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Gold Plated Jewelry Differences: Gold Plated vs. Gold Filled vs. PVD vs. Vermeil
What is Gold Plated Jewelry?
Gold plated jewelry consists of a base metal, covered with a layer of gold. The base metal can be steel, brass, copper, or even silver. The outer gold layer can be 10K to 24K gold, but 14-karat and 18-karat gold are used most often. Gold plated jewelry exists for buyers on a budget.
Comparing Different Kinds of Gold Plated Jewelry: Plated vs Filled vs PVD vs Vermeil
There are a few different kinds of gold plated jewelry. Each is made in a different way, and each is marked differently. Essentially, all gold plated jewelry is created by bonding or fusing a thin outer layer of gold with a different base metal underneath.
You may have heard of gold electroplate, gold filled, gold overlay, rolled gold, PVD, vermeil, or gold tone. Most people don't understand these terms and their meanings. So let's examine these different kinds of plated gold.
Please note: I have included a table in this article, for key details at a glance.
Test Your Knowledge about Gold Plated Jewelry!
Gold plated jewelry can irritate your skin, but karat gold jewelry does not. (Answer highlighted later in this guide.)
Gold Electroplated Jewelry
Electroplated gold is the most common type of plated gold jewelry. The electroplating process combines electricity and an electrolyte solution. This creates a magnetic attraction between the metals, which results in a chemical bond.
"What did he just say?"
The base metal (let's say brass) is dipped into the liquid. When a little voltage is applied, the brass magnetically attracts ions of gold in the liquid. When the gold ions touch the brass, they bond though electrochemical magic.
There is no standard thickness of the gold surface layer of electroplated jewelry. For very thin layers, 18K gold may be used, since it imparts a richer color. Some pieces are labeled or described as heavy gold electroplate, heavy gold plate, which indicates a slightly thicker layer of gold. However, the actual thickness may not be clarified.
Some gold electroplated jewelry does a stamp or marking. Some is marked "GP", "GE", "GEP", "HGE", or "HGP".
Gold Electroplate = Base Metal + Nickel + Gold
Electroplating begins with the base metal. That is plated with nickel first, and then gold. The thin middle layer of nickel helps improve adhesion of the gold layer, so it sticks. Think of it like applying primer before paint.
Gold Filled Jewelry
Gold filled jewelry has many names, for some reason. It's also called gold overlay, rolled gold, and rolled gold plate. Gold filled jewelry begins with a base of jewelers' brass. A layer of gold is wrapped around it, with no metals in between the layers. Then heat and pressure are applied, which bond the brass and gold.
The gold layer must account for 1/20th of the total weight of gold filled jewelry. Thus, it's substantially thicker than an electroplated gold layer and lasts longer.
Gold filled jewelry must indicate the karatage of the outer layer. Common markings are "14K 1/20 GF" and "14KRGP"; others use a "12" or "18" instead of the "14".
PVD stands for Physical Vapor Deposition. I'm including PVD gold coating in this list because it produces a type of gold covered jewelry. Technically, however, PVD items do not qualify as gold plated jewelry.
PVD is a more technically sophisticated process than gold plating methods. A gold mist is applied to a base metal item, via a vacuum process or ion bombardment. (Sounds crazy, right?) A layer of titanium nitride adds durability to the gold layer. This is often preferred for watches, which constantly flex and rub against the wrist, because the result can offer a more durable gold color than gold plate.
"All That Glitters is not PVD Gold."
PVD does not always involve gold. PVD gold-tone jewelry is just non-precious metal covered with a gold-colored substance, using the PVD process.
Other Gold Plated Jewelry
Not every piece of gold plated jewelry is made though a complicated process. Many of the cheapest jewelry pieces are just sprayed or dipped in gold. There's no need to explain this in depth, right? Somebody just sprays the piece with an ultra-thin layer of gold, or they dip it in gold instead.
How do you know if a piece of jewelry that you're looking at has been dipped or sprayed? How about, it costs five dollars.
Sprayed or dipped gold jewelry is unmarked.
Gold Tone Jewelry
Unless you see a marking that indicates otherwise, gold-tone jewelry is not gold. Sellers use the term "gold tone" because the it contains the word "gold". But gold tone jewelry doesn't contain any gold. It's the classic definition of costume jewelry.
There is no marking for gold tone jewelry.
Test Your Knowledge Answer: False!
Some kinds of gold plated jewelry can cause skin issues. However, some people experience an allergic reaction to the nickel contained in white gold jewelry too.
And then there's vermeil (pronounced vehr-MAY). Vermeil is actually a type of gold electroplated jewelry. However, there's a key distinction. Vermeil begins with a base of sterling silver. The silver is covered with a layer of gold, no less than 10 karat, at least 2.5 microns thick. So it's gold over silver.
Vermeil is composed of precious metal. That makes it better than other gold plated jewelry. And gold sticks to silver well, which means that gold plated silver retains its gold luster longer than standard gold plated jewelry.
It's worth a bit more and costs a bit more, though it's still inexpensive compared to fine gold jewelry. As a result, some vermeil jewelry displays a higher level of craftsmanship.
If a piece of jewelry is yellow like gold and marked "925" or "STER", you know it's vermeil. Some vermeil is plated with white gold, though, in which case you'll need to recognize the subtle color difference between white gold and silver.
Kinds of Gold Plated Jewelry: What's the Difference? - What is it? How is it Made? How is it Marked?
Gold Plated Jewelry Type
How is it marked?
What is it made of?
How is it made?
gold plate, plated gold, heavy gold electroplate
GP, GE, GEP, HGE, HGP
Gold over brass or steel
*Electrical current is added to solution, which magnetically attracts gold ions.
rolled gold, gold overlay
1/20 GF, RGP
Gold over brass or copper
Heat and pressure bonds, or fuses, layers.
physical vapor depostion
Gold over steel
**Gold mist is bonded by vacuum or "ion bombardment".
gold plated silver, gold over silver
Gold over sterling silver
Electroplated (see above).
* The electroplating process involves a middle layer of nickel.
** The PVD process includes a layer of titanium nitride to add durability.
Some people dismiss gold plated jewelry as fake jewelry, and cheap. As you've learned, there are several different kinds of gold plated jewelry. Some are nicer than others, and hopefully you've learned the differences between them.
The terms "fashion jewelry" and "costume jewelry" are more accurate. Furthermore, although some professionals use these terms interchangeably, I separate the two groups. To me, gold filled jewelry and vermeil are fashion jewelry, because they have more precious metal content. I consider the rest to be costume jewelry.
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