As a jewelry buyer, you should be able to determine the worth of an item at first glance and know what kind of item you are getting and how long it will last before the gold fades, if it does.
When purchasing items that appear to be made of gold, understanding the various metallic components that make up the item can help one avoid being duped.
This piece examines the different qualities of distinct gold materials to help you understand what you need to look out for before investing in any gold jewelry.
The various terminologies “gold filled,” “gold vermeil,” and “gold plated” all refer to the thickness of a gold coating and the type of base metal used in the manufacture of an item.
Gold Plating Thickness Chart
What is Gold Filled?
Although gold-filled may sound like solid gold, it is not. It describes a mixture of gold and brass that has been mechanically bonded by applying heat and pressure to form a bond. A lot of the high quality gold-filled jewelry looks like solid gold. A piece must have around one-tenth of its weight in gold to be considered gold-filled. In certain regions of the world, gold filled is sometimes referred to as “rolled gold.”
To comply with US law, the gold content must make up at least 5% of the overall weight. In rare circumstances, the terms “rolled gold plate” and “gold overlay,” but not “gold-filled,” may be used lawfully if the percentage is less than 5%.
Given the thickness of the gold coating, gold-filled jewelry can endure up to 3 decades and won’t tarnish, fade, or flake. When wearing this, there shouldn’t be any issues for anyone with sensitive skin.
Compared to normal gold plating and gold electroplating, the coating of gold on gold-filled goods is 5 to 10 times thicker and 15 to 25 times thicker, respectively.
What is Gold Vermeil?
Gold vermeil is a method of gold coating that originated in the 19th century and has gained considerable popularity among jewelry lovers.
So what exactly is gold vermeil?
Gold vermeil is a premium form of gold plating that employs pure or sterling silver, which is also known as 925 silver, as the base metal upon which a thin layer of gold is coated using electroplating.
Electroplating is, in essence, a chemical process through which a metal coating is placed on a solid object. In gold vermeil, the metal coating is gold, while the solid object is sterling silver.
Just as in “gold filled,” the term “gold vermeil” is legally regulated. For a gold-coated item to be considered vermeil, it must have a base made of sterling silver, and it must be covered in gold plating that is at least 10 karats and has a minimum thickness of 2.5 microns (in the US).
The minimum thickness is different in some countries. For example, the minimum thickness in Canada is 1.0 microns (a micron is 1/1000th of a millimeter).
What is Gold Plating?
Gold plating is the most economical of the three different categories of gold plating. This is because the required standard for gold thickness is very low. There are a few other factors responsible for the cheapness of gold-plated items, which we will look at later in this article.
Gold plating is a term that refers to items in which a thin layer of gold has been applied by means of a chemical reaction known as electroplating or electrodepositing to a base metal or an alloy (usually copper, brass or sterling silver).
The legally approved minimum thickness for a “gold plated” item is 0.5 microns. This is the major difference between gold plating and gold vermeil, aside from the specificity of the base metal, which in vermeil is compulsorily sterling silver. Items with a thickness of gold coating less than 0.5 are frequently wrongly labeled as gold-plated, even though they are actually “gold electroplate” at 0.175 microns or “gold flashed” if they are thinner.
What Are the Differences Between Gold Filled, Vermeil, and Plating?
Having examined the meaning of these terms, we will now examine the differences between them using a number of characteristics.
Base Layer & Manufacturing Process
The base material and manufacturing process go a long way in determining the price and durability of gold-coated items.
As we have said earlier, gold-coated items are items in which a layer of gold has been applied to a base metal or alloy.
There are two different processes through which a gold coat can be applied. They are electroplating and mechanical bonding (in a process involving the application of heat and pressure).
Now, let us consider each of them individually and see the base metal or alloy and manufacturing process they employ, which has been studied by a trustworthy custom jewelry manufacturer.
The base material usually used to manufacture gold-filled items is brass. However, other metals such as copper and silver are also sometimes used.
Other than the noteworthy thickness of gold in gold-filled items, the manufacturing process involved in their making is one of the reasons for their costliness. They require expensive technology to make, which drives up the cost of their production.
In gold-filled articles, heat and pressure are used to mechanically bond a layer of solid gold to the core metal. This process takes a long period of time but gives a permanent bond; as a result, the gold coating will not flake or peel off.
For a material to be called gold vermeil, it has to have a base of sterling silver.
When you see a .925 stamp on your gold piece, know that it means that the base material is sterling silver or silver that is 92.5% pure.
The manufacturing process involved in making vermeil items is electroplating. This process involves using electric current to deposit a layer of gold on the base material (sterling silver).
In gold plating jewelry, brass, copper, nickel, zinc, silver, or any other type of metal or alloy may be used as a base material.
The manufacturing process involved here, too, is gold plating.
