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De-mystifying Gold

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

I mentioned in my first blog of the year, What's Cooking At Halo in 2023, that one of the things I was planning to do this year was to introduce gold-plated items. I’ll be adding them into my collections from 21st April. And being the geek that I am, I made it my business to find out as much as I could before I made the decision to take the plunge. On the face of it, it seemed quite straightforward, but as I dug deeper, there were a host of things to consider.

Because there are so many choices when it comes to making gold and gold plated jewellery, there are also many choices for the customer. In today's post, I'm hoping to de-mystify these choices, and answer some basic questions about what's what in the world of gold.

What exactly is a Karat?

Everyone talks about 14K gold, 18K gold and so on in the shops, and you probably know that 18K is better than 14K. But what does the K actually mean?

The K stands for Karats, and is the proportion of gold in an alloy, and it’s always measured out of 24 parts. So pure gold is 24 parts gold out of 24, and would be shown as 24K. 18K gold is 18 parts gold and 6 parts something else, usually a mix of silver and copper. Commercially sold gold jewellery comes in anything from 9K to 22K gold. 24K gold is considered too soft for making jewellery, and the jewellery won’t be durable.

A word of warning – don’t confuse Karat, which is used for measuring the purity of gold, with Carat, which measures the weight of diamonds. Annoyingly, in the modern world, Karats is also often spelt as Carats. This bothers me because I’m a purist and am of the opinion that if the notation is 18K then we should spell Karat with a K. Incidentally the weight of a carat of diamond is 0.2 grams. I'm only telling you this because it would really irritate me if someone told me that a carat measured the weight of a diamond, but didn’t tell me how much the weight was.

How does gold get its different colours?

When you think of gold, you probably think of a yellow metal. But you’ve probably come across red gold and white gold as well. Red gold was quite the rage a few years ago – and the trend appears to be here to stay. I must admit I bought a few pieces too, and I still love them. So what gives gold its colour?

Pure gold is yellow – that’s just the colour of the chemical element; just like silver is whitish, and copper is reddish. And remember I said that 18K gold is 18 parts gold and 6 parts something else, usually copper or silver? Well if there’s more copper in the 6 parts, you get 18K red gold. And if you replace the 6 parts of silver and copper with palladium, you’ll get 18K white gold.

There are many more combinations to create different colours and purities, and I won’t bore you with all the details, but if you’re like me and must know the percentages of each metal in each purity level and gold type, head over to the World Gold Council website. It will completely satisfy any burning desire you might have for percentage signs.

What is gold plating and how is it done?

Gold plating is when a thin layer of gold is applied to another metal, usually a less precious one than gold, so that you get the effect of gold without the hefty price tag. When we talk about gold plating, it’s usually done by electro-plating.

In a nutshell, a gold bar is placed in a gold solution (usually this is gold cyanide). This acts as the positive charge (or anode, for those who remember their school chemistry). Your silver jewellery is also placed in the gold solution. The jewellery acts as the negative charge (or cathode). When a current is passed through the gold solution the positive ions move to the negative ions, making the silver jewellery get a layer of gold on top.

Are there different types of gold plating?

Life is never easy is it? You’d think that gold plating is gold plating and that’s it. But noooooo. Turns out that gold-plating comes in several different flavours too – and I don’t mean just the Karatage. I won’t bore you with all of them, but if ever you’re considering buying gold plated jewellery, here are three terms you do need to know so that you can ask the right questions.

Gold Plated - this is the least stringent of all the measures. It means that there is a layer of gold put on top of another metal, usually a less expensive metal. The thickness can be anything from 0.5 micron to about 5 microns.

A micron is one thousandth of a millimetre – that is incredibly thin. Couple that with the fact that you can plate in as low as 9K gold, which means the gold you’re plating with, is less than half real gold, the quality will be less than stellar. It may look the part, but the gold will wear off rather quickly. So if you see gold plated jewellery offered for a tenner, ask more questions.

My personal opinion is that good gold plating for necklaces and earrings should be 2 or more microns thick. For bracelets and particularly for rings, I would want 3 microns or more – we wash our hands more often than we wash our necks!

Gold Vermeil - this is a high quality of gold plating, and most good jewellers will offer it. Gold vermeil means that there is gold plating of 2.5 microns or more on top of sterling silver. The underlying metal has to be sterling silver, nothing less. And another thing – the gold plating is usually at least 14K.

With gold vermeil, you know you're getting a a combination of two good quality metals - silver and gold. You're unlikely to get any problems with allergies or impurities, like you might if the metal under the gold plating was brass or nickel.

Incidentally, vermeil is pronounced ver-may, and originates from the Latin term vermis, which bizarrely means ‘worm’. I’m still trying to figure that one out, but if you can make sense of it, please do let me know.

Gold Filled - Well, there’s a counterintuitive term if there ever was one! It has nothing to do with filling anything with gold. In fact it’s quite the opposite – the gold is on top. This is usually the priciest option next to real gold, because in most cases it contains more gold than the other options.

The gold is bonded onto the metal underneath in a layer that is at least 2 microns thick. But more importantly, the weight of the gold must be at least 5% of the weight of the overall item. I have a fairly chunky silver bangle that weighs about 40 grams. If that were 18K gold-filled, the gold alone would be worth about £75 at today’s prices.

I’m not sure how I feel about gold-filled jewellery. Everything I’ve read about it raises more questions than it answers. What if there’s a really light metal, like aluminium underneath? 5% by weight on aluminium isn’t great is it? Does it mean that a small item will have a thicker coating than a big item? Is bonding of 2 microns better than a plating of the same thickness?

This last question brings me to the final point I’d like to make. Did you notice how I snuck in the word ‘bonded’ when I defined gold-filled? That’s because the process for creating gold-filled jewellery is different from plating. Unlike plating, which I described above, gold-filled means that heat and pressure is used to bond the gold to the metal underneath.

Given my ambivalence about gold filled jewellery, I won’t be offering it as an option, at least for the time being. It’s also the priciest of the plating options, so it makes sense to hold off until I know more.

And Finally…

Remember how I described the different types of gold that you can get? Well you can have gold plating, gold vermeil and gold filled in each of the different types of gold i.e. yellow gold, rose gold and white gold, and each in different Karats of gold. That previous sentence has the word ‘gold’ in it eight times. I’m guessing that’s enough for now.

I’ll end with just one piece of advice. Whatever you do, ask questions about what you’re buying. You’ll be surprised at how many sellers have no idea of what they’re actually selling.

I was buying a gold-plated chain for myself a few years ago, and I asked how many microns the plating was. The lady looked at me as if I’d grown horns. Don’t let those sorts of reactions put you off. If they don’t know what they’re selling, they shouldn’t be selling it – and it probably means they don’t really care. Selling different products to meet different budgets and customers makes perfect sense. But in my book, not caring about what you’re selling is quite simply inexcusable. Wouldn’t you agree?

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2 תגובות

Chanda Mohile
Chanda Mohile
21 במרץ 2023

Enjoyed reading. Very informative.

Supriti Vaidya
Supriti Vaidya
22 במרץ 2023
בתשובה לפוסט של

So glad you liked it Chanda

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