Understanding Gold Plating in Jewellery - Be. Alice

Understanding Gold Plating in Jewellery

Lately, you may have noticed an explosion of jewellery crafted from base metals like brass or bronze, adorned with gold plating and sporting hefty price tags. These pieces are often marketed as design marvels, contemporary art, everyday chic, or affordable luxury, using clever copywriting techniques to obscure their humble origins. In reality, many of these items are mass-produced and heavily inspired (if not outright copied) from other sources.

But what about the value of gold plating? Is it truly worth the price?

Gold plating is a complex process that involves a chemical reaction known as "electroplating" to bind a thin layer of gold, often of varying carats, onto another metal. Just how thin is this layer? Typically, it falls between 0.17 and 2.5 microns. When terms like "high resistance" or "thick plating" are thrown around, they usually refer to a 3-micron plating. To put this in perspective, take a millimetre and divide it by 1000. One micron equals 1/1000 of a millimetre, so 3 microns is a mere 3/1000 of a millimetre. Quite thin, right? (Consider that a human hair is approximately 70 microns thick.) The carat of the gold determines the colour of the final piece, usually ranging from 10 to 24K. The higher the carat, the more golden-like the jewellery appears.

So, is the amount of gold in gold-plated jewellery worth the investment? Inconsistent and unable to be extracted, this thin layer of gold tends to flake over time. That's why the jewellery base is often made from golden-looking metals like brass or bronze, allowing the colours to blend harmoniously as the gold layer wears off. This issue is more pronounced in high-stress pieces like rings or bracelets but may last longer in earrings and pendants with proper care.

Now, let's tackle another confusing term: Gold Vermeil. Despite its name, it's not solid gold; instead, it's sterling silver plated with at least 2.5 microns of gold. It's also known as Silver Gilt. Gold vermeil jewellery is considered more "noble" than its gold-plated relatives because it combines two precious metals, silver and gold. Will the plating last longer? Once again, it depends on the thickness of the plating and how well the jewellery is maintained.

What about Gold Filled jewellery? In this case, a solid layer of gold (usually at least 5% of the piece's weight) is mechanically bonded with heat to the base metal, which could be another base metal or sterling silver. This layer is typically 5 to 10 times thicker than regular gold-plated jewellery.

Can you take your jewellery to a shop to have it gold-filled, similar to plating or re-plating? Unfortunately, no. Gold-filled items are typically sold as such, as necklaces, chains, or other findings. 

That being said, if you cannot afford solid gold jewellery, opting for gold-filled pieces with a sterling silver base is undeniably a better choice.

With this post, I hope you can make more informed decisions when it comes to your gold-plated, gold-filled, or vermeil pieces. Don't just skim the title and price; read the descriptions carefully, and if a price sounds too good to be true (like "14-carat necklaces with emerald" for £69!), send them an email and ask!

Sending love,

Alice x