Thickness and The Amount of Real Gold
Another aspect in which the three categories of gold-coated articles differ is the respective thickness of their gold coating and the amount of real gold contained in them.
- Gold filled
The minimum thickness of the gold coating in gold filled is 5% of the total metal weight of the item. While the minimum purity of the gold content is 10 karats. Gold-filled items usually have markings on them depicting their karatage. A karat is 1/24 parts of an item’s gold content. As a result, if a gold piece has a 1/20 12K G.F. marking, it means that at least 1/20th of 12 Karat gold is present in its weight.
- Gold vermeil
The minimum thickness of the gold coating in vermeil is 2.5 microns. The minimum purity of gold in vermeil varies anywhere between 9K to 18K.
- Gold plating
The minimum thickness of the gold coating in gold-plated items is 0.5 microns. The minimum purity also has the same range as in vermeil, though the 10K and 12K varieties are more common.
The durability of the gold layer in the three classes also varies greatly. Their durability is a function of the thickness of the gold coating. Thus, items with more gold are more durable than those with less.
- Gold filled
Gold-filled items have the highest longevity among the three categories we are considering. This is because they have a thicker layer of gold alloy than their gold-plated counterparts. Depending on how well they are managed and the quality of the material itself, gold-filled articles can last between 10 to 30 years without tarnishing. Ideally, gold-filled items do not flake, fade, or wear with use. It fades like solid gold.
- Gold vermeil
With proper care, high-quality gold vermeil can last up to two years. However, by this time, usage would have already begun to show.
Even though gold vermeil’s durability is inferior to that of gold filled, it is still significantly more durable than gold plating because it has a coating of at least 2.5 microns.
- Gold plated
This class has the least longevity among the three. It is safe to say that it is not made for long-term use. It is for “fast fashion.” It gives you a trendy look, which lasts for only a few months before tarnishing begins to show. The gold coating is only a meager 0.5 microns in this type of item, so it fades quite fast.
Cost and Price
As a result of the different processes involved in their production, the base metal used and the thickness of their gold coating, gold filled, gold vermeil, and gold plated items do not have the same cost of production nor price range.
- Gold filled
Making gold-filled items takes a long time and requires expensive technology not readily available to low end jewelers. Also, the amount of gold coating is considerably more than that involved in making gold vermeil and gold plating. These are the factors responsible for the priciness of gold-filled items.
- Gold vermeil
Gold vermeil is somewhat expensive to manufacture due to the base material (sterling silver). Gold vermeil also has a gold coating thickness of 2.5 microns. This makes it more expensive than gold-plated items.
- Gold plated
Gold-plated items are the cheapest to make. They do not require expensive base materials and have a very thin layer of gold coating (0.5 microns).
Most Seen in What Types of Jewelry?
The application of the three classes is widespread and covers a wide range of jewelry. However, with that said, the kinds of jewelry that can be produced in gold-filled metal are restricted. The fact that the jewelry is made from sheets, tubes, or wires that keep the separate layers of base metal and gold means that if casting—which is by definition melting—is necessary, the layers will melt into a new alloy.
How to Care and Maintain
Caring for gold-plated items is straightforward and easy to practice. To understand the care and maintenance of these items, a good knowledge of the working process of certain tarnishing agents is necessary.
A good place to start is oxygen. Oxygen is an oxidizing agent that is present in the air around us and in water in its dissolved form. When water or even air comes in contact with jewelry, the oxygen component combines with the metals to form metallic oxides, which tarnish or dull the shine of these objects.
Body sweat, oils, and lotions also leave a coating on gold-coated jewelry and tarnish them eventually.
With the above in mind, here are a few tips to care for and maintain your gold jewelry:
- Wearing gold-filled jewelry in the ocean or a swimming pool is not recommended because salt and chlorine can damage it. Most importantly, if your piece is vermeil or gold plated, try to avoid water by all means.
- Do not wear your jewelry when working out or performing strenuous activities because the sweat generated can tarnish your jewelry.
- Store your jewelry in an airtight bag to limit its exposure to oxygen.
- Keep your hands free of makeup or lotion before handling jewelry.
- Do not apply perfume, hairspray, or body spray while wearing jewelry as they contain chemicals that can tarnish them.
- After each use, jewelry should be cleaned with a damp cotton ball or microfiber cloth to remove surface dirt and smudges.
- Store your jewelry pieces individually to avoid them rubbing against each other, as this could cause damage.
Unfortunately, not all of us have the financial means to purchase the finest gold jewelry, despite the fact that it is very attractive and complements one’s wardrobe. As a result, concessions have been made to lower the cost for almost everyone. However, this compromise entails the buyer having to forgo durability in favor of quick fashion. Not too bad, in my opinion. However, if you have the funds to buy expensive gold jewelry, do so because it is profitable.