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The semiotics of 'rose gold'


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Would pink look as girly called by any other name? Apple has come out with a new pink (or “rose gold”) iPhone, much to the glee of the internet. Rebecca Mead of the New Yorker has the report. The full piece via the New Yorker here.

The announcement, last week, that, with its new generation of iPhones, Apple would be offering a model that was “rose gold” in color made the news that it was meant to: “The internet has lost its damn mind about the new pink iPhone,” read Buzzfeed’s headline. The phone, with its rubicund sheen, was instantly coveted. “I don’t care at all about whatever they are talking about. gimmie the pink phone,” tweeted Roxane Gay, the feminist author. In other quarters, the color was met with a sense of mystification. Christina Warren, writing at Mashable, wondered whether Apple had opted for the appellation of “rose gold” as a way to avoid using the overtly girly “p” word. “I’m just going to say it: it’s pink,” she wrote.

When employed by jewelers, rather than by extremely savvy marketers of digital devices, the term “rose gold” refers to an alloy of gold to which copper has been added. In appearance, rose gold is warm and flush—what yellow gold would look like if it suddenly suffered an embarrassment. The phone may be new, but rose gold has been around for a while. (Apple itself used rose gold earlier this year, for one of its new watches.) Eighteenth-century jewelers used it in quatre-couleur gold, which consisted of greenish, whitish, and pinkish iterations of the element from which decorative inlays were fashioned.

Since then, the popularity of rose gold has waxed and waned. Most recently, fine jewelers, including Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels, have revived it. Rose gold “is more discreet than yellow or white gold, brings warmth to the creation and marries well with colored stones,” Claire Choisne, the designer for the French jewelry house Boucheron, told Suzy Menkes, of the International Herald Tribune, in an article, from 2012, which noted the color’s increasing popularity.

Flattering to most skin tones—a youthful-seeming blush is highlighted, or perhaps induced, by rose gold—the shade has spread to fashion, accessories, and beauty. This follows an earlier enthusiasm for other metallics: silver, gold, bronze. Diane von Furstenberg offers a rose-gold, crocodile-embossed clutch bag. Alexander Wang has made a rose-gold satchel. For two thousand dollars, you can get a floor-length, fishtail version of Herve Leger’s iconic bandage dress in rose gold, or for twenty-five thousand dollars, from Tiffany, a rose-gold “bone” cuff designed by Elsa Peretti. Birkenstock makes a rose-gold version of its classic Arizona sandal. You can get rose-gold-tinted sunglasses from Michael Kors, rose-gold-colored lip gloss from Wet n Wild, and, if you carefully follow a D.I.Y. tutorial on YouTube, rose-gold colored hair. If you’re getting married, you can have not only a rose-gold wedding ring, but also rose-gold-colored place settings, with napkins, candlesticks, and vases fabricated in the color formerly known as salmon.