15 October 2021 3 min read
You may have heard the terms ‘gold vermeil’ or ‘gold plated’ thrown around, without really understanding what they refer to. When it comes to buying jewellery, it’s important to know what you’re getting. So, with that in mind, we’ll take you through each of these different terms relating to gold jewellery, explaining exactly what they mean.
First up, solid gold.
Solid gold is, just as it sounds, gold all the way through.
Gold purity is measured in ‘caratage’. 24 carat gold is gold in its purest form. It borders on orange in hue and is softer and more susceptible to scratches.
Anything below 24 carats means the gold will include other metal alloys (typically copper or silver). So for example, 18 carat gold contains 18 parts gold to 6 parts other metals, making it 75 percent gold.
Solid gold is rare (rarer than diamonds) and expensive, typically maintaining or appreciating in value over time, making it an excellent heirloom to pass on to future generations.
Our Lisbon Earrings, solid gold
A high demand for gold and rising gold prices led to an increase in the use of gold plating for jewellery. Gold plating involves applying a thin layer of gold over another more affordable and readily available metal (such as copper or brass). In gold plating, the gold layer must be at least 0.5 microns in thickness (a micron is 1/1,000th of a millimetre).
The gold is applied to the base metal through a process known as electroplating.
First, the base metal is placed into a chemical solution containing gold. An electrical current is then applied to the piece, attracting the gold and causing it to react with the base metal, covering it.
With such a thin layer of gold, gold plated jewellery is known to wear away fairly quickly, especially without proper care and attention.
If you own a piece of gold plated jewellery and want it to last, you’ll need to get it replated when the original layer starts to wear off.
Flash plated jewellery is another type of gold plating, requiring a very thin layer (just 0.175 microns), resulting in poor quality pieces that don’t last long.
Popular in contemporary jewellery, vermeil (pronounced vehr-may) is the process of applying gold to sterling silver. It’s also sometimes known as ‘silver-gilt’. The technique is similar to plating, but requires a thicker layer of gold - at least 2.5 microns, meaning the layer of gold on vermeil jewellery will be a minimum of five times thicker than most plated gold jewellery. Due to the extra thickness, vermeil is generally more durable than gold plated.
To be classed as vermeil, the base metal must be sterling silver, which is 92.5 percent pure silver, with 7.5 percent other metal alloys.
Different countries have varying requirements for jewellery to be classed as vermeil. In the US, for example, jewellery must be at least 10 carat gold. While in Canada, the plating only needs to be 1.0 micron thick. So, it’s important to consider, if you’re thinking of buying vermeil jewellery, where exactly it’s from, as the quality will vary.
You might be surprised to learn that vermeil, often used in large gold objects, can be found in many crown jewels and in olympic medals.
Like gold plated jewellery, gold vermeil will dull slightly over time. However, it is much longer lasting, especially if it is cared for and cleaned regularly.
Although it uses a higher quality base metal, vermeil isn’t necessarily more valuable or expensive than gold plated jewellery. It all depends on the thickness of the layer and the caratage of the gold used. The thicker the layer and the higher the carat, the more valuable the piece will be.
You may also have heard of jewellery described as ‘gold filled’. Gold filled jewellery involves a thin sheet of gold, mechanically bonded to a core metal. Instead of measuring the layer in terms of thickness, like with gold plating or vermeil, gold filled jewellery is measured in weight, with the layer of gold accounting for at least 5 percent of the piece’s overall weight.
Gold filling is a costly and time intensive process and, as a result, is rarely used today. Most gold filled pieces are no better than gold plated, which is much cheaper and faster to produce.
So, there you have it. If you’re looking for an inexpensive piece, vermeil or plated might be the key. But, if you want to invest in something a bit more timeless, that you can treasure for years to come, there really is no replacement for solid gold.
We’re proud to use 100% recycled solid gold in all our gold jewellery. Browse our sustainable jewellery collections here.
Our Kilifi Studs, solid gold
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