What Does Gold-Plated Mean and What Are the Pros and Cons?

Since ancient times, gold jewelry has signified luxury, wealth and status to men and women all over the world. It's no wonder that artisans, merchants and other aspirants sought to secure this precious metal for themselves and their loved ones. Through the years, many people have discovered ways to make gold more readily available. After the Italian chemist, Luigi Brunatelli used electricity to chemically fuse gold to more common metals in 1805, gold jewelry became affordable. Today, jewelry lovers who choose to wear women's or men's gold-plated chains can experience the joy of wearing real gold at an attractive price.

What Does "Gold-Plated" Mean?

Gold-plated jewelry is fabricated from a non-precious base metal clad with a thin layer of high-karat gold. Most gold-plated jewelry is made by electroplating a 0.5 to 1.0-micron thick layer of gold onto nickel-coated brass, copper or steel. The flash layer of nickel prevents the base metal from leaching into the gold layer.

What Is High-Grade Gold-Plated Jewelry?

The quality of gold-plated jewelry depends on the composition of its base metal, its design, its workmanship and the purity and amount of its gold finish. A 22-karat gold piece is commonly used to create a luxurious look, and a 0.5 to 1.0 micron gold-plate finish is durable enough for jewelry pieces that experience frequent wear. Jewelry with a thicker 2.5-micron gold layer that is more resistant to scratches and discoloration is called "heavy gold plate." Common hallmarks stamped onto gold-plated jewelry include GP (gold plate), GEP (gold electroplate), HGP (heavy gold plate) and HGE (heavy gold electroplate).

What Does the Color of Gold Say About Its Purity?

The color of gold depends on how it is combined with other metals. Natural, pure gold has a shiny, bright yellow-orange tone. The higher the karat, the more intense the hue.

What Are the Different Kinds of Gold Jewelry?

When you are searching for new gold jewelry, it's important to understand what you are buying. Gold jewelry comes in many different forms and compositions at different price points. Gold-plated jewelry is different from gold vermeil, gold-filled, rolled gold and fine or solid gold jewelry. Knowing how to tell them apart will help you choose your jewelry wisely.

What Are the Different Kinds of Gold Jewelry

Gold Vermeil

Gold vermeil is made from fine or sterling silver electroplated with a thin layer of 10 or higher karat gold that is at least 2.5 microns thick. Due to their precious metal content, vermeil adornments typically have greater inherent value than gold-plated pieces.

Gold-Filled and Rolled Gold Jewelry

Gold-filled jewelry is usually made from brass or another base metal that is heat-fused to two layers of 10 karats or higher gold sheeting. This category of jewelry contains a minimum of 5% gold or over 100 times more gold alloy than gold-plated adornments. Rolled gold and gold-filled jewelry are created using a similar process, but gold-filled jewelry contains a greater percentage of gold. These pieces look and feel very similar to fine gold jewelry, wear well and hold their value over many years.

Solid Gold Jewelry

Solid gold jewelry is an alloy of fine gold and other metals that are consistently distributed throughout the piece of jewelry. A karat (K) is the unit of measurement that indicates the percentage of fine or pure gold metal in the alloy. Karats of 9K, 10K, 14K, 18K and 22K are commonly used to make fine jewelry.

Gold-Plated Jewelry Is Accessible

Gold-plated jewelry costs much less than fine gold jewelry, making it fairly accessible. Fine gold jewelry and new gold-plated jewelry can look identical, but gold-plated metals are much more susceptible to wear and tarnish. Most gold-plated fashion or costume jewelry has relatively little resale value, although some signed, creatively fabricated vintage pieces command higher prices. In general, the more pure gold a piece of jewelry contains, the more valuable it is. When you're shopping for jewelry, consider the gold's karat weight and thickness as well as the quality of the base metal. 

Browse Our Selection of Men’s Gold-Plated Chains

The Pros and Cons of Gold-Plated Jewelry

If you're wondering whether gold-plated jewelry is the right choice for you, take a look at the pros and cons listed below.

