Gold Filled vs Vermeil
Posted on October 11, 2016
Gold Filled vs Vermeil
Many people, myself included, have wondered exactly what the difference between these two types of jewelry is. I will clarify the differences between the two and which is the better buy under which circumstances.
These jewelry items are not actually filled with gold. They are made of a base metal (usually brass or copper) covered by sheets of gold in a mechanical bonding process. Effectively a thick coat of gold: the gold content is 5% or 1/20 of the total weight. Use gold-filled items for your top-of-the-line jewelry. Usually made with 14k gold, it is hard wearing. With reasonable care it will not peel or flake, and should last as long as solid 14k gold jewelry. It is safe for most people with sensitive skin.
Gold Vermeil is sterling silver that has been gold-plated. Most of our vermeil is plated with 22K-24K gold. This is a good combination for those with allergy to normal, plated jewelry items. The difference between vermeil, and gold-filled, is in the thickness of the gold and the base metal used. In vermeil, the base is sterling silver. To be considered vermeil, the gold must be at least 10 carat (42%) and have thickness equivalent to at least 2.5 micrometers of fine gold (a 12 carat [50%] plating would need to be 5 μm thick).
Here is a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of vermeil and gold-filled:
Gold -filled items in general are of superior quality to vermeil because they have a much thicker layer of gold. This simple fact makes gold-filled much more durable because it can handle hard wear without ruining the gold finish.
It also significantly slows the oxidation process which causes the metal to change color and darken, but when it does eventually change color it can usually be professionally polished to look good as new without ruining the gold finish. Although gold-filled is superior in durability and quality, it does have some significant drawbacks that need to be taken into consideration if you're thinking of working with it.
First of all, availability is a significant drawback. Gold-filled is available only in metal sheets, or wire, which limits the amount of items that can be made with it. Because of the much thicker layer of gold on gold-filled items, it also makes them much more expensive to produce. Therefore, the availability of gold-filled findings and finished jewelry is limited and also much more expensive than silver.
What I have noticed is that you can easily find gold-filled wrapping wire, chain, head pins, and a small selection of clasps, but anything beyond this will require some expert detective work.
Vermeil has become very popular in jewelry and jewelry findings recently. Most customers are very familiar with the precious metals gold and silver, and easily understand the concept of gold being plated over silver better than trying to explain gold-filled.
In the case of vermeil, it has many pros and few cons; but from a professional standpoint the cons are worth knowing. Being that vermeil is gold plated on silver, it not nearly as durable as gold-filled. It is not good for hard wearing jewelry because the plating can come off with enough scuffs, and scratches.
Most importantly, once the silver underneath the gold begins to tarnish due to oxidation, the gold with appear darker and may even discolor to a dingy unattractive brown color. Once this happens there is little to be done to salvage the piece. You can try using polishing solutions to brighten it up a little, but this is only a temporary fix. In my experience, once you use the polishing solution the vermeil tarnishes faster than the first time.
Also once the gold begins to wear on the piece there is nothing that can be done except to re-plate the entire piece, which you may not be able to do if there are stones set in the piece.