Okay so now that we’ve previously looked at the difference between pure gold and gold alloys, let’s have a look at gold filled, gold vermeil and gold plating.
Gold filled or plated and gold vermeil jewelry is not gold jewelry.
Plating refers to a process called electro-plating, and applies to all these terms. The difference is that vermeil is specifically plated silver, and gold filled is a much thicker plating than the other two – five to ten times thicker and typically 5% of the item’s total weight, but varying depending on the carat of the gold used. It might in fact be better described as a sleeve of gold and is also sometimes referred to a rolled gold, gold overlay or rolled gold plate.
Without getting all technical and sciency, the electro-plating process involves an electrical current which is run through a solution, jewelry of various metals is dipped into this solution and is microscopically plated with a thin layer of gold. The thickness is literally microns (a micron is a millionth of a meter), with standard electro-plating being about 0.5 microns. Vermeil should be at least 2.5 microns.
For gold filled jewelry the process is a bit different, involving heat to fuse a sheet of gold onto the base piece.
Plating amounts to such miniscule amounts of gold that it adds no real value in terms of gold weight. When that plating is over silver it is known as gold vermeil, and when it’s over base metals or brass, etc, it’s simply plating.
And being as thin as the plating is, it tends to wear off over time, depending on how much abrasion it has to endure. In fact it can be removed with a few vigorous rubs with a polishing cloth. Gold vermeil is also affected by the underlying silver starting to oxidize, which causes the color to dull considerably and become quite tarnished. Obviously, it’s not something that can be polished, so gold plated/vermeil jewelry will always need to be re-plated fairly regularly to retain its original beauty.
Also, if you have any kind of allergy caused by nickel, for example, the thickness of the plating is not enough to prevent it.
These above two factors don’t really apply to gold filled jewelry though, due to the thickness of the plating. But here is another word of caution – it seems that the use of the word Gold-Filled is often not used very accurately (and might just be regular plating) and one should make specific queries to find out what technique has actually been used.
Solid gold jewelry will always stand the test of time. Gold plated and vermeil – not so much.
Plated jewelry can be exceptionally beautiful and definitely more affordable, but that beauty might be short-lived. It’s without a doubt a matter of getting what you pay for. And if you’re okay with that, then everybody wins!