Confusing isn’t it? When you look at a gold plated item beside a Gold Vermeil item side-by-side, they look identical. So, how different can they be? The two are actually quite different. I’ll lay it all out below.—
What Is the Difference Between Vermeil and Gold Plating? Gold Vermeil uses Sterling Silver as a base metal, with at least 2.5 microns of gold encasing it on all sides. Standard Gold plating can have a variety of cheaper metals at its core, like Copper, Brass, or Nickel. Standard Plating also has a much thinner gold coating (starting at just .175 microns).
You now understand some of the basic differences between Gold Vermeil (pronounced ver-MAY) and standard gold plating, but there’s a lot more that you should know. I’ll share other important details about both jewelry options in the paragraphs that follow.
Both Gold Vermeil and gold plated jewelry offer an affordable alternative to solid gold jewelry. You can find gold vermeil earrings, bracelets, rings, pendants, necklaces, cufflinks, and more. All the same types of jewelry are available in standard gold plating too.
Quick Fact: All Olympic Gold Medals awareded since 1912 have actually been gold plated Sterling Silver?
Before diving into all the ways that these two gold jewelry options are different, let’s look at how they’re similar.
3 Key Similarities Between Gold Vermeil and Gold Plating
Gold Vermeil and standard gold plating have the following in common …
Both Have the Look and Feel of Gold
Gold covers the surface of both your standard gold plated jewelry and Gold Vermeil. The purity of the gold used is also at least 10 karat (10k). The gold on the surface could be yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold. This process isn’t new—gold plating has also been known, historically, as ‘Silver-gilt’ or ‘Gilded Silver’.
Both Are Commonly Created Through an Electroplating Process
Electroplated jewelry is created by suspending a base metal in a bath of electroplating solution. A piece of Solid gold is also placed in the same tank and solution. An electric current is sent through the solution in the tank, causing a transfer process to start. The gold is attracted to the base metal, creating a coating. The thickness of that coating depends on the amount of gold added to the tank, and how long the base metal remains submerged.
Plated jewelry is sometimes referred to as ‘dipped’ jewelry because of the way the electroplating process works. Gold-electroplating provides great flexibility. It can be used to create the thinnest gold coatings of all the various plating processes. Electroplating is also capable of creating thick coatings that can endure decades of active use.
The base metal used for standard gold plating is coated in Nickel before it’s introduced to the solution. The Nickel is like a coat of primer that helps separate the base metal from the gold. Without it, atoms from the base metal would be more likely to diffuse into the gold layer over time. That diffusion can cause normal gold coloring to fade with time.
Unlike standard gold plating, Gold Vermeil’s base metal isn’t coated with Nickel before placing it in the electroplating solution. Gold Vermeil is also left submerged in the tank for a much longer period of time, which leads to a thicker coating (at least 2.5 microns).
Both Have a Metal Other Than Gold Under Their Surface
As the name implies, solid gold jewelry has the same consistent metal mixture throughout the item. If you cut a piece of solid gold jewelry in half and then examined the insides, you’d see a consistent color throughout.
If a piece of standard gold plated jewelry (or Gold Vermeil) was cut in half, you’d notice that the gold is a relatively thin surface layer. The majority fo the ring material is an entirely different color.
4 Key Differences Between Gold Vermeil and Gold Plating
Gold Vermeil vs gold plated jewelry—the two do have similarities, but they also have several important differences. I’ll address key distinctions below.
The Thickness of Their Gold Coating
Standard gold plating is thin. In the United States, gold plating is supposed to be a coating of at least .175 microns, but that’s a very thin coating. The only thing you can really be sure of with standard gold plating is that it’s going to have enough gold applied to give it the appearance of being made of gold.
The durability of general gold plating varies wildly because it’s so dependent on the type and the thickness of the gold coating. The thinnest gold layers may wear through within just days, or weeks, of normal use.
In the U.S., Gold Vermeil needs to have a coating of at least 2.5 microns (0.0025 millimeters) of gold in order to legally be marketed as that kind of product. That’s true even if the jewelry qualifies in all other ways.
The FTC (The Federal Trade Commission) is the consumer protection agency that enforces compliance with these quality standards in the United States. Other nations will have different minimum standards…and a different enforcing body for these (or similar) terms.
Canadian Gold Vermeil, for example, is only required to be 1 micron thick. That’s a distinction you need to be aware of as you consider buying jewelry that’s labeled as Gold Vermeil from different sources.
The Base Metal Used
Standard gold plating can be done over a wide variety of metals. Common base metals for plated jewelry include Copper, Brass, Steel, Nickel or Sterling Silver.
Gold Vermeil ALWAYS uses Sterling Silver as it’s base metal. If you have 2.5 microns of gold coating some other type of metal, it CAN’T legally be referred to as Gold Vermeil—it MUST be Sterling Silver.
