Solid gold is a solid choice if you are looking for jewelry that makes an impression, that’s comfortable to wear often and that will continue to look great for long periods of time. Gold pieces make a fine addition to your jewelry collection. However, there are times when a specific design may not be available in solid gold, or perhaps there is an occasion when you want the look of gold but it’s cost prohibitive. If you love the statement gold colors make without seeing a big increase on your credit card statement, there are several coating methods available, each with their own unique characteristics and benefits.
After solid gold pieces, jewelry with a vermeil plating is one of the more classic forms of gold coating, and it retains much of the monetary value of the precious metal. This is because it uses a layer of gold that is at least 2.5 microns, far more standard than other plating methods, bonded to a solid sterling silver base. Most vermeil jewelry available now is created by electroplating the silver with the gold, a chemical process that uses an electrical current to bind the two metals together.
There are other versions of gold electroplating that differ from vermeil. They usually involve a thin layer of gold layered onto a base metal, and may not use silver. Brass, copper, or other metals can be used as the main part of the plated jewelry. Because the layer of the gold may be thinner than vermeil, if it is not coated with a second element like a clear ceramic or rhodium, the plating may be more likely to wear away eventually. However, with care your gold electroplated jewelry can last for a long time, presenting all of the luxurious qualities of gold at a fraction of the charge a similar solid gold piece would cost.
The jewelry referred to as gold filled is not actually full of gold. It’s made with a solid layer of gold mechanically bonded to a base, often jeweler’s brass. Most standards require the gold layer to consist of at least five percent of the jewelry pieces' total weight to qualify as this category of plating. The gold is usually 14k gold, but sometimes may be a lower grade. Because of the way they are produced, gold filled items are only available in wire or sheet form; it cannot be casted or poured into a mold. However, the gold layer represents a higher proportion of the whole piece than other plating techniques, and it is less likely to rub off with use. Despite its common use with lower quality base metals, it is usually safe for people with sensitive skin because the thickness of the gold sheet insulates the piercing from exposure to it.
PVD plating, or physical vapor deposition, is a plating method where steel or titanium jewelry pieces are heated to an incredible high temperature in a sealed vacuum with a vapor that might consist of either real gold or a titanium nitride. A very thin but extremely hard coating adheres to the jewelry, and it can give your jewelry the look of either yellow or rose gold without a lot of the drawbacks, including the price tag. PVD plated jewelry tends to be less reactive to the elements than some gold alloys, and more resistant to scratching than other plating methods despite how thin the coating layer is.
Finally, while it doesn’t involve any actual gold, I thought it might be helpful to mention anodized titanium. For some people with extreme metal sensitivities, titanium is the only metal they feel comfortable wearing on a regular basis. It is an option that is less expensive than gold, and has become more common and affordable over the last few years. Titanium is one of several metals that can be anodized that is often used to make body jewelry, niobium is another example. The anodization process involves running an electric current through the jewelry while it is immersed in an electrolyte acid solution. This draws a layer of oxide particles to the surface of the jewelry that is only molecules thick, but it changes the way it reflects light. Anodization can create a broad spectrum of colors, and that includes shades that resemble yellow gold and rose gold. Although anodization will wear off over time, it can last years if it is not exposed to corrosive chemicals. The main drawback of wearing anodized titanium rather than gold or gold plated jewelry is that the color is not always consistent. Sometimes the rose gold shades into pink at some angles, and the yellow gold color can be a starker shade than regular gold. This can make it difficult to match anodized titanium with real gold jewelry, however, when worn by itself the color is often close enough that the difference won’t be noticeable.
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