The Basic Guide to Buying Gold Toned Jewelry
Gold plated, gold filled, flash gold? The jewelry industry is rife with terms that even we sometimes get confused about. Below, we’ve summarized the most popular types of “gold” jewelry on the market, putting together a little 101 on buying anything gold toned to help you decide just which kind of gold is for you.
Gold plated jewelry is one of the most popular jewelry options because of its affordability and variety in styles. It’s made through a process of plating a thin layer of gold onto a more affordable base metal such as nickel, brass, stainless steel, silver, or copper. When made with a quality base metal such as stainless steel or silver, gold-plated jewelry is hypoallergenic, but this does not mean the gold plating won’t fade. The plating is almost always done with an electric current in a tub of solution, and is a “wet plating” method. The layer of gold plating can range from 0.17 to 2.5 microns (one micron equals 0.0001 centimeters) and varies in color depending on the purity of the gold used.
When to buy gold plated jewelry?
Gold plated jewelry is best for pieces you don’t plan on wearing often because of its short lifespan (six months to a year or so depending on wearer). Although it is plated in real gold, there is very little actual gold on plated pieces, so fading (and tarnishing for certain base metals) is inevitable and will expose sensitive skin to sometimes harmful base metals that contain nickel. If you buy gold plated jewelry, be sure to keep jewelry away from water, chemicals, oils, and makeup to prolong its life. Additionally, it's best to wear gold-plated pieces alone to avoid rubbing or brushing that will cause gold-plating to fade.
*Buy when you don’t plan on wearing often and want to stay on trend and on-budget.
Gold vermeil is a premium form of gold plated jewelry in which a layer of gold is plated onto a more expensive base metal of sterling silver. The gold plating is usually thicker than gold-plated jewelry (2.5 microns for US standards), but not always so. Gold vermeil uses only precious metals, so it is hypoallergenic, unlike other kinds of gold plated jewelry. Like any gold plated piece, the durability relies on the plating thickness but fading and tarnishing is inevitable with normal wear.
When to buy gold vermeil jewelry?
Gold Vermeil makes a good addition to a jewelry wardrobe when you want plated gold jewelry that is hypoallergenic. It’s still gold plated and best for jewelry you don’t plan on wearing every day because of the softness of both the fine materials used. (The hardness of both gold and sterling silver depends on the purity content: the higher the ratio of pure/fine gold or silver to the metal it is mixed with, the less durable). The gold plating on gold vermeil must still be kept away from chemicals, oils, and makeup to prolong its life and should be worn by itself (stacks not recommended!) to avoid abrasive contact from other jewelry. Although the base metal sterling silver is hypoallergenic and a much better quality than cheaper bases, it still naturally oxidizes with exposure to air.
*Buy when you don’t plan on stacking and want gold-plated jewelry that is hypoallergenic.
Flash gold plating is the most inexpensive type of gold plating where jewelry is coated in a thin enough plating for just a gold coloring and finish (think gold-plated jewelry but WAY less gold). It's the cheapest of all gold jewelry because of its extremely low gold content. Flash gold plating is commonly done for costume jewelry or display items using base metals such as nickel and brass which can be harmful to people with sensitive skin or nickel allergies.
When to buy flash plated jewelry?
Flash gold plating is extremely popular within fast fashion brands because of its low-cost materials. It's a fun option for people who want to wear and experiment with different jewelry trends for a few wears but don’t plan on keeping the pieces afterwards. The gold plating wears extremely quickly and will reveal the base metal making it look tarnished or darkened. Because of this, people with sensitive skin and allergies should always stay away from flash plated jewelry.
*Buy for costumes or anything less than a few wears. Never buy if you have sensitive skin or allergies!
Gold filled jewelry is made through a process of fusing a gold layer and a core metal together. Because of the more intensive gold bonding process than gold plated jewelry, gold filled pieces have up to 100x more gold alloy than gold-plated pieces. For this reason, gold filled jewelry tends to be more expensive than gold plated and is safer for people with skin allergies. It's helpful to note that the US has regulations for gold filled jewelry to meet certain standards before it can be labeled as gold filled.
When to buy gold filled jewelry?
Gold filled jewelry is great for pieces that you want to last longer with everyday wear. The thicker layer of gold coating wears down slower (some pieces can last up to 10 years depending on how often you wear them) resulting in less scratching and less exposure of base metals.
*Buy when you want longer lasting gold plated jewelry that you can be less careful with.
Solid gold jewelry is the purest form of gold jewelry, made up of the most gold element. To create solid gold jewelry, gold must be mixed with other metals to make it durable enough to wear (gold is naturally a soft, malleable material), and the purity level of gold jewelry is expressed through karats that can range from 9k—24k, 24k being the purest form. However, jewelry mostly can be found in the 14k to 18k range, and anything beyond 22k becomes way too soft to wear.
When to buy solid gold jewelry?
Solid gold jewelry is the most costly, usually bought for special occasions or as an investment or heirloom piece. The fine metal, when alloyed properly, at 14k and 18k does not turn or darken and makes great everyday pieces, but contrary to belief, they are not worry-free. If you plan on wearing often, buy lower karat pieces such as 14k that are harder and not as easily scratched or damaged. High karat jewelry has a higher gold content, making it softer and easier to scratch or dent so it's best to save those pieces for occasional wear or to avoid physical activity in them. Another note to consider is that since gold is mixed with another metal, it’s important to not go below 14k if you have sensitive skin. 10k gold is composed of only 41.7% pure gold, so make sure you know what the other 58.3% is before purchasing.
*Buy when you want to splurge. Make sure you buy low karat for everyday wear and save higher karats for special occasions and careful wearing. If you go 10k, double check the metal content.
If Ready-Made is none of the above, what is it?
A new kind of gold jewelry
Ready-Made combines nontraditional metals and processes to provide additional options for jewelry outside of the traditional categories of fine and costume jewelry. We take a strong base metal – a version of 316L marine grade steel (Star Steel™) – and coat our pieces through an advanced vacuum process (using pressure, not wet plating!) with a biocompatible gold ceramic found most often in aerospace engineering and medical implants. The lack of historical significance of these materials in the jewelry field provides us a finished product that is durable, skin friendly, and much more affordable and eco-friendly when compared to traditional fine metals.
When to buy Ready-Made "gold?"
Our gold jewelry is ideal for most because of its affordability and hypoallergenic properties. Additionally, our pieces are eco-friendly in both the materials and the methods utilized to create our jewelry. Our kind of gold is great for everyday wear for those who have slightly more demanding everyday activities since it is less likely to be affected by chemicals and water compared to gold plated metals. Unfortunately, if you invest in jewelry for its material resale value, our gold jewelry is not ideal.
*Buy for everyday jewelry on a budget. Ideal for all skin types and more-demanding wear such as getting occasionally wet or in contact with chemicals. Do not buy for resale value!