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.

JamesAllen Engagement Rings

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.

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 price here
gold plated chain
Check price here

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. See these earrings here.

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.

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.

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.

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 and 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.

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.

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.

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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