Gold plated, gold filled, gold karats? The jewelry industry is rife with terms that even we can 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 to help you decide just what kind of gold is for you.
(click to see chart)
Gold plated jewelry is one of the most popular jewelry options because of its affordability and variety in styles. It is 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. The plating is usually 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 in plated pieces, so fading and tarnishing is inevitable and will expose sensitive skin to sometimes harmful base metals. If you buy gold plated jewelry, be sure to keep jewelry away from water, chemicals, oils, and makeup to prolong its life. Additionally, it is best to wear gold-plated pieces alone to avoid rubbing or brushing that will cause gold-plating to fade or flake off. *Buy when you don’t plan on wearing often and just 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 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 depend 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 (no stacks!) to avoid abrasive contact from other jewelry. Although the base metal sterling silver is hypoallergenic and a much better quality than cheaper bases (such as nickel and brass), it still naturally tarnishes 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 is 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.
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 that lead to tarnishing.
*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, in where it is made up of the most gold element. Because of its high gold component, it is one the most valuable forms of jewelry material. To create solid gold jewelry, it 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 expensive and usually bought sparingly, for special occasions, or as an investment or heirloom piece. The fine metal at 14k and 18k does not turn and makes great everyday pieces, but 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 damaged (physical damage such as scratches). High karat jewelry has a higher gold content, making it softer and easier to scratch or dent so it is best to save those pieces for occasional wear. Another note to consider is that since wearable 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.
Great, so if Ready-Made is none of the above, what is it?
Alternative metals and materials
Alternative metals and materials provide additional affordable options for jewelry outside of fine jewelry and costume jewelry. Taking strong materials commonly found in other industries (aerospace and medical) with the knowledge on how to work with them allows for alternative jewelry materials that are durable and skin friendly. The lack of their historical significance in the jewelry field and their accessibility, especially steel, make them much more affordable as completed pieces when compared to traditional fine metals.
At Ready-Made, we use a nontraditional metal, marine grade stainless steel, as our base. To coat our gold and rose gold pieces, we put our pieces through an advanced vacuum process (using pressure, not wet plating!) with the material Titanium Nitride, a super hard, medical and biocompatible ceramic, creating our high-shine finish and lustrous 14k gold coloring.
When to buy stainless steel jewelry?
Stainless steel jewelry is ideal for most because of its affordability and hypoallergenic properties. It makes great everyday pieces for those who have slightly more demanding everyday activities since it is less likely to be affected by physical or chemical damage compared to traditional metals. Unfortunately, if you invest in jewelry for its material resale value, stainless steel is not ideal.
*Buy for everyday jewelry on a budget. Ideal for all skin types and more-demanding wear such as getting occasionally wet and layering jewelry. Do not buy for resale value!