13 Things You Need to Know About Gold Plating

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Gold plated jewelry
offers a budget-friendly option to buying pure gold jewelry. It gives you the
look and the style without the high price tag that comes with gold, and is
ideal for jewelry you don’t plan to wear on a daily basis.

Gold plating comes
in varying levels of quality, largely depending on the thickness and purity of
the gold coating, the base metal used for the piece and the quality of
craftsmanship. Once plated, it’s almost impossible to tell real gold from gold
plated jewelry just by looking at it.

As with all things,
there are drawback to choosing gold plated jewelry. Tarnishing, fading and
replating are common issues you’ll encounter.

Not sure if gold
plated jewelry is for you?

We’ve got you
covered. In this guide, we outline 13 things you need to know about gold
plating before you buy.

Quick Navigation

  • 1- What is gold plating?
  • 2- What’s the gold electroplating process?
  • 3- What metals can be gold plated?
  • 4- Is gold plated real gold?
  • 5- How thick should gold plating be?
  • 6- Is gold plate jewelry worth anything?
  • 7- Does gold plating fade and tarnish?
  • 8- How long does gold plating last?
  • 9- How do I look after and restore gold plated jewelry?
  • 10- How do I know if my jewelry is gold plated?
  • 11- Is gold plate hypoallergenic?
  • 12- Should I use a home gold plating kit?
  • 13- Where can I buy gold plated jewelry?
  • 1- What is gold plating?

    Gold plating is a
    process where a thin layer of gold is bonded onto a base metal. Plating is
    quite common in the jewelry world, with gold and rhodium being two popular types. This process was
    invented by an Italian chemist, Luigi Brugnatelli in 1805, the first person to
    plate a thin coat of gold onto silver. 

    Gold plating is
    commonly used for costume jewelry or to mimic more expensive pieces. It is
    almost impossible to tell apart expensive pieces of gold jewelry from
    inexpensive gold plated imitations.

    Compare the two
    chains below. One is 14K gold plated and worth a few dollars. The other is 14K
    solid gold and costs over $7,000. Can you tell which is which?

    Solid yellow gold chain

    Check here

    gold plated chain

    Check here

    2- What’s the gold electroplating process?

    Plating jewelry
    with gold is an easy process but requires several steps.  The piece of jewelry must first be cleaned
    thoroughly and removed of all pollutants. This is very important as dirt and oil
    on the base metal will keep the gold layer from bonding correctly. Steam
    cleaning, ultrasonic cleaning and electrocleaning are some methods to clean the
    base metal in order to produce the best results.

    Next, a thin layer
    of high-quality nickel is plated onto the base metal. This is to protect the
    gold layer from any being impacted by the base metal. As we’ll discuss below,
    these metals tend to leech into the gold layer. The nickel layer also keeps the
     base metal from contaminating the gold
    liquid in the containers used for the plating process.

    For the final
    layer, the jewelry is dipped in the containers with gold and a positive
    electrical charge is used to fuse the gold onto the base metal. Once the gold
    plating thickness has been achieved to satisfaction, the jewelry is hung to
    dry.

    Check this
    comprehensive video if you want to see the gold plating process in action.

    3- What metals can be gold plated?

    Yellow gold plated tungsten wedding ring

    Gold plated tungsten ring. See it here.

    Gold plating can be
    done on most metals, such as nickel, brass, stainless steel, silver and copper.
    Modern industrial metals such as tungsten and titanium are also frequently gold
    plated. Of these, silver and copper are the most commonly used.

    4- Is gold plated real gold?

    Yes, gold plating is
    real gold but because of how little gold is used, such jewelry doesn’t hold the
    value of gold.

    The purity of the
    gold used in gold plating ranges just like solid gold. The lowest purity is
    usually 10K and the highest is 24K gold. When it comes to gold plating, the
    main difference in these types of gold is the color it produces rather than in
    the value. The higher the purity of the gold, the more gold-like the color is.
    However, the value doesn’t change much because of how little gold is used,
    regardless of the purity levels.

    5- How thick should gold plating be?

    Gold plating can
    range in thickness between .17 to 2.5 microns.

    Plating with a
    thickness of around .17 is called gold
    electroplated or gold
    wash/flashed.  This is an extremely
    thin layer (about 0.05% of gold) and is only recommended for jewelry pieces
    that are sheltered from heavy wear and tear, like pendants and earrings. This
    thickness of plating wears off quite quickly.

    The ideal thickness
    for gold plating is around .5 to 1.0 microns. While this might sound like a
    thin layer, it’s sufficient even for jewelry pieces that are exposed to rough
    wear, like rings and bracelets.

    Plating at around
    the 2.5-micron mark is quite thick and known as heavy gold plated. However,
    even this amount of gold plating is still very thin in terms of value and the
    main benefit is that the plating lasts longer when it’s thicker.

    6- Is gold plate jewelry worth anything?

    Because the gold plating on most jewelry is very thin, it can be difficult to recover any of the gold. For gold refineries, it’s often not worth the attempt to extract the gold from plated jewelry and the profit margins are very low.

    gold plated earrings

    Gold plated jewelry uses real gold but isn’t very valuable. Sourced from Etsy.

