Understanding the difference between gold plated, gold filled, gold vermeil, and solid gold can help get you one step closer to building a collection of timeless jewelry pieces that fit both your personality and budget. Whilst we don't tend to use any gold filled, plated or vermeil in our Lightbox jewelry, we still think its important to know the subtle differences between them, and it’s no surprise that jewelry lovers often assume that these terms are interchangeable. Where we have used plated gold in the past (in some of our launch collections) we always used 18 karat gold atop sterling silver, to parallel the remarkable sparkle and quality of our lab-grown diamonds.
To help you choose the right type of gold for your needs—and clear up any confusion—we’re diving into the “4 G’s” of gold jewelry: gold vermeil, gold filled, gold plated, and solid gold. Keep reading to learn about the key differences between the main types of gold-toned jewelry, including the definitions of each, how they differ, and the top Lightbox buying tips from our team of experts.
What is pure gold?
As the name suggests, pure gold is composed of 100% gold. In its purest form (also known as 24 karat gold), gold is a very soft, malleable material that can be difficult to work with and prone to scratches or dents. Because of its softness, pure gold is not ideal for the daily wear that most people desire in their fine jewelry. That’s why jewelers use alloys (a mix of metals, also referred to as solid gold) or other variations–like gold plating–to create high-quality, durable, and long-lasting jewelry pieces.
What does gold plated mean?
Imagine dipping your jewelry into a luxurious golden bath—that’s essentially the process of gold plating. Gold plated jewelry places a layer of gold on top of a base metal (like copper, silver, or brass) to create a style that, to the naked eye, appears almost identical to solid gold’s eye-catching luster. Most common in fashion jewelry, gold plated jewelry (sometimes referred to as electroplated) gives you the perfect opportunity to explore a new trend or style.
With that in mind, there are certain precautions to consider when choosing a gold plated setting. Some gold plated jewelry can be rëprone to tarnishing when exposed to chemicals or liquids (like perfume, sweat, and cleaning supplies) and may vary greatly in quality depending on the craftsmanship, the base metal used, and the thickness or purity of the gold coating. Therefore, it’s essential to shop smart, use proper cleaning techniques, and be aware of any metal allergies before purchasing gold plated jewelry.
Gold plated vs gold filled
Just like gold plating, gold filled jewelry also uses a different base metal at its core. But unlike gold plated jewelry, gold filled jewelry utilizes an even thicker layer to bond with the base metal (at least 5% gold by weight, to be exact). Gold filled jewelry will typically allow for greater wear and tear since the gold is mechanically attached to the base (instead of undergoing the plating process). This means it won’t rub off over time, or affect those with allergies. However, gold filled jewelry—similarly to gold plated jewelry—can also ultimately experience tarnishing over time, and can vary greatly in quality depending on the craftsmanship.
Gold filled vs gold vermeil
Vermeil (ver-may) is made by taking high-quality silver (pure or sterling) and plating it with a thin layer of gold. Also called silver gilt, this gold category is a highly popular and readily available option. Gold vermeil generally features a thicker gold layer than gold plated jewelry, and similarly to gold filled jewelry, it must meet a certain set of qualifications in order to legally fall into this category.
Some of these requirements include using thick gold plating and containing at least 41.7% gold content (10 karats). To ensure superior quality and craftsmanship, all of our yellow gold and rose gold plated jewelry options at Lightbox are made to the highest standards, using precious 18 karat gold plating and a sterling silver base metal.
Gold vermeil and gold filled jewelry can both be durable options, but still require proper care to help prevent scratches and other signs of wear. The key difference between these two all comes down to the process: Vermeil pieces are made with heavy plating atop precious metals, whereas gold filled pieces feature thickly layered gold bonded to a base with heat.
Gold vermeil vs gold plated
Now that you know the main characteristics of gold vermeil and gold plated jewelry, let’s compare these two a bit more closely. These categories are very similar, except that gold vermeil is required to be at least 2.5 microns thick, whereas gold plated jewelry can vary in thickness. Additionally, gold vermeil requires pure or sterling silver to be used as its base, and gold plated jewelry can use any base metal as its core material. This introduces many differences that are worth considering when making your selection. For instance, gold plated jewelry can often be less costly than gold vermeil.
Modern gold plating methods clearly prove that—although precious metals like platinum, yellow gold, and white gold are ubiquitous in the jewelry world—they aren’t the only options available. Opting for a gold plated piece provides a budget-friendly option that offers a similar look at a much more attainable price point.
How to care for your gold plated jewelry
Regardless of which type you choose, all of the “4 G’s” of gold jewelry require proper storage and care. Following a few simple rules can help extend the life of any gold plated piece and help it maintain its beauty for longer.
To keep your gold-toned jewelry looking its best, always store them separately, keep them dry, and fasten any necklaces before storing. Whenever possible, keep your gold plated jewelry away from harsh chemicals, perfumes, oils, hairspray, soaps, detergents, and makeup. These substances can harm the plating of your piece, so always remove and store in a safe place. It’s also ideal to wash your hands before putting on your gold plated jewelry, to avoid the transfer of oil or dirt, and avoid exposure to pollutants, chlorine, or salty water.
And lastly, try to avoid unnecessary rubbing, brushing, or friction that may damage the plating of your jewelry–this includes layering with other jewelry pieces.
How to choose the right option for you
We recommend comparing the quality of the base metal, the gold’s karat weight for each, and the gold’s thickness to narrow down the right option for your lifestyle. With proper care, any of these categories can make beautiful, memorable additions to your jewelry collection—but the quality can vary greatly between each.
While solid yellow, white, or rose gold are typically considered best for lifetime pieces, gold plated jewelry can make an ideal gift for loved ones, casual fashion wear, anniversary jewelry, birthday celebrations, and more. These gold-toned collections are great for everyday wear and stand out as a highly wearable and budget-friendly option.
When deciding between a gold filled, gold vermeil, or gold plated design, remember one thing: It all comes down to the quality and craftsmanship.
If you have any questions about our metal options or Lightbox lab-grown diamonds, our team of experts is standing by to assist you at firstname.lastname@example.org.