Sunday, June 16, 2013

Gold, Gold-filled, Gold plate, Vermeil... what does it all mean?

When a jeweler works with metal for a while, it can be easy to forget that when you first started, you didn't know what all those words meant.
so I was posting about Jewelry and a friend of mine asked "can you explain what 'gold-filled' means?"
yes i can... and since one person asked i tend to assume there are more people who do not know... therefore i wrote a blog post about it.

Gold is an element.  It is , in jewelry, defined by its "karat" with 24 k being pure gold (and far too soft to use in jewelry usually) and 12k being half gold and half something else.
A mixture of several metals is called an "Alloy" so anything that isnt 24k gold is an Alloy of gold and .. something.

the most typical gold jewelry in the United States is 14k, or just over half Gold ...

In other countries the usual karat may be higher, most Indian jewelry is 18k, for example.
Each country has a minimum karat to be labeled as "gold" .

By itself Gold is yellow, but it can be made white by adding nickle or palladium... rose by adding more copper and less white metal,   green by adding pure silver.... (with the exception of  the white gold, the colors are subtle)

Because so many people are allergic to Nickel, if you are considering white gold for jewelry, verify what metal is being used!

Gold Plate and Gold Filled

Gold plated means that a base metal (usually brass) has been lightly coated (usually by electroplating) with gold.  The thickness of the gold can vary  between .5 microns and 2.5 microns for heavy plating, but averages somewhere around  1 micron in thickness.
for comparison purposes.... a human hair is 100 microns, and a dollar bill is about 200 microns thick

so Gold plate is really very thin.
it scratches easily, exposing the metal underneath, but this is often not immediately obvious because brass is gold colored too...
until it tarnishes.

Gold-filled does NOT mean it is "filled with gold" but instead means it is  gold... filled with base metal... usually brass.

I usually work with wire, and gold PLATED wire would be easily scratched just by handling and using metal tools and pliers...
Gold-FILLED wire, on the other hand, is at least ten times more gold... often a hundred times thicker gold!

so my Gold Filled Wire is in fact a hollow gold tube with a brass core...
(see chart )

 In addition, quite often there is an additional layer of  alloyed gold gold and brass between the brass layer and the gold top layer...

But the main thing you need to bear in mind is that Gold Filled jewelry has been around in a few cases since the early 1900s.. still in great shape!  Unlike gold plate it doesn't easily chip, flake or scratch,  and will retain its appearance indefinitely.

I, personally, am hard on my jewelry.  I have never had any plated jewelry last longer than a season... i have items of gold-filled jewelry that are now over 20 years old and look great.

The main advantage of Gold-filled jewelry is simply cost.  While it is a lot more gold than gold plate, and therefore more costly than gold plate; its a lot less gold than solid gold, and therefore much less expensive than that.

So what the heck is Vermeil?

Vermeil is gold plate.... but instead of gold plate on top of brass or some other base metal, Vermeil is gold plate on top of Sterling Silver!  This can be a nice option when you want the look of gold, but can only pay silver prices....
with silver prices going up as high as they have, its not usually much savings over gold-filled jewelry. (it used to be)

Speaking of Silver...

With the cost of silver being as high as it has been, and people being on tight budgets due to the recession, it has finally been economical to create "silver-filled" wire and jewelry.  Previously it just wasn't worth it.

Silver-filled is lovely to work with, thicker than silver plate, and less expensive than solid (see Gold Filled, above)
If  it is used with a silver colored core /base metal....(instead of brass) then you have to wonder what metal is white/silver colored, and cheap... and the usual answer is Nickel.  I always advise asking what the base /core metal is if you have Nickel allergies.

(and remember, Sterling Silver is .925 silver. It is an alloy of silver and copper.  Pure Silver is often called "fine silver" and i love working with it. )

I hope that answers your questions! Please feel free to comment on my blog, or my Facebook page, with any other jewelry related questions you may have...

Links, and more

artisan plating company the source of the chart on gold filled  (single, double, etc) and a LOT of charts and information on comparing plated with gold filled, etc

source of header photo plus more information on periodic table and elements

Wikipedia on colored gold

Rio Grande on Silver Filled also a nice chart on thickness comparisons.

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