What Is Rhodium? Everything You Need To Know
James Elliott6 June 2021 | 5 min read
Spend enough time searching for a Rolex online or listening into Rolex forums and it won’t be long before you start to see the word ‘rhodium’ knocking around.
Those with good chemistry knowledge will know that rhodium is a super rare chemical element, but what makes it so good for watches?
Well, in this article we’re going to help you answer that. We’ll start off with a science lesson on rhodium before looking at what makes it so sought after when it comes to watches. Then, we’ll pick out some of our favourite Rolex models that contain rhodium so you can see how it looks in real life.
Let’s jump in!
What is rhodium?
Rhodium is a chemical element that belongs to the platinum family of metals. Not only is it pretty rare, but it’s one of the hardest and most anti-corrosive metals on the planet, far outweighing gold and silver in those categories.
Over 80% of the world’s rhodium is used within catalytic converters in cars due to those strong characteristics, meaning it can react in a stable way with other chemicals. Given its silvery/white appearance, it is also used a lot as a plating material in jewellery, especially those that are made from white gold/silver. When alloyed it also gives a slate grey texture, something we’ll come onto later.
Why is it used on watches?
Rhodium is used on watches for a number of different reasons, but some of the most important are:
- When plated on white gold, rhodium creates a shine that is appealing to watch design.
- Rhodium plates very well onto steel and offers the relatively soft metal a super-strong coating.
- It’s a desirable and rare metal that has a high value. Like other precious metals, putting in onto or within a watch increases the watch’s value.
Rhodium is often used in watch movements to protect parts susceptible to corrosion or wear and tear over time.
But, it’s worth noting one important thing. In the watch world, the use of the term rhodium doesn’t always actually mean the watch contains rhodium.
Especially in the Rolex world, rhodium was associated with the creation of a very specific dial colour, essentially a shiny dark grey. Whilst some watches do use rhodium plating to achieve a slate grey finish, many modern-day watches, including Rolex models, now don’t use rhodium to create that grey effect.
Instead, you’ll see the terms ‘slate’ or ‘deep grey’ used to signify a range of brushing, plating and vapourising techniques which create the same look and feel rhodium used to.
So, it’s worth asking yourself – “do I want a watch that contains rhodium, or do I want a watch that looks like it contains rhodium?”
To help you decide, here’s a few examples of Rolex’s which claim to have a rhodium dial but in reality, probably don’t.
Three Rhodium Dial Rolex Watches
1. Rolex Datejust 41 Dark Rhodium Dial (Ref: 126334)
When searching for rhodium dial Rolex watches, one of the most popular models you’ll come across is the Datejust. The classic dress watch is already one of Rolex’s most popular models without needing rhodium plating.
But as you’ll see from the picture above, the rhodium-plated, grey effect dial makes it an undeniably beautiful watch. On a silver model such as this, the dull sheen of the plating helps it to blend into the silver case and bracelet perfectly, creating a gorgeous effect.
But be careful, the current version of the Datejust (ref 126300) bears no reference at all to rhodium and instead opts for the term ‘slate’ in the branding. Whilst the overall style looks exactly the same, there’s no mention of rhodium from Rolex despite many watch fans still raving about the latest ‘rhodium dial’ model.
2. Rolex Yacht-Master (Ref 268622)
Another popular rhodium Rolex is the Reference 268622 Yacht-Master. One of Rolex’s most premium-looking watches, the Yacht-Master is admired by amateur and serious watch fans alike.
Much like the Datejust, the Yacht-Master was already a great-looking watch before the rhodium finish came along. This Yacht-Master model brings more of a matte effect to the dial than we saw with the Datejust, with a similar effect also copied across to the bezel and part of the case.
It helps the watch come together as an overall package and gives an almost gunmetal look to the exterior. Fans of this watch also love the contrast of the electric blue second’s hand and Yacht-Master branding on the dial and we can’t disagree that it does look awesome!
But again, when you come to look at that modern version of the Yacht-Master (Ref 126622), Rolex drop any reference to rhodium and instead refers to the dial’s ‘Chromalight Slate’ finish.
3. Rolex Oyster Perpetual (Ref: 114300)
The last rhodium watch on our Rolex list is their entry-level model, the Oyster Perpetual. For those looking to enter the Rolex market, the Oyster is often seen as the gateway for its simplicity, neutral style and lower price.
The 114300 reference sports a very similar overall theme to what we’ve just seen with the Yacht-Master, combining the matte rhodium styling with light blue accents. The Oyster takes it slightly further though, with those blue accents more prominent on the hour markers themselves.
The difference with the Oyster compared to our last two models is that Rolex no longer retails a watch with a rhodium/slate dial. That means if you like the look of the watch above you’ll need to look for a 114300 reference on the second-hand market.
Many watch fans love the look and feel of the rhodium Rolex, with the grey finish offering something different to many of the standard models.
But it’s worth noting that the term ‘rhodium’ has now become linked to a general grey finish rather than specifically watches that use rhodium.
It’s worth keeping this in mind when it comes to purchasing a watch and doing research on whether the watch actually contains rhodium or whether it’s just referred to in that way by watch fans.
Ultimately, whether it contains rhodium or not, it’s the grey finish that makes a number of Rolex models look extra special, especially on models such as the Yacht-Master and Datejust.
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