Gold plated jewellery is a budget-friendly alternative to pure gold jewellery. It comes in varying levels of quality depending on the thickness of the plating, purity of the gold coating and the base metal used. While the affordable price tag is quite an attractive feature, gold plating has some drawbacks such as tarnishing, fading and replating.
What is Gold Plated Jewellery?
Gold plating is a process of covering a base metal such as copper, brass or silver with a thin layer of gold by chemical or electrochemical plating.
The manufacturing of solid gold objects has always been expensive and, in many cases, impractical because of its softness which made people search for a method of depositing a thin layer of gold on an object to make it look like a real thing.
The first known gold plating occurred in northern Peru where Pre-Colombian smiths gilded and silvered copper pieces. During excavations in the late 1980s, archaeologists discovered gold and silver-plated ornamental artefacts dating back to 50 – 300 AD. However, it was not until 1805 that Italian chemist Luigi Brugnatelli invented gold electroplating method and successfully plated a thin layer of gold onto silver.
The thickness of the gold layer on top of gold plated jewellery can vary. The Federal Trade commission labels items as “gold plated” at 0.5 microns (0.0005 millimetres) and “heavily gold plated” at 2.5 microns (0.0025 millimetres).
The most common stamps used in gold plated jewellery are GP standing for “gold plated” and GEP meaning “gold electroplated”. Heavily gold plated items are marked as HGP, while heavily gold electroplated jewellery as HGE.
How Gold Plating Is Done
Gold plating process requires several steps. First of the piece of jewellery must be cleaned to remove any accumulated dirt. To clean the base metal jewellers usually use steam cleaners, ultrasonic cleaners or electro cleaners. This is a very important step to achieve the best results as dirt and oil on the base metal will keep the gold layer from bonding correctly.
The next step is the plating a thin layer of high-quality nickel onto the base metal. This is required to protect the gold from the base metal as it tends to leech into the gold layer.
During the final step, the piece of jewellery is dipped in the containers with gold and a positive electrical charge is applied to make gold fuse onto the base metal.
It is worth mentioning that the gold used during the plating process is real, however, as the amount used is so little, the final gold plated jewellery doesn’t hold the value of gold pieces.
The purity of the gold used ranges like in case of solid gold. The highest purity used is 24K, and the lowest is 10K. However, the main difference between these types of gold in plating is the colour they produce rather than their value. The higher the purity of the gold, the brighter the colour.
How Thick Should Gold Plating Be?
Gold plating can range in thickness between 0.17 to 2.5 microns. A micron is a unit of length that equals 0.001 millimetres and is used by jewellery manufacturers to differentiate between lower-end plating and higher-end plating.
Gold plating with a thickness of around 0.17 microns is called electroplated or gold washed/flashed. Since it is an extremely thin layer, gold electroplating is used mainly for jewellery pieces that are protected from heavy wear and tear, for example, pendants and earrings.
Any gold plating that is 0.5 micron or up is good quality gold plating and suitable for jewellery pieces that are exposed to rough wear such as rings and bracelets. As a general rule, the thicker the plating, the longer it lasts.
Is Gold Plated Jewellery Worth Anything?
Gold plated jewellery pieces are usually cheaper than the ones that are entirely made of the same metal because there is very little gold used in them. For example, gold plated earrings will cost much less than the same earrings made of 14K or 18K gold.
Moreover, plated jewellery often has very low to no resale value, meaning it should not be thought of as an investment.
It is also worth mentioning that any plating that covers your jewellery will tarnish and wear away with time. However, it is really hard to predict how long the plating will stay intact. It all depends on the thickness of the plating and the frequency you wear the piece, but this will happen anyway. In such a case, you will need to take your item to the jeweller to get it replated.
The gold replating cost depends on the base metal used, the type of plating you want and the size of the item. Prices vary depending on the base metal used because certain metals are much more difficult to plate than others. The flash plating is among the cheapest options, while micron plating (0.5 microns and above) is comparatively more expensive because more gold is used.
Gold Plated Jewellery Care and Cleaning
It is important to understand that gold plating is a thin layer of gold over a base metal which is why you need to take proper care of your plated jewellery to extend its life and keep it clean and beautiful.
To clean your gold plated item, mix a few drops of dishwashing liquid with some warm water. Soak the piece for a couple of minutes (!) in the soapy solution and gently wash it with your fingers. Carefully buff the item with a dry microfibre cloth and let it dry off. After cleaning, store the plated piece separately to keep it from scratching against other types of jewellery you have.
Do not store gold plated jewellery in your bathroom or other humid places. You should keep your items as dry as possible. Not to mention, never wear your items when swimming, showering or applying makeup.
Always remove your plated jewellery when you come into contact with something hard. This will help you avoid scratching and damaging it.