Gold plating has been around for millennia, and it will probably be around just as long, simply because it’s a very cheap and efficient way of adding gold to items. Sometimes gold plating is needed in industrial settings, for better conductivity, to prevent corrosion, in circuit boards, and in many electronics.
But what about jewelry ? There is gold plated jewelry and there are ways to find out if something is gold plated. Is gold plated jewelry actual gold jewelry ? Let’s find out.
Is plated gold real ?
Gold plated jewelry is not real gold, in that only the outer layer is actual, true gold. Most of the metal in the jewelry is silver or copper, possibly with a layer of nickel just under the gold. This kind of jewelry came about as a much more affordable way of acquiring gold jewelry.
The gold plating will eventually wear off, and this is dictated by how thick the gold layer is, how often the piece is worn, and how much care is taken when it’s worn.
Commonly copper or silver are used as base metals, though there is also stainless steel or brass or sometimes aluminum. There are layers of copper and nickel between the gold and the base metal in most cases.
The upside to gold plated jewelry is that it’s much cheaper than solid gold jewelry, as it’s only a fraction of the cost. The downside is that the plating eventually wears off, and you may find yourself re-applying it every few years.
Let’s take a look at the three grades of gold plating, and what each means.
1. Gold flashed – less than 0.5 microns gold
Gold flashed jewelry has the least amount of pure gold on it. this piece of jewelry has been electroplated with a very small amount of gold. Not many pieces are plated this way as it wears off within a few months of daily use.
2. Gold plated – at least 0.5 microns gold
Most jewelry pieces are plated like this, and the plating can last for years on end. These pieces usually come at half the price of a solid gold piece.
This is also the plating thickness for rhodium, what makes white gold outstandingly white.
3. Heavy gold plated (vermeil) – at least 2.5 microns gold
Heavy gold plated jewelry has much more gold plating on it than any other plating method. This type of plating can last indefinitely, and is commonly found on Olympic medals, Crown Jewels, and some very special jewelry pieces.
There is a fourth type of gold plating called rolled gold, though that if fairly rare. It requires that a gold layer of at least 5% of the item’s total weight be applied all over the piece, much like gilding.
In general the thicker the gold plating, the less chance it will tarnish. A vermeil will tarnish much slower, or not at all, compared to a gold plated piece.
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Is it worth buying gold plated jewelry ?
Yes, gold plated jewelry is worth buying if you find a piece you’re especially interested in. You can also take silver jewelry to be gold plated if you want to have it look golden.
Gold plated jewelry has no resale value, as no jeweler or pawn shop will buy such a piece. If you find yourself owning such a piece your best chance is to simply keep it and use it as an occasional jewelry piece.
Does gold plated turn green ?
Gold plated jewelry can turn green if it’s directly gold to copper, as the copper atoms fuse into the gold and it tarnishes and wears off much faster, thus turning green. In some cases it may be a nickel coating under the gold, and the gold wore off and the nickel interacted with the oils and sweat on your skin.
These situations can leave a green mark on your skin. It’s not harmful, but it is unsightly and it will be easily removed with some soap and water. However if you find your gold ring turning green (itself and your skin) you may want to look for a better plated one, re-plate the one you have, or simply buy a solid gold ring.
Lower karat gold (like 14k) is much more affordable than 20k gold and you won’t break the bank for a gold ring.
How can you tell if something is gold plated ?
Gold plated jewelry usually has a stamp that tells you the metal composition. It will also not have a karat stamp, the way solid gold does. Other stamps you may find are:
- GP – gold plated
- GEP – gold electroplated
- HGEP, HGE, HGP – heavy gold electroplating, usually on vermeil
Solid gold is heavier than it looks, because it is denser. So if you pick up the gold piece and it’s a bit light, it’s likely gold plated. Keep in mind that the only true solid gold is 24k gold, which it 100% pure gold. Most jewelry is made with 14k or 18k gold, which are a mix of gold and other metal alloys, but formed as a single metal rather than plated.
Another method is the acid test, and it can be a bit destructive. True gold does not interact with any solution, aside from two that are not widely available to the public. If you’re at home and have a bit of vinegar, that should work well.
You need to scratch off or remove a small amount of the jewelry piece, to expose several layers. Place a drop of vinegar (or lemon juice) on the tiny gold piece . If the color of the metal changes, the metal is not gold, but instead copper or nickel or another common metal.
Finally, there is color to take into account. Pure gold – 24k – is intensely yellow-orange and has a deep hue. It’s also heavy. If your jewelry has a strong amber color, it’s likely plated because 24k gold is too soft to use as jewelry. If the piece is also cheap compared to the price of 24k gold, it’s likely plated. This also applies if it’s lighter in the hand than it looks.
Caution when wearing gold plated jewelry
If your jewelry is gold plated you need to take some extra care when wearing it. Here are a few tips on how to care for them.
Don’t wear gold plated jewelry to the pool, shower, sauce, or spa.
The constant exposure to water, chlorine, your skin, the oils on your skin, body care products, and moisture in general can make the plating wear off much, much faster than it normally would. IT also speeds up the green stain if you’re wearing something with copper or nickel.
Reserve gold plated jewelry for occasional wear
Just like wearing the jewelry to the pool or shower, continuously exposing gold plating to your skin will make it come off sooner rather than later. Gold vermeil will last much longer than gold plating, but you may still want to reserve these piece for occasional wear. This way they’ll last you for a much longer time.
Don’t store your gold plated jewelry with other metals
When storing your gold plated jewelry don’t keep them with other jewelry pieces. They will start to tarnish faster than you think if constantly exposed to other metals. If the gold is plated directly onto copper you’ll notice it will tarnish very fast.
Check if the jewelry needs to be re-plated every couple of years
Every now and then check your jewelry to see if the plating has worn off in some areas. if it has you will need to take it to a jeweler to re-plate it. It’s a bit costly but much better than trying to remove all the gold plating to get to the base metal by yourself. This would require a lot of polishing to remove the gold, and you would also need to remove the nickel and possibly copper layers. Not worth the effort, you’re better off re-plating it.
I’m the main author for jewelrymaterialguide.com. I started this site after we did tons of research before our wedding and noticed that there is information about rings, jewelry, and so on that is really hard to find on the internet.