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Gold Jewelry 101: The 4 Types You Should Know About

January 2021 | Mariam Norman

Shopping for gold jewelry is not as easy as it looks. It's not just about choosing the right design, though that is pretty important. But you'll need to also consider which of the gold jewelry types you want to buy.

If you go into a jewelry store, you might find yourself a bit confused when the salesperson asks if you prefer gold plated jewelry or gold vermeil. You might wonder what makes solid gold jewelry more expensive than gold filled pieces. Gold is one of the most expensive metals, but not all gold jewelry come with a really high price tag. If you want to make sure that you get your money's worth, you'll need to first acquaint yourself with the 4 types of gold jewelry below.

How Many Types of Gold Jewelry Are There?

There are 4 different techniques used to create golden jewelry - gold plated, gold vermeil, gold filled, and solid gold.

1. Gold Plated Jewelry

What is gold plated jewelry? As the name implies, this is when a base metal like copper, nickel, or aluminum is coated with a layer of gold using an electroplating solution or chemical deposition. Gold plated jewelry is typically the most affordable since it contains the least amount of gold. The thickness of the gold layer will determine the price of the jewelry. Usually, costume jewelry will have a layer that is 1 micron thick or less. Designer or brand jewelry that's higher end may have a gold layer that's 2-3 microns thick. Does gold plated fade? Yes, it does, especially if the gold plated finish is thin. This is the biggest drawback to this type of gold jewelry. The good news is that you can easily have it plated again by a manufacturing jeweler when this happens.

gold plated jewelry

2. Gold Vermeil Jewelry

Vermeil gold (pronounced ‘ver-may’) or gold vermeil jewelry is actually a type of gold plated jewelry. It features a pure or sterling silver base metal that is heavily plated with gold. According to United States regulations, the layer must be at least 2.5 microns thick and the minimum gold purity used must be 10ct gold. Does gold vermeil tarnish? No, it will not. However, silver can tarnish. The gold layer can become dirty and fade over time. Once the core metal is exposed, the jewelry can tarnish. Frequent but gentle cleaning using a soft cloth can help preserve the plating and prevent the finish from fading.

3. Gold Filled Jewelry

What is gold filled jewelry and how is it different from gold vermeil? Unlike gold vermeil jewelry, a gold filled piece does not have a coating of gold. Instead, a thick sheet of gold is applied on top of a base metal core and exposed to high pressure, so that the two become permanently bonded. In order to be considered gold filled, the weight of the gold must be 1/20th or 5% of the total weight of the metal content. This is why some gold filled pieces are labeled as 1/20 gold. Gold filled jewelry is around 5 to 10 times thicker than gold plated jewelry. These pieces are expected to last anywhere from 10 to 30 years.

Does gold filled jewelry tarnish? Yes, this type of gold jewelry can still tarnish but this is rare. It would take extreme sulfide exposure to blacken the gold such as high levels of chemical sulfide fumes in a nail salon.

4. Solid Gold Jewelry

Of all gold jewelry types, solid gold is the best option as well as the most expensive. But "solid" is actually a misnomer. Because a piece that is made purely of gold would be too soft and very expensive to make. Because of these reasons, jewelers mix gold with other metals that will provide structure and durability to the piece. The amount of gold in the alloy (mixture of metals) will determine the price. The higher the gold content, the higher the price tag will be.

How do you find out the gold content of a piece of jewelry? The purity of gold is measured in karats. The purest gold is 24 karats. 1 karat means 1 part pure gold and 23 parts of another metal. 18 karats means 18 parts pure gold and the rest is another metal.

solid gold jewelry

Difference Between Solid Gold, Gold-Plated, Vermeil, Gold-Filled Jewelry

Of all the types of gold jewelry, solid gold is hands down the best option. It is highly valuable and will retain its value for many, many years. The color won't fade because the gold is in the metal itself, not just a coating. Plus, it won't tarnish. As an added bonus, it can be sold for money during times of financial crisis.

What about gold vermeil vs gold-filled? Which is the better choice? Both of these types are good alternatives to solid gold jewelry. They're great options for people who are allergic to metal but can't afford to buy a solid gold piece. However, in terms of durability, gold filled jewelry is better. It's less likely to tarnish. In fact, it's quite rare.

Gold vermeil jewelry, on the other hand, can tarnish if the finish wears off. It will require proper care to last as long as gold filled jewelry. One good thing about this type of gold jewelry is that it's less expensive. Plus, the silver base metal ensures that the jewelry retains its value over time. Moreover, you can easily have the finish repaired if it wears off.

What about gold vermeil vs gold plated jewelry? Between the two, gold plated is the more affordable choice. However, the finish fades far more quickly with this type of gold jewelry which makes it more problematic for those with metal allergies. Gold vermeil jewelry with its heavier plating is a bit more expensive, but a better investment if you want an affordable piece in your jewelry collection.

Conclusion

If you want something that will stand the test of time, something that you can pass down to future generations, then solid gold jewelry is your best bet. If you just want some fashionable pieces for everyday wear, then the ones with gold finishes are a better option.

It always lays off when you are well-informed before you make a purchase. Knowing the 4 gold jewelry types should help you choose what suits you, your skin, and your budget, you'll choose the right gold ring, necklace and any type of jewelry you want and you won't regret it. It would definitely keep you from making the wrong purchase. But if you choose the right one, both diamonds and gemstones will look great on it.

Remember, just because it looks like gold, doesn't mean it's actually gold all the way.

Mariam Norman
Mariam Norman is a former wedding planner, an experienced storyteller and a gemologist at Noray Designs. She is passionate about helping people explore all aspects of gemology and fashion industry.


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