Until a year ago, jeweler Mark Fingerman saw white gold as a necessary nuisance, if not an evil. Because sales at Valentino's, his Navato, California, store were 80 percent vanilla versions of the metal, he resigned himself to the constant cost of rhodium replating and the occasional head and gem replacement when overly rigid nickel white gold prongs broke.
And, oh yes, he had a third complaint. Some customers developed allergic reactions to white gold because it contained nickel as a bleaching agent. "Chlorine leaches nickel out of gold," Fingerman explains, "and that's a real problem in a state where swimming pools and hot tubs are almost as numerous as cars."
Fingerman contemplated switching to palladium, but he dreaded the time and expense of waging a one-man education campaign on behalf of an unknown precious metal. "I didn't see any choice but to stick with the status quo and continue to sell white gold, despite its problems," he says.
Then he got a call from a friend, Tim Wallace, who runs a nearby custom design trade shop. Wallace had just finished putting a new alloy, "Precise White Gold" from W.R. Cobb, Cranston, Rhode Island, through its paces and had regained his faith in the metal. "It was so white it didn't need rhodium plating," Wallace says. "What's more, its nickel content was so low that the metal was very workable and I didn't have to worry about prong failure." Last, but light years from least, nobody complained of skin troubles—a common nickel-related ailment.
Today, Fingerman has joined Wallace as a born-again believer in white gold. "You can tell your readers that Precise White Gold saved the day for me," Fingerman says. "I use no other alloy now."
This doesn't mean he isn't keeping a lookout for other new-breed nickel white golds. Every time he hears of one, he investigates it. So does Wallace. "No one's going to let Cobb have the market in the new problem-solver nickel white golds to itself. I expect to see competition," he says.
The competition is already here. Among others, Stuller, the Lafayette, Louisiana, jewelry and gem giant, recently launched its new "X1" white gold alloy with much fanfare. Marketing director Steve MacDiarmid says the company considered experimenting with other metals like palladium but stuck with the tried and true. "We decided to develop an alloy that would escape the usual objections to nickel white gold," he says. "Many of our customers tell us that we've succeeded."