Gold and silver plated jewellery were developed to be cheaper versions of items that would otherwise be solid metal. And though plating is commonly just a thin layer of gold or silver applied over a base metal, in appearance it appears very much the same as solid pieces.
Of course, with some wear it soon becomes apparent that the piece is plated. And often the poor design and build quality of plated pieces is a sure giveaway that the piece is not a quality solid gold or silver piece.
Still, plated jewellery does have its place. Plated jewellery can still be well constructed and extremely attractive, and with some care can last for a reasonable period of time. And because it is so cheap it is also reasonable to accept that shorter lifetime.
How Is Plated Jewellery Made?
Plated items are made by depositing a thin layer of gold or silver over a base metal, such as copper or silver, through chemical or electrochemical means. When gold is plated over silver it is commonly called gold vermeil or silver gilt.
The plated layer is usually very thin and has almost no value as a precious metal. In fact, the layer is so thin it can be rubbed off reasonably easy. Even a rough pencil eraser can erode the layer with a few swipes.
Another issue is diffusion. With gold plating, the silver atoms can diffuse into the gold layer so that eventually the silver is exposed and tarnishing can occur. Similarly, copper can also diffuse into the gold layer, though more slowly. To avoid this some plated items are first plated with a barrier metal, such as nickel.
Most plated jewellery will still have a reasonably short life as a gold or silver object. Eventually, the plated layer will wear off. Of course, the thickness of the layer and how you care for the object does have a huge bearing on the expected lifetime.
The best way to care for plated jewellery is to simply reduce the amount of wear. The less the piece is subjected to any process that physical wears the surface the better. Gold does not normally need much in the way of cleaning so refrain from rubbing the surface. Silver plated can, of course, tarnish and usually requires cleaning at some time.
Once you have worn the jewellery, store it away in a safe place. Don’t have it rubbing against other pieces. Store it in a clean dry and protected area.
Regardless of how careful you are, sadly, the plating will wear off. However, the soft patina appearance of worn gold plate, and even the eventual copper or silver appearance when the plating is gone completely, can still be attractive.
- Plated jewellery is cheap.
- If well made it can look fantastic.
- The plating will eventually wear off.