Gold is the most favored jewelry material, but it's also one of the most expensive. Here are some popular alternatives that mimic the look of karat gold, without the hefty price. When considering which jewelry is right for you, be sure to consider the pros and cons of each option.
Gold Plate Jewelry
Gold plate refers to jewelry made entirely of base metal (non-precious metal such as zinc, nickel, and copper) which is coated with a very thin layer of real gold. The gold is usually applied by "electroplating," which uses an electric current to attach gold molecules to the base metal. The resulting gold film typically has a thickness of 1 millionth to 1 thousandth of an inch. Because of the small amount of gold applied, gold plated jewelry tends to be very inexpensive.
A common problem with gold plate is that the ultra-thin layer of gold wears off easily. Merely polishing a piece of gold plate jewelry can be enough to wear the gold thin, exposing the base metal below. Gold plate clasps and other jewelry parts that are exposed to a lot of movement, wear, or salts from skin, are especially prone to losing their gold plating.
Gold Filled Jewelry
Contrary to its name, gold filled ("gf") jewelry is not actually "filled up" with gold. Instead, it is made of layers of metal bonded together, with the outside layer made of real gold. The inner layer consists of base metal. Gold filled jewelry contains significantly more gold than gold plate jewelry. Its gold is applied in a thicker layer, rather than a thin film.
Gold filled jewelry ranges in price depending on the complexity of the jewelry design, its size, and other factors. It is usually more expensive than sterling silver. Although the gold layer will wear over time (especially in areas that directly touch the skin, such as the inside of rings), it is much more durable than gold plate.
Some manufacturers mark their gold filled jewelry (or jewelry tags) with numbers that show the relative amount of gold in a given piece. A typical mark is expressed as a fraction which denotes the proportion of gold to base metal. The numerator (top number) refers to the karat of gold used in the gold layer. The denominator (bottom number) represents the total units of metal in the jewelry.
Jewelry marked "14/20gf" has a layer of 14 karat gold which makes up 1/20th (or 5%) of the total volume of metal in the piece. A mark of "12/20gf" means the jewelry has a layer of 12 karat gold making up 5% of the piece.
Vermeil (pronounced "ver-may") jewelry is also coated with a layer of real gold. It differs from gold filled in that its inner metal layer is sterling silver, rather than base metal. Vermeil is more expensive than gold filled metal, because of the added cost of the sterling silver. However, even though the sterling silver layer is covered by a layer of gold, it may still tarnish. This can cause the gold layer to take on a darker hue over time.
Stay tuned for the next two articles in this series:
Gold Jewelry - Prices
Gold Jewelry - Care and Storage
|I love this little textured starfish pendant in vermeil. It is 18k gold over sterling silver.|
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