The Final Cost of the Item
Because Gold Vermeil often uses more gold in the manufacturing process, it may cost more. The difference in the value of the base metal used also has a small impact on the final cost of the jewelry. Again, Sterling Silver costs more than the metals that are most often used for standard gold plating.
While Gold Vermeil sometimes cost more, for the reasons mentioned above—but doesn’t ALWAYS cost more. The price increase for a Sterling Silver base metal and a much thicker gold coating can be little to nothing in some cases. When a price difference does exist, it may be worth the splurge if you can afford it.
The Hallmarks Used to Identify Each Jewelry Type
Before explaining the hallmarks used to identify various forms of gold plating, I’ll quickly explain the stamps that are used to indicate gold purity.
Purity imprints include a number like 10, 14, 18, or 24, immediately followed by the letter ‘k,’ (for ‘karat’). Karat is a measurement of gold purity. Pure gold is 24 karat (24k).
Gold is a soft metal that isn’t very durable on its own, so other metals are often added to increase the ultimate hardness of jewelry. Other common grades of gold are 22k, 18k, 14k, and 10k. The lower the karat number, the less pure the gold is. Because 10k gold has a higher percentage of other metals mixed in to increase hardness, it’s much more durable than 18k gold for example. By the same token, 18k gold is much harder and more durable than 24k gold.
Symbols like the following are often used to identify gold plated jewelry:
- GP (Gold Plated)
- GEP (Gold-Electroplated)
- RGP (Rolled Gold Plate)
- HGE (Heavy Gold-Electroplated)
- HGP (Heavy Gold Plate)
To be considered ‘Gold plated’ (GP), jewelry needs to be coated with AT LEAST a .5 micron layer of gold that’s 10k or purer.
The Electroplating process can produce jewelry that uses a GEP or the HGE stamp—depending on the thickness of the gold coating. A jewelry item would need to have at least a 2.5-micron coating, applied through the electroplating process, to qualify as ‘HGE’.
Gold plating that’s done through a method other than electroplating, could be stamped with RGP or HGP (depending, again, on the thickness of the gold coating that was applied).
A separate stamp indicating gold purity may also be added to the plating imprint. The finished hallmark might say something like, “10k GEP,” for example. The full stamp then tells us that the jewelry was electroplated with 10k gold. Instead of using abbreviations, it’s possible for an imprint to also say something like, “10 Karat Gold Electroplate.”
Hallmarks can also communicate information about the thickness of the gold layer that was applied in some cases. For example, you might see an imprint like ‘1 micron 10k G.P.’ on occasion. There may also be a mark, like ‘925’ indicating that the base metal is Sterling Silver in some cases.
Gold Vermeil often doesn’t bear any stamp indicating the kind of plating process that was used to manufacture it. What you often will see though, is a hallmark for Sterling Silver. The numbers 925 are the most common stamp to identify the presence of that particular metal in the center of Gold Vermeil jewelry. The 925 stamp references the fact that Sterling Silver is 92.5% pure silver with the remaining 7.5% made up of other metal alloys.
What makes it really stand out, is when ‘925’ is stamped on something like a yellow gold surface. The hallmark alerts you to the fact that Sterling Silver is hidden beneath the surface. This beautiful Wedding Band is a great example of Gold Vermeil Jewelry, and the hallmarks it utilizes.
Is Gold Vermeil or Gold Plating More Durable?
Just how long does gold plated jewelry last? That depends on 4 major variables:
- The thickness of the gold coating.
- The type of gold that was applied.
- The material used as the base metal.
- How the jewelry is worn.
I’ll explain the implications of each of these variables below.
The Thickness of the Gold Coating
Gold plating can range from an ultra-thin layer (often referred to as flash gold plating or gold wash) that can rub off within hours, to a thick coating that can easily last for decades. Thicker is, obviously, better.
I saw the following ring offered by a discount retailer the other day. As you can see, it’s advertised as ‘flash plated,’ with 14k gold. The ring was only about $15, but I’d be surprised if it lasted a week before the gold layer had been worn through with normal use.
The Type of Gold That Was Applied
Again, lower purity gold (gold with a lower number preceding the ‘K’) has a higher ratio of other metal alloys mixed in. Those metal additives increase the hardness of the gold mixture substantially. That means that 10k gold will be the MOST durable option available, with 14k being the next best alternative.
The Material Used as the Base Metal
Some metals are softer than others. Pure Silver is significantly softer than Sterling Silver, for example. Pure Silver is also softer than Copper and Brass. Copper and Brass are both softer than Nickel or Steel.
The softer the base metal, the more easily it can become bent and misshapen. My wife has a thin Sterling Silver ring that this happened to several years ago. As she wore it in the course of everyday activities, the bottom of the ring bent in. A bent ring isn’t comfortable, but a ring that bends too easily can also present some danger for your fingers as well.
