The Truth About Gold Plated Jewelry

Photo of a jeweler’s hands as they finish a piece of jewelry. 

Image Source: Tahlia Doyle 

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For centuries, people have loved the durability and beauty of gold jewelry. Whether yellow, white or rose gold, this precious metal is the perfect choice for engagement rings and other fine jewelry styles. With easy maintenance, it can be worn daily.

Though solid gold jewelry is the most common choice, there are some modern and vintage jewelry pieces that feature gold plating instead. We’re sharing the truth about gold plated jewelry, also known as vermeil, and what it means for the longevity of these styles

What is Gold Plated Jewelry or Gold Vermeil?

Gold plating is a jewelry making technique in which a base metal is covered with a thin layer of gold. This is done through an electrochemical process that adds a small amount of real gold to the surface of another metal like silver, copper, nickel or brass. When silver is coated with gold, it is often called gold vermeil or silver gilt. 

The gold plating process deposits a thin layer of gold onto whichever base metal is being used. This plating is usually less than 0.5 microns thick, but it can be up to 2.5 microns for jewelry with heavier coatings. A micron is a unit of measurement equal to one millionth of a meter, it’s also called a micrometer. The gold on plated jewelry is usually 0.5 to 2.5 microns thick and a sheet of plain paper is around 70 microns thick. 

Different Types of Gold Plated Jewelry

Costume earrings on display, many have gold plated elements.

Image Source: Edwin Chen

You may have seen different words to describe gold plating. Common terms are vermeil, gold filled, gold plated and gold electroplated. All of these terms describe gold plated jewelry, just with different thicknesses for the gold. They all feature a base metal with gold on top, though some different techniques can be used.

Gold Vermeil

One of the thickest of the modern gold plated styles, vermeil is usually around 2.5 microns thick. This creates a rich gold color that’s stronger than other plating types, though it is still susceptible to the eventual fading that happens with plated jewelry. Without a barrier metal between the gold and silver, the silver’s atoms can eventually diffuse into the gold layer which can speed up fading. General wearing away of the gold can also happen, even with the thickness of the gold layer in vermeil. 

Gold Filled

Another thick plating option, gold filled jewelry features a base metal (most commonly brass) that’s covered with a gold coating at least 2 microns thick. This process is done by mechanically bonding a layer of gold to another metal rather than electroplating. Other terms for gold filled jewelry include rolled gold and gold bonded. 

To qualify as gold filled jewelry, solid gold must account for at least 5% of the jewelry’s weight. This means that gold filled jewelry has a thicker coating than other plating types. Still, it is only a plating that can wear away. If you are allergic to the base metals used, you may experience skin irritation when wearing this jewelry, especially as its plating wears away. 

Gold Plated and Gold Electroplated

Photo of a woman wearing gold plated jewelry. 

Image Source: Saeed Anahid

Gold plated and gold electroplated are the terms for the most common types of gold plated jewelry. Electroplating is simply the process that adds plating to the jewelry. The gold is usually 0.5 microns thick for gold plated or electroplated pieces, with thicker gold coatings having their own names.

Gold Filled vs Gold Plated

Both gold filled and gold plated describe jewelry styles in which a base metal is covered in a relatively thin layer of gold. Gold plated styles are made by electroplating gold onto its base metal, while gold filled is done with a more mechanical process. 

Gold plated is typically several times thinner than gold filled, but both are thin enough to wear off on their own over time. They both require additional care beyond solid gold and they will fade over time, revealing the base metal beneath

The History of Gold Vermeil and Gold Plated Jewelry

The technology behind gold plated jewelry is credited to Italian chemist Luigi Brugnatelli. In 1805, he discovered the process for electroplating. It was quickly adopted for jewelry styles, with many Victorian jewelry pieces using gold plating. 

It stayed popular over the years and into modern day, due to the greater affordability of this jewelry. Just as in Victorian times, people are drawn to the big impact these thin gold plating styles can make on jewelry. But when you look at many well-worn pieces from years past, it’s clear that the plating fades as time goes on.

Drawbacks of Gold Plated Jewelry

Vermil, gold filled and gold plated jewelry have several disadvantages when compared to solid gold jewelry. Key drawbacks of gold plated jewelry include: 

  1. Fading of the gold plating, resulting in deterioration of the piece over time.  
  2. Fragile construction, many gold plated jewelry items can’t get wet and are easily damaged.  
  3. Quick irritation for many skin types because many of the base metals aren’t used in hypoallergenic jewelry. 
  4. Pieces are more susceptible to wear and tear.  
  5. Expensive prices for the amount of gold in the jewelry.  
  6. Reduced flexibility for repairs, reworking or resale.  

While solid gold can be transformed, repaired and revied into new styles by expert jewelers, gold plated jewelry is often more difficult to work with. Some pieces may be repaired, but others are worth far less than their repair costs, making them difficult to repair or redesign.  

Close up of a piece of jewelry as a bench jeweler works on it with a torch. 

Jewelry with gold plating, gold vermeil or gold filled coatings may look similar to the real thing, but at their core they are not gold. They do not offer the durability, ease of wear and strength that solid gold offers. While solid gold retains its color with proper care, all plated pieces are destined to fade over time. If you are searching for gold jewelry that will withstand the test of time, solid gold is the best way to go. 

Questions and Answers About Gold Vermeil and Plated Jewelry

Gold plated jewelry is any jewelry that has received a thin gold coating, typically through electroplating. This jewelry has a base layer of other metals such as silver, brass, copper or nickel that is then covered with a thin layer of gold. The gold layer is typically 0.5 to 2.5 microns thick. 

Gold plated jewelry is also called vermeil, gold bonded, rolled gold or gold filled jewelry. Though the processes for adding the gold layer differ for some of these terms, they all describe jewelry in which a base metal has a thin layer of gold over it. 

Vermeil is jewelry that has a base plating of sterling silver with gold on top. The gold is often 2.5 microns thick, though it can differ from piece to piece. 

Gold filled jewelry has a base metal that is typically mechanically bonded to a gold casing. The gold must account for at least 5% of the jewelry’s weight in order to qualify as gold filled. 

While the gold that’s used in gold plating, gold filled and gold vermeil jewelry is real gold, the entire jewelry piece is not real gold. No, gold plated, bonded or vermilled jewelry is not real gold. It is another base metal that is covered with a thin layer of real gold. But these plated jewelry styles should not be sold as gold jewelry because they are not solid gold. 

Yes, gold plated jewelry, gold vermeil and gold filled jewelry pieces are prone to tarnishing. Certain base metals are more prone to tarnishing than others. 

In general, any gold plated jewelry cannot be exposed to water. Humid climates and sweat may also damage some pieces of gold plated jewelry. 

This jewelry is not authentic solid gold jewelry. Gold plated, gold filled, gold vermeil and other terms describing jewelry that has a base metal with gold on top all refer to pieces that are not real gold. 

Alternatives to Gold Vermeil and Gold Plated Jewelry

Solid gold Cuban chain. 

If you’re searching for jewelry that’s durable, stylish and built to last, solid gold is the best choice. To keep budget in mind, pick jewelry that has a smaller scale. Lighter pieces including stacking rings, chain-focused gold bracelets, dainty gold necklaces and simple gold earrings all offer the iconic style of this popular metal. 

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