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Published Tuesday, February 7, 2023

All that Glitters: Gold Colors, Quality and Coatings

Although there are a variety of excellent materials used in the manufacture of modern body jewelry, few are as tied to ancient traditions as gold. Loved for its beauty, treasured for its rarity, and appreciated for its versatility; gold is one of the oldest metals to be discovered and shaped into jewelry. Gold has long been representative of power and elegance, associated with status and nobility.

It is also appreciated by artisans of many cultures, because it is extremely malleable and does not oxidize or rust over time, making it a desirable material for fine jewelry. Today, It has become an increasingly popular material among piercers because it is biocompatible and can be sterilized, making gold jewelry an excellent option for fresh piercings.

If you are thinking about investing in some gold jewelry, you’ll want to take into account all of the specifications you would with any other metal, but there are a few other aspects peculiar to the material that you should also consider! Gold and gold plated jewelry offer a wide range of quality, color and cost options.


Because gold is very soft, it is not unusual for jewelry to be made from an alloy of gold and other metals to make it more durable. The ratio of gold to other metals in a jewelry design is its karat. This is distinct from carat, another word often used to describe jewelry. While it may rhyme, carat does not have anything to do with gold, instead it describes the weight gems. The karat of a gold piece is a measurement of the purity of the gold used to make the piece of jewelry, and it’s usually notated by a number coupled with the letter “k”. This measurement lets you know the ratio of gold to other metals that the jewelry contains.

Items made from pure gold will be marked as 24k, but 24k jewelry is very rare because pure gold is more likely to scratch and warp.Therefore, gold jewelry is often mixed with other metals to make it more durable. 14k gold is the most common type used in jewelry, and is 58.3% composed of gold. You may also encounter jewelry that is 18k from time to time, which is 75% gold.

Metals that can be mixed with gold to make 24k and 18k are silver, brass, copper, palladium, platinum, zinc and nickel. Many people are sensitive to the latter, and it may be the nickel content causing an allergic reaction if your skin is irritated by some metals. Most reputable gold body jewelry will exclude nickel as much as possible in order to be more hypoallergenic.


Gold is naturally a rich yellow color, and it’s the embodiment of elegance and class. It remains the most popular gold color, and you’ll find that it is the most likely to retain its original bright shine. However, while mixing other metals with pure 24k gold is done to give gold more durability, it can also be used to change its color. Today’s gold jewelry provides a diverse palette for you to choose from.

Rose Gold is created by combining gold with silver and copper, resulting in a lustrous pink hue. It’s a happy medium between the modern, edgy appeal of white gold and the refined glamor of yellow gold. For those looking for something different, rose gold has the romantic warmth of yellow gold and the rebellious novelty of white gold.

Speaking of white gold, this alloy is created by combining 24k gold with white metals like palladium or silver. It may be plated with either rhodium or a ceramic coating to create a harder surface and protect the bright finish of the piece by preventing corrosion and tarnish. White gold is on trend currently and is easier to match with other “white “ metals like silver, steel or high polish titanium.

It’s important to note that some gold alloys may darken slightly, a reaction of the surface’s long term exposure to oxygen or other chemicals. Silver and even palladium can tarnish on their own, and if they are not coated with a second layer to protect the jewelry from the elements, the same process can take place when they are mixed with gold.  However, the jewelry can maintain its glossy shine with regular polishing, and like all jewelry all gold’s finish can benefit from a good cleaning.


Gold Coatings

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.

Want to learn more about anodized titanium? Check out our blog here

What Gold Option is Best for You?

The type of gold jewelry that's best suited for you depends on several conditions, such as your budget plans, how often you’ll wear your jewelry, how it coordinates with your other jewelry, the care it will require, and so on. Aside from aesthetic concerns, it’s probably most important to focus on what qualities you most desire and how you can find the best value for your needs. Taking into account such concerns as cost, durability and biocompatibility are key to a great treasure hunt and a rich experience.


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