Gold plating is a popular process of bonding a thin gold layer over a base metal a piece of jewelry is made of. Italian chemist Luigi Brugnatelli was the first who plated a thin gold layer over silver in 1805. Nowadays, jewelry merchants use gold plating to create costume jewelry that mimics more expensive pieces made of pure gold.
The best of all is that only a few experts can recognize differences between expensive gold jewelry pieces that cost over $3,000 and gold-plated imitations worth only a few dollars. Now, let’s see how much is gold plated worth.
Gold Plating Process
Gold plating is a fancy term to describe the process of covering an inexpensive base metal with a thin gold layer. A gold-plated coat is thick 0.17 to 2.5 microns per 1 inch (2.5 cm) in most cases.
The most common layer thickness levels you can find on the current market are:
- 0.175 microns – Gold-electroplated, flashed, or gold wash jewelry
- 0.5 micron – Gold-plated jewelry
- 2.5 microns – Heavy gold plated jewelry
In other words, such jewelry is visually appealing, but it doesn’t actually contain a significant amount of gold. These coating types are technically electroplated, but the Federal Trade Commission labels them differently, depending on the coating thickness.
Laymen can misjudge jewelry with a layer thinner than 0.5 microns as gold-plated, but it is technically considered gold-electroplated.
Keep in mind that gold-plated jewelry is not the real thing. It is not made of gold but other materials like sterling silver, brass, copper, stainless steel, titanium, or nickel. Although gild is made of real gold, the amount used for designing gold-plated jewelry is so little that it doesn’t worth much.
During the creation process, jewelers add a thing gold layer over various metals. Such gold-plated jewelry is cheap, but its aesthetic effect is adorable. Basically, you will pay for the metal underneath the gold coating when buying such jewelry. Since gold grade used doesn’t matter, such a piece is typically unmarked.
Various jewelry types’ characteristics
You can find various jewelry types on the market.
- Solid gold – Gold alloy (10K to 24K)
- Gold-filled jewelry – High-quality brass core with 5% gold by weight
- Gold-plated jewelry – Cheap base metal with less than 0.05% gold by weight
- Gold vermeil – 925 sterling silver
The gold purity for gold plating ranges the same way as solid gold, from the lowest purity of 10K to the highest one of 24K gold. Their values are practically the same, but the effect is different because of the gold color. The higher gold purity will provide a more gold-like shade.
Gold-plated Jewelry Value
The primary question is whether gold-plated jewelry worth anything. Its value will depend on:
- The gold type used for plating
- Base metal the piece is made of
In such a case, you can only count on the base metal that worth something. However, you can get a decent amount of money only for sterling silver. Other metal types will bring you only a few dollars.
In most cases, you can expect to get approximately $15 to $20 per 1 pound (455 g) of gold-plated jewelry, rarely up to $50. If you have a flashed gold-plated piece, its value is zero.
When it comes to gold, the best gold-plated jewelry is coated with 24K gold. This gold type is too soft, and no one can make jewelry without mixing it with some alloys. However, it is useful as plating.
Unfortunately, this jewelry type is not an excellent investment since it is practically impossible to separate this gold from the base metal. In other words, extracting gold from gold-plated jewelry is unprofitable and not worth an effort.
How Long Does Gold-plated Jewelry Last?
Whatever gold-plated jewelry you have, it will tarnish and wear down after a while. Since many factors affect gold-plated jewelry durability, it can be tricky to determine how long it will stay beautiful and shiny. The time frame will directly depend on:
- Gilding thickness
- Gold quality
- Base metal quality and color
- Degree of use
For instance, 18K gold-plated jewelry will last longer than the one gilded with a 24K gold layer. Such gold is firm and more resistant to damage.
Basically, that jewelry can stay intact for a few months or up to two years if it is made of quality base metal and coated with a decent gold layer. The way you take care of your piece will significantly affect its lasting, as well.
Unlike jewelry made of solid gold, this jewelry type is more sensitive, so you shouldn’t wear it daily if you want to keep it for long. Be aware that the gold layer will tarnish in contact with the skin, perfume, make-up, and chemicals you use during your daily activities.
Once the gold plating tarnishes, you can always get your jewelry re-gilded instead of replacing the whole piece and buying the new one. However, your goal should be to maximize the time before the gold layer peels off. Your best shot is to:
- Avoid using strong chemicals while wearing such jewelry
- Carefully apply perfume, make-up, body lotions, and hairspray to avoid direct contact with the gold layer
- Clean your jewelry regularly and keep it safe in a jewelry box separated from other pieces to prevent friction
Pros and Cons of 24K Gold-plated Jewelry
Most people purchase gold-plated jewelry for aesthetics and low price. That doesn’t mean it is entirely worthless, and you can notice a few advantages of this option, including:
- This jewelry is affordable, and you can find a beautiful piece for only $5 to $50, depending on the plating and gemstone
- It is challenging to distinguish gold jewelry from gold plating, so you can use it for special occasions that require a luxury outfit
- You have more design options when choosing gold-plated jewelry since base metal is harder and holds the shape longer
- It is trendy
- This jewelry is more durable than the real stuff, and you can additionally prolong it by occasional re-gilding
Although gold-plated jewelry has several advantages, you should also consider a list of its downsides before going shopping.
- The gold layer is thin, and it is easy to scratch it
- This jewelry is a bad investment because of the small amount of pure gold in it
- Gold-plated jewelry tarnishes over time, and the exposed base metal will look ugly and can be an allergen
- Since it is not a real thing, you need to re-gild it at least once in a year or two, which will cost you some money
- You can’t wear this jewelry while doing housework, exercise, or swim because sweat, water, and chemicals speed up gold layer damage
When to Buy Gold-plated Jewelry?
Even though gold-plated jewelry has a few downsides, you can buy it when enjoying gold shining and color, but the real stuff is a bit out of your budget. If you are aware of its limitations and take care of your piece adequately, you can wear it for months or two years in some cases without notice any damage or color change.
This jewelry type is an excellent option when you need a short-term solution for a special occasion. You can wear it from time to time, and it will stay beautiful for a long. Unfortunately, it is not the best solution for daily use.
If you suffer from contact allergies, you need to check what base metal is used under the gold layer. For instance, you will have a problem when a gold coat peels off, and nickel appears on the surface.
Gold-plated silver tableware is elegant and posh but rare, so many people want to have it. In most cases, the outer layer is made of 14K gold, but the value significantly varies depending on the quality and the coat’s thickness.
In most cases, older sets made more than half a century ago contain more gold than new ones. In other words, recyclable gold in a collection of 40 or 50 gold-plated pieces created in the 1950s worth approximately $500.
However, you can find precious gold-plated tableware made by very prestigious makers like Lunt or Gorham that can worth $10,000 to $15,000, sometimes even more. In such a case, the amount of gold is not crucial but the brand name, making this set collectible.
The best way to determine the amount of gold a particular set contains is to get it tested in a qualified testing lab for precious metals.
No matter what, you can buy gold-plated jewelry since it is a convenient way to get an elegant piece for the lowest possible price.
At first glance, it doesn’t worth much and is not an excellent investment, but it shouldn’t be that simple. If you love wearing your gold plated jewelry or have inherited it from someone you love, it will have sentimental value to you.