The Pros of Gold-Plated Jewelry

The Pros of Gold-Plated Jewelry

  • Showcases the brightness, color and luminosity of real high-karat gold
  • Is good for travelers who risk losing their valuables to loss or theft
  • Can be fashion-forward, trendy and expressive while retaining the luxurious qualities of fine gold
  • Requires minimal investment compared to high-karat gold jewelry
  • Is more durable than fine gold jewelry
  • Is ideal for casual, occasional wear
  • Can be crafted in bold, heavy styles that would otherwise be quite costly
  • Is affordable

The Cons of Gold-Plated Jewelry

  • Eventually oxidizes and wears away from its base metal
  • When worn regularly, it will easily tarnish
  • Can easily be scratched and abraded
  • Has relatively little monetary value
  • Is prone to fading
  • May need to be replated to maintain its appearance
  • Can cause allergic reactions in some people

Styles of Gold-Plated Jewelry

Gold-plated jewelry can be trendy or traditional. It can be crafted to look identical to fine gold jewelry, but you can also find imaginatively designed pieces that broaden your aesthetic horizons. Gold plating helps designers create chunky, oversized baubles that are affordable and fabulous. Wearing gold-plated jewelry is a fresh, fun and luxurious way to express yourself. Alongside curb, Byzantine, Figaro and Cuban link chains, you can find bold rings, earrings, bracelets, gold grills, pendants and more, all shaped to reflect the tastes and symbols of your time. From astrological symbols to emojis, gold-plated jewelry captures the iconography of the moment. 

Express Your Style With a Cuban Link Chain From Frost NYC

How to Select the Right Gold-Plated Jewelry

When you're shopping for gold-plated adornments, consider the quality of the chains, fittings and clasps that secure the jewelry. Dull, flimsy-looking findings can be a dead giveaway that jewelry is made of cheap material. 

Jewelry that feels too light or is attracted to magnets is also undesirable. Unless your jewelry has been deliberately designed to display multiple metallic tones, you want your pieces to be the same color throughout. If you're wearing a gold necklace, the hue of the clasp should match the chain. Thick, high-karat plating is best. 

Hallmarks can be a good indication of quality, but generally, your jewelry should look good and feel wonderful in your hand, just as if it were made of fine metal. Always remember to choose jewelry that you will care for and feel proud to wear.

How to Protect, Maintain and Renew Gold-Plated Jewelry

Fine gold-plated jewelry wears down more quickly than fine gold jewelry, but careful handling will help extend its lifespan.

Protect Gold-Plated Jewelry

Protect Your Gold-Plated Jewelry

Gold-plated jewelry can chemically react with lotions, cosmetics, hairspray and perfumes, causing the finish to deteriorate. Handling gold-plated pieces with clean or gloved hands after applying make-up and hair products will help preserve their luster. Avoid exposing your jewelry to harsh chemicals that can pit the metal or strip away the plating. Don't wear gold-plated jewelry at the pool or the beach; chlorine and sulfur compounds can cause the jewelry to tarnish.

Clean Your Jewelry

After removing your jewelry, wipe away dirt and body oils with a damp cotton ball or a microfiber or jewelry cloth, then let it air dry. If your jewelry has been exposed to alcohols, acids, salts or heavy soils, soak it in a mild cleaning solution for about 10 minutes. 

You can make a jewelry wash yourself by diluting two to three drops of dishwashing liquid in one cup of water. Do not soak your jewelry if it is embellished with pearls or glass stones. Instead, dip a cotton ball in the solution and gently clean the piece. Use a cotton swab to clean intricate or engraved jewelry. Avoid using sharp objects to remove dirt. Rinse clean jewelry in warm water, then gently dry and buff your jewelry with a soft, lint-free cloth.

Store Your Jewelry

Store each piece of gold-plated jewelry separately. Using cloth pouches or small boxes to store your treasures will minimize scratching and slow oxidation.

Electroplate Your Well-Worn Treasures

If you wear your gold-plated jewelry frequently or keep it for years, the finish will likely change color or wear off. Over time, the base metal will interact with and break down the gold finish. If the base metal is exposed, you may be able to restore its gold layer by replating your jewelry. 

If your jewelry has a simple design, you may be able to replate it at home using a commercially available kit. Intricate jewelry and chains can be difficult to replate if they are not properly cleaned and prepared, so it may be best to take these pieces to a professional. 

Depending on the fabrication and composition of your jewelry, steam cleaning and ultrasonic cleaning may be used to thoroughly remove dirt and oil. Once the jewelry is fully prepared, it can be submerged in the electroplating solution. As an electrical current is applied, new gold will be fused onto the base metal. When the gold plating is sufficiently thick, the jewelry can be dried and worn, looking as good as new.

holding gold chain necklaces

Bring the Lustrous Shine of Gold-Plated Jewelry Into Your Life

Gold jewelry is universally loved for its ability to bring brightness and glamour into anyone's life. Fortunately, gold plating makes the luxury of beautifully designed precious metal jewelry accessible. With so many choices available, you are sure to find exactly the right piece to express your tastes.

Image Credits


Ople Witsanu/Shutterstock.com

Lay yathang/Shutterstock.com

AS photostudio/Shutterstock.com

September 22, 2022

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