A thin layer of gold that is electroplated onto the outside of a piece of jewelry, usually covering the whole piece. The underlying metal can be almost anything, steel, brass, copper, etc. Gold plating can and likely will wear away with regular use – especially rings.
Similar to gold plate, with one HUGE exception which is that in order to be called Vermeil, it must be sterling silver underneath the gold plating. Also, the layer of gold plating is typically thicker, with some exceptions. With vermeil, if and when the gold plating wears away, you still have a piece that is solid sterling underneath.
Why Pick One vs. The Other?
Folks who know my jewelry well might be wondering why I, as a designer, only use solid or karat gold and not gold fill, plate or vermeil.
Lots of reasons. I always have lots of reasons.
The irritation that some jewelry-wearers get from brass? Me. I am one of those jewelry-wearers. Because of this, wearing gold fill irritates my piercings. That is reason enough for me not to use any base metals, that way I can wear everything that I make without worrying.
Working with gold fill is kind of fussy and as a material there are things that you just can’t do with it the way that you can with gold. For instance, the texture that I use on my Willow Wedding Rings involves scratching the surface deeply to create that pattern, and if I did that to gold fill, it would expose the base metal underneath.
Gold fill can also be very finicky in the soldering process. One small misstep and you have to polish off discoloration from the soldering, which can remove too much gold and expose the base metal underneath.
I love being able to melt down and recycled metals on my own, and gold fill and plated jewelry typically needs to be refined by professionals. This is a longer process and often doesn’t result in much return on the materials. Additionally, I am mindful of the materials that I use – sourcing my stones carefully, finding recycled and Fairmined metals, and I have some concerns about the potential to waste gold when it is used only for plating.
When you consider that a solid gold piece can last you a lifetime, but that gold fill and gold plate can wear away, then believe it or not, solid gold becomes a better buy over the course of time.
If you consider that a gold plated piece will either need replating or will be discarded once the gold plating wears away, then the lifetime cost of owning gold plated jewelry goes up in price. A piece of jewelry that is gold-plated over a base metal will likely lose its gold plating and will a- discolor the whole piece, b – require replating, thereby adding to the cost of the piece or c – reveal the base metal underneath and could cause irritation.
In making my jewelry line, I aim to create pieces that can last you for decades to come, with only occasional upkeep. Because of that, gold-plating doesn’t fit in to my work.
Are you a jewelry designer trying to figure out which material to work with? Or a jewelry lover who needs guidance when shopping for jewelry? Pop your questions and comments below and I will answer!
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