a warm rosy glow.
This means the diamond doesn’t need to have a high color grade to look good in rose gold. In fact, experts recommend a lower grade diamond color for rose gold engagement rings, as completely colorless white diamonds – which are more expensive – won’t look colorless in a rose gold setting.
Conversely, for a less expensive diamond with a yellow or beige tint, the rose gold’s color will mask the tint and make the diamond look whiter than it is.
If a traditional white diamond ring isn’t to your taste, then fancy color diamonds and gemstones also match well with rose gold. Warm-toned gems like ruby and pink spinel are set off wonderfully in rose gold engagement rings, while cool-toned options like emerald and tanzanite create a striking contrast.
Rose Gold Wedding Rings and Wedding Bands
Like other types of gold, rose gold makes for beautiful wedding rings and wedding bands. Plus, they’re relatively affordable and easy to maintain over time.
You can go the classic route of getting all three rings done in rose gold, or you can mix and match different metals.
However, be aware that mixing metal rings on the same finger can result in them scratching and wearing each other down over time. This is particularly an issue when pairing platinum rings with gold ones, as they have different levels of hardness and durability.
Rose gold with white or yellow gold in the same karatage are safer pairings, as the alloys have around the same strength levels.
Rose Gold Earrings, Necklaces, and Bracelets
Aside from wedding bands and engagement rings, rose gold is also an elegant option for necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Its versatile color can be dressed up or down, making it suitable for both casual and formal occasions.
Because rose gold is such a malleable metal, there are few limits on what fine jewelry designers can do with it. From chunky bracelets to intricate necklace chains to delicate earrings, you’ll find plenty of styles available.
And if your perfect piece doesn’t exist, you can probably get it custom made.
Rose Gold Safety & Care
Is Rose Gold Hypoallergenic?
Yes, rose gold is a hypoallergenic metal that most people will be able to safely wear. It contains no nickel, which is the number one cause of allergic reactions in jewelry wearers.
However, a very small percentage of people are hypersensitive to copper. You’ll probably already know if you’re one of them, since copper is present in many everyday items from coins to door handles to cookware.
The best precious metal alternatives for people with copper hypersensitivity are palladium white gold and platinum, as neither contains any copper content (or nickel content, for that matter). Rose gold, yellow gold, and sterling silver jewelry are better avoided.
Does Rose Gold Tarnish?
Rose gold is generally resistant to tarnish, much more so than sterling silver. This is despite rose gold containing significant amounts of copper, which is a highly reactive metal.
In rose gold alloys, the mixture of copper with gold – a highly non-reactive metal – usually produces tarnish-resistant jewelry. The higher the gold content, the greater its resistance. Anything below 14k rose gold is at increased risk of tarnishing.
If it occurs at all, tarnish in rose gold jewelry appears as a dull, darkish-red surface patina. This results from its copper content chemically reacting with oxygen and sulfur gases in the air.
Patina doesn’t cause damage, and can be polished away to make your rose gold look bright and new again. Many people actually like rose gold patina, as it can impart a romantic, vintage aesthetic.
Caring for Rose Gold Jewelry
As rose gold is generally tarnish-resistant, the most likely explanation for a loss of like-new shine is that your piece has collected a thin residue of dirt from atmospheric pollutants, skin oils, and day-to-day life.
To prevent dirt from accumulating in the first place, you should regularly wipe down your jewelry with a soft cloth.
If your fine jewelry piece has already lost its luster, you can soak it in a solution of warm water and dish soap for ten minutes, then scrub it gently with a soft-bristled baby toothbrush. Make sure the toothbrush is new and used exclusively for this purpose, as the toothpaste residue on old toothbrushes can cause damage.
Searching online will provide many other DIY methods for removing dirt and tarnish from jewelry, but all of them carry risk of damaging it.
If your rose gold piece has become discolored to the point that the warm water and dish soap method isn’t effective, the best option is to take it to a jeweler for professional cleaning.
Other FAQs About Rose Gold
Is rose gold real gold?
Yes, rose gold is considered real gold as it contains just as much gold as 18k and 14k white and yellow gold. Its unique pinkish-red color is the result of combining pure yellow gold with copper and silver. There’s no such thing as “pure rose gold”, as all pure gold is yellow gold.
Is rose gold more expensive than pure gold?
No, rose gold is more affordable because it’s pure gold alloyed with copper and silver, both of which are less valuable metals. The more gold in a rose gold piece, the more expensive it becomes, but it can never be as costly as 100% pure gold.
Does rose gold metal rust?
No, iron is the only metal that rusts. However, rose gold can develop a dark reddish patina over time, which some people find aesthetic and others prefer to avoid.
Can rose gold rings be resized?
Yes, provided the design isn’t too intricate or complex. But be aware that rose gold rings are more likely to crack under stress than rings made from white or yellow gold, so they’re more difficult for jewelers to resize.
Can I shower with rose gold?
Yes, it’s safe to shower while wearing rose gold alloy jewelry. However, this may result in it losing some of its shine over time due to the buildup of soap and shampoo residues. Soap scum can be removed as needed using the cleaning method described above.
Also take care to completely dry your jewelry after getting it wet, especially if its karatage is less than 14k rose gold. Gold itself is a non-reactive metal, but the high copper content in a low purity rose gold alloy can oxidize and darken, especially if exposed to moisture.
We hope you found this guide to rose gold helpful. To learn more about another popular gold color, check out our guide to white gold.