    Like I mentioned
    above, there is very little actual gold in gold-plated pieces. It’s true that
    the higher the karatage, the more actual gold the piece contains. However, this
    still totals to an insignificant amount of gold overall and doesn’t add much
    value to the piece. Gold plating often has little to no resale value and should
    not be thought of in monetary terms. Gold-filled is a much better option in terms of actual gold
    content.

    7- Does gold plating fade and tarnish?

    Gold plating can fade
    and tarnish over time, losing its initial luster and brightness. This is common
    and can happen regardless of the quality of the piece. However, many people
    wonder why gold-plated jewelry tarnishes. After all, isn’t gold an inert metal
    that doesn’t rust or corrode?

    Tarnished gold plated chain

    Tarnished gold-plated chain.

    The problem is
    often not with the plating itself but with the base metal which is prone to
    corroding and oxidizing. Over time, the molecules of the base metal eventually
    move into the gold layer, affecting its appearance. If the gold plating is very
    thin, it will discolor and start to look like tarnish quickly.

    As mentioned above,
    this leeching can be avoided if the jewelry is first plated with nickel, which
    keeps the base metals from affecting the appearance of the gold. If this is
    done during the plating process, the gold is unlikely to tarnish or face.

    8- How long does gold plating last?

    Gold plating is
    meant to be permanent, but like all types of plating, it doesn’t handle rough
    exposure well. Gold plating wears out over time and can flake off, exposing the
    base metal underneath. It also loses its luster and fades with time. In
    general, plating can last for up to two years with proper care.

    The best way to
    deal with tarnished pieces is to have the piece replated when required. How
    often you need to do this depends on the thickness of the plating, the quality
    of the piece, the color of the base metal and how much wear and tear the piece
    sustains.

    9- How do I look after and restore gold plated jewelry?

    By taking proper
    care of gold-plated jewelry, you can extend its life and keep it bright and
    beautiful. Here are some steps to take:

  • Keep gold plated jewelry away from chemicals, oils and makeup. It’s a
    good idea to always put on your plated jewelry last, after applying makeup,
    hairspray and perfumes. When doing chores, take off gold plated jewelry as the
    chemicals in soaps, detergents and cleaners can impact the plating.
  • It’s a good idea to keep your hands clean when handling gold plated
    jewelry so try to wash them before putting on and taking off your jewelry.
  • Don’t expose gold plated jewelry to chlorinated or salty water. This
    means taking off the jewelry before swimming in pools, hot tubs or the sea.
  • Body oils and sweat can impact gold plating. To counter this, wipe the
    jewelry down or clean it frequently to get rid of these pollutants.
  • Cleaning your gold-plated jewelry regularly is important to prolong its life. Use a mild liquid soap or a professional jewelry cleaning solution like this one hand warm water when doing this. Avoid any harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners. Avoid brushing or rubbing the plated jewelry, as this can make it flake, exposing the metal below.
  • Keep gold plated jewelry from rubbing and friction as this will cause the
    piece to wear down quickly and to flake off. This can happen when you layer
    gold plated jewelry and they rub against each other. It’s best to wear the
    piece of jewelry by itself.
  • 10- How do I know if my jewelry is gold plated?

    Your jeweler should indicate that the gold is plated. However, here are
    some ways to identify for yourself:

  • When it comes to
    gold plated pieces, the price is usually a giveaway. Gold plated jewelry is
    often very affordable and hardly ever goes above the $50 mark.
  • Look for a
    hallmark. The most commonly used stamps for gold plated jewelry are:
  • GP – gold plated

    GEP – gold electroplated

    HGE – heavy gold electroplate

    HGP – heavy gold plate

    However, there is no hard and fast rule that gold plated jewelry must be
    stamped. You’ll find many pieces that bear no hallmarks at all.

  • Gold plated jewelry
    are often coated with 22K or 24K gold, which gives it a very bright golden
    look. Solid gold jewelry is usually much less golden in color because the
    purity levels are commonly under 18K.
  • If your jewelry has
    uneven color tone or if there’s some flaking off in the piece, you can assume
    that it’s plated.
  • Check this video which outlines how to tell real gold from fake.

    11- Is gold plate hypoallergenic?

    This depends on the
    thickness of the gold and whether the piece contains metals that cause
    allergies, like nickel, zinc and cobalt.

    In general, gold
    plating is not hypoallergenic and can cause skin reactions for people with
    metal allergies. This is because of the nickel content that is in the piece.
    When the gold layer wears down or flakes off, the nickel in the jewelry comes
    into contact with your skin, causing reactions.

    Before you buy gold
    plated jewelry, check the metal alloys in the piece. Avoid metal allergens if
    you have metal allergies.

    12- Should I use a home gold plating kit?

    Home gold plating kits like this one are usually fun and easy to use. They’re a good way to understand the gold plating process and to try gold plating some pieces of your own. If you have a lot of gold plated jewelry, this might be a good way to keep them perpetually shiny and lustrous.

    13- Where can I buy gold plated jewelry?

    Your best bet to find gold plated jewelry is to check at costume jewelry stores. These are affordable jewelry options and there’s bound to be several physical stores near you. However, if you’re searching online, Amazon has an excellent collection of gold-plated jewelry. These affordable and come in a range of styles.

    unique gemstone gold plated necklace

    Check on Etsy for unique finds. See this here.

    We also recommend checking on Etsy for more unique, handmade items.

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