How the Jewelry is Worn
Jewelry that’s worn all day, everyday, takes more concentrated abuse than jewelry that is only worn occasionally. Pieces that are worn in direct contact with your skin also tend to show wear faster. That means that a necklace worn on top of your shirt is likely to hold up better than one worn beneath it, for example.
Your jewelry is also likely to last longer when you remove it before showering, swimming, exercising, etc.
There are other durability questions that I hear a lot related to gold plating and Gold Vermeil. I’ll quickly address three of the most common.
Will Gold Vermeil Tarnish?
It’s very possible for tarnish to eventually appear because Gold Vermeil always has Sterling Silver at its core. As the gold layer thins over time, that base metal may oxidize to some extent, leading to tarnish your jewelry. The good news, is that this isn’t a permanent condition. If tarnish does appear one day, it can easily be removed with a good cleaning.
To be clear, tarnish on the surface of your Gold Vermeil won’t always happen—and can be remedied if it does. My wife has had some uncoated Sterling Silver jewelry for many years that has never tarnished at all.
Does Gold Vermeil Wear Off?
Gold plating, of any kind, will wear through at some point. How soon, depends on some of the durability factors that I outlined above.
When the plating on your Gold Vermeil eventually wears through, you won’t need to throw the jewelry away. Jewelers can ‘dip’ the same item again, to recoat it through the same electroplating process that was originally used to create it. The process is relatively inexpensive.
Will Gold Vermeil Turn My Finger Green?
Here are some quick facts that play a role in the answer.
- Sterling Silver is at the core of Gold Vermeil rings.
- Sterling Silver contains roughly 7.5% Copper.
- Copper oxidizes when exposed to moisture.
As Copper oxidizes, it CAN leave a green or black mark on your finger. In reality, everyone’s skin can respond a little differently to metals like Copper.
My wife and teenage daughter wore the very same ring several months ago at different times. It was a Copper ring with Rhodium plating. The ring left no mark on my wife’s hand—but stained my daughter’s fingers the very first day that she wore it. Why the difference?
These differences are related to things like:
- How much a particular individual’s hands sweat.
- The creams and lotions being used at the time.
- Differences in hormone levels.
- The PH of your body chemistry.
As you can see, whether a given piece of Gold Vermeil jewelry leaves marks as it’s worn, depends a great deal on the specific person that’s wearing it.
If this ever becomes an issue, there are a couple of potential remedies that you can try. The simplest option is coating the side of your jewelry that contacts your skin with clear fingernail polish. That coating will need to be reapplied as it wears off. If you want a longer-lasting option, there are some polymers made specifically for jewelry that can last for several months before needing to be reapplied.
Is Gold Vermeil Better than Gold Plated?
Gold Vermeil has some real advantages, but Is it worth paying a higher price to get the benefits of Gold Vermeil? Generally speaking, I think it is. In reality, though, the answer is more complicated than that.
A 2.5-micron coating of 24k gold over Sterling Silver would quality for Gold Vermeil, but it wouldn’t hold up as well as a 2.5-micron layer of 10k gold over Brass (Heavy Gold Electroplate), for example. I point that out because it’s hard to make the blanket statement that Gold Vermeil is ALWAYS the better option.
Having said that, there is one BIG advantage that Gold Vermeil has over standard gold plating. That advantage is PREDICTABILITY! There are several things that I have an assurance of when I buy Gold Vermeil.
- The base metal is Sterling Silver.
- The gold coating is at least 2.5 microns thick.
Other, more standard, gold plating could be thin or thick—it’s difficult to know for sure. The base metal could be Copper or Nickel—that isn’t always disclosed. It’s because of predictability that I feel Gold Vermeil is more desirable, overall, and probably worth paying a little extra for if needed.
Is Gold Plated Jewelry Worth Anything?
Used jewelry with gold plating generally isn’t worth much—but that’s ok. You almost ALWAYS have to sell used jewelry for less than you bought it for. That’s true of nearly ALL types of jewelry. The reason is simple, buyers are hunting for a bargain. If they wanted to pay retail, they’d go to a store.
Instead of selling to another individual user, you could also sell to a refinery or metal recycling company—but they’ll pay only for the melt value of the gold that’s on your jewelry. Items with thin plating will be worth almost nothing. It would likely take a pound of it to get $20-$40. If you have a piece of jewelry with a particularly thick coating you’ll likely fair much better.
Here’s the bottom line though. Jewelry is not an investment—it’s a consumable! The greatest value that most jewelry will gain is sentimental value.
Both standard gold plating and Gold Vermeil can provide an excellent opportunity to own beautiful, and expensive-looking, jewelry for far less than similar solid gold alternatives would cost. When the gold layer is thick enough, and the type of gold used is