First, the most important thing to understand is that gold vermeil, gold plate and gold fill jewellery is not gold jewellery. Pieces of jewellery that use these descriptions are typically costume or semi-precious pieces. While they all incorporate a gold colour into their design, these pieces are not made of solid gold and the terms denote different processes. We wanted to explore the differences between gold vermeil, gold plate, and gold fill jewellery in this post because we find many of our clients are confused by the terminology. It’s also important information to know so that you can make informed decisions about your purchases.
Gold Vermeil Jewellery
Gold vermeil, pronounced “ver-may,” is a term that denotes a specific type of gold plating process. To qualify as vermeil, the jewellery must meet certain criteria:
- The base metal underneath the gold plating is sterling silver.
- The thickness of the gold vermeil jewellery is thicker than typical gold plated pieces, usually 2.5 microns.
- The purity of the gold plating that is used to plate gold vermeil jewellery is usually 10-24 karats but typically 14k or 18k.
- Because gold vermeil jewellery is plated with a thicker layer of jewellery it will take longer for the plating to wear away.
- Because gold vermeil has a base of sterling silver the jewellery will be stamped 925 or STER or Sterling or similar
Gold vermeil is a good option if you want the colour of gold in your jewellery without the gold price tag. Be prepared, however, for the gold plating to wear off over time. The amount of time it will take depends on how often you wear the piece. If you wear it daily while showering, sleeping, etc., the plating will wear off quicker. If you find that the plating has worn off your favourite piece it is possible in some cases to have it re-plated. An exception would be chains, it is very difficult and not advisable to re-plate chains.
Gold Plate Jewellery
Gold plating is a common technique used to coat a base metal with a thin layer of gold. Key features of gold-plated jewellery include:
- The base metal under the gold plate can be anything including copper, brass or “white metal” which is what costume jewellery is usually made from
- The thickness of the gold layer in gold plated jewellery is usually much thinner than in gold vermeil or gold fill jewellery, usually 0.2-0.5 microns
- Gold plate jewellery can use any karat of gold for the plating process but is typically of a lower karat
- The type of jewellery that is gold plated is usually very inexpensive
- Gold plate jewellery may or may not be stamped. If there is a stamp it will have the gold karat number followed by letters such as GP, GE, GEP or HGP standing for (GP) Gold Plate, (GP & GPE) Gold Electroplated, (HGP) Heavy Gold Plate, ie: 18k GP
Gold plated jewellery is not as durable as gold vermeil or gold fill jewellery and will start to wear quickly. As it begins to wear away you may begin to notice skin reactions as the thin layer of gold is no longer providing a barrier between your skin and the low quality metal underneath. It’s best not to invest too much in this type of jewellery as it has a limited lifetime of wear.
Gold Fill Jewellery
Gold fill jewellery is a step up in terms of quality and durability compared to gold plate. Here are the key characteristics of gold fill jewellery:
- The metal underneath the layer of gold in gold fill jewellery is usually brass
- The layer of gold is chemically bonded to the brass core resulting in a much thicker layer of gold. The gold content of gold fill jewellery is between 5-10%
- The purity of the gold in gold fill jewellery can be 14-18k but 14 karat is the most common
- Because the gold is chemically bonded to the brass core it makes the jewellery piece much more resistant to wear and tarnishing.
- Gold fill jewellery will typically be stamped with the gold karat number followed by the letters GF, 1/20th 12k, 1/20th 14k or 1/10th 10k
Gold fill jewellery is usually a bit more expensive than gold vermeil or gold plated jewellery but it’s still a very affordable option. It’s probably your best option if you’re looking for the colour of gold and durability at a reasonable price point.
Understanding the differences between gold vermeil, gold plate and gold fill jewellery is really important so you can make informed purchasing decisions. Usually the price will tip you off right away. If you’re looking for some fun fashion jewellery then we recommend either gold vermeil or gold fill as long as you are ok with the idea that they will eventually show wear.
If you’re looking to start your permanent jewellery collection with a piece you can wear everyday, there really is no replacement for real gold. It’s more expensive but it’s worth it for a forever piece.