Gold Metals Used in Handmade Jewelry

At a recent show, while discussing one of my handmade beaded jewelry designs with a customer, the question was asked, "What is the difference between gold plated and gold filled metal?" After explaining the difference to her, I thought this topic would make a great jewelry article to share for general knowledge purposes, especially if you are looking to purchase handmade jewelry.

Each jewelry designer has his/her own preference of metal they like to use in their jewelry designs and some will even mix metals, making the design even more unique. There really is no one good metal over another, in terms of the design itself. The choice of metal used in a design really depends on the purpose and interpretation of the jewelry piece, the designers preference, and at times, cost. It's a pretty simple equation, the better the metal, the more cost involved.

For many people, wearing a piece of jewelry made with pewter components as opposed to sterling silver, makes no difference. For them, it's really about the design of the piece and how it makes them feel. Although for others, the wearing of non-precious metals can cause skin irritation and/or a rash. This group of shoppers will naturally prefer a precious metal such as sterling silver or 14 karat gold.

Below is an outline of some of the more common gold metals used in handmade jewelry design, ranging from fine jewelry to fashion jewelry. At Crystal Allure Beaded Jewelry, I have worked with a few different metals throughout the years and although I have no particular preference of one over the other, my unique handmade designs currently showcase either sterling silver, 14 karat gold-fill and/or vermeil (pronounced vehr-MAY).

There are times when a particular component I would like to use can only be found in pewter, silver plate or gold plate. When I use a metal other than a precious metal, I always state as such in the description of the jewelry piece.

GOLD - A precious metal that does not oxidize or tarnish as most other metals do. It has been used for over 6000 years in coins, jewelry and ornamental objects. Gold is very malleable and can be melted and cast into both small and large objects. It is also forged into very thin sheets called gold leaf and used to cover the surface of less valuable ornaments.

Gold is alloyed with other metals like silver, copper or nickel to make it harder. The ratio of gold to other metals is what denotes the karat content.

Common gold alloys are made by mixing gold, silver, copper, and/or other metals to produce 14K, 18K and 22K gold, white gold (gold and nickel or palladium), rose gold (gold and copper), green gold (gold with silver or silver and cadmium) , and blue gold (a recent gold color perfected by only a few jewelers). Example: 14kt-by weight 14 parts gold to 10 parts other metals, or 58.33% pure gold.

VERMEIL -(pronounced vehr-MAY) is a process that combines precious metals to produce semi-fine quality jewelry. The inside core is .925 sterling silver, the outside is a thin coating of 14 karat gold plate. Where the gold plating has not completely bonded with the sterling silver, the silver will eventually tarnish. Therefore, overtime, expect vermeil to darken slightly with age. Since vermeil is electro-plated, not fused like gold-filled, the plating will eventually wear off. This usually happens in a year or two. It takes longer to wear off than costume gold-plate because the plating on vermeil is considerably thicker than that on costume jewelry.

The combination of metals in vermeil produces jewelry that looks and feels like pure gold.

GOLD FILL - (also called "gold overlay" and "rolled gold") Gold fill beads are made by applying a layer of gold, using heat and pressure to permanently bond the gold, to a core of brass or other base metal. This produces a much thicker surface of gold than gold plating. The minimum layer of karat gold must equal at least 1/20th of the total weight of the item. Use care when buffing gold fill beads and components to avoid removing the gold layer.

When a company is manufacturing gold-filled beads and components, it is their choice as to how thick a layer of gold to place over the base metal material. Thus, you can have two gold-filled pieces and you may have the gold layer wear off more quickly on one piece than the other. It is difficult, unfortunately, to be able to tell whether the purchase price of any piece reflects its true value.

Sometimes, you will see a notation next to the Gold-Filled label indicating the relationship between the weight of karat-gold and the weight of the brass core material. For example, if you see the notion "14/20 Gold-Filled" this means that the piece is 1/20th 14 karat gold. The 1/20 notation refers to the ratio of the 14 karat gold layer to the brass layer by weight, which is 5%.

What is important here to the jewelry designer is less the content of gold, but rather more the color of the gold-filled piece. 14/20 gold fill will be more golden, darker, mellow; whereas, 12/20 gold fill will be brighter, brassier, yellower.

Why use Gold Filled?
First, Gold Fill is less expensive than pure Gold - making jewelry more affordable. Second, of the alternatives (Gold Plate or Gold Vermeil), Gold Fill will not tarnish, turn green, or wear off and can be worn as "every-day" jewelry. In any case, gold-filled is a much more durable product than gold-plate or vermeil. Gold-filled jewelry is economical, and enjoys the rich look of gold at a fraction of the cost.

GOLD PLATE - Gold plating is a method of depositing a thin layer of gold on the surface of other metal, most often copper or silver but can be brass as well, usually by electroplating or an electrochemical process. A second chemical is used as a finishing to give the color a "brightness".

The gold color and brightness wears off pretty quickly, much more quickly than gold filled, when interacting with the wearer's skin salts or the pollutants in the air. On an average person in an average environment, the brightness finish fades in about 3-6 months, and the color fades in 6 months to a year. If the environment is very humid or very polluted, this can happen much more quickly. Some people have either ammonia's or sulphides in their sweat. These chemicals dissolve one or both of the chemicals in the plating and/or finishing.

However, if you are on a handmade jewelry budget, or just want to experiment it’s the perfect metal to work or start with!

An alloy is a solid solution or homogeneous mixture of two or more elements, at least one of which is a metal, which itself has metallic properties. Alloying one metal with others often enhances its properties. This statement of information on alloy was referenced from:

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