With so many options for buying gold jewelry it can be difficult to really know which is best for your needs. Gold vermeil and gold filled jewelry both offer unique benefits to own beautiful jewelry at a reasonable price that will last for the long run.
What is Gold Vermeil vs. Gold Filled?
Gold vermeil is basically a thick plating of usually 14K gold over a sterling silver base. The gold is electroplated similar to regular gold plated jewelry, however the amount of gold that is used is usually 5-6 times thicker than regular gold plated jewelry. This results in a longer lasting piece of jewelry that will not tarnish and will stay beautiful for years with proper care. Another difference is that gold plated jewelry is made using base metals such as nickel, brass or copper and then a thin layer of gold is applied, which is measured in small increments called microns of usually between .17-.5 microns thick. This is extremely thin and will fade and tarnish quickly with regular wear.
In the United States, a piece can only be labeled gold vermeil if it has a sterling silver base and a gold layer at least 2.5 microns thick. However, in other countries, they have lower standards for what can be labeled as gold vermeil so be careful and always ask about the number of microns thick the gold layer is before purchasing. For example, in Canada, they consider any gold layer of at least 1 micron to be gold vermeil, which is significantly less than the US requirement. The thicker the layer of gold the longer it will last. At Treasure and Kin, we follow the American standard for gold vermeil and all of our pieces are plated in gold that is between 2.5-3 microns thick.
In terms of gold-filled jewelry, many people believe that it means the jewelry is filled with gold. It makes sense, but unfortunately it’s not true. Solid gold is actually the only gold that is technically gold all the way through. Gold filled jewelry on the other hand is created by using a brass or sometimes sterling silver base, and then wrapping a gold layer around it, then using heat to fuse the gold layer to the base metal layer. The karat number actually refers to the amount of gold in the gold sheet that is wrapped around the base metal layer. So for example if an item is listed as 14K gold filled, that means that it contains 58% gold and 41% other metals such as silver or other alloys that the gold has been mixed with to harden it and make it suitable for jewelry. This is due to the fact that 24K gold is very soft and needs to be mixed with other metals to make it strong enough to be made into jewelry.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission requires that gold filled jewelry must be made of at least 5% gold by weight.
Which is Better? Gold Vermeil or Gold Filled?
There is some debate in the jewelry community surrounding which is better: gold vermeil or gold filled? Some feel that gold vermeil is better since its base layer is sterling silver and others feeling that gold filled is better based on how it’s produced. Either way, no matter which option you choose, they both offer excellent value and the opportunity to invest in gold jewelry without the great expense of buying solid gold. Both gold vermeil and gold-filled jewelry will last for 10-30 years and are usually a reasonable price compared to solid gold. Flash gold plated jewelry on the other hand is a roll of the dice. Always ask about how thick the plating is on any gold plated piece and assume that if it is cheaply priced, it does not have a thick layer of gold and will probably tarnish quickly and may even turn your skin green! Which is clearly not a good look.
How to Care for Gold Filled and Gold Vermeil Jewelry
You should treat your gold vermeil or gold-filled jewelry with care. While it’s fine to occasionally shower in either, it's generally best to keep your jewelry moisture free. It is not recommended to swim in the ocean or expose the pieces to chlorine. This is because the chemicals in the chlorine attack the alloy metals used to make your gold piece, creating tiny holes in the pieces that make it weak and brittle.
Ultimately the decision between gold vermeil and gold filled comes down to personal preference, but either way you will have a piece that will last for many years to come.
You can learn more about the differences between gold plated, gold vermeil, gold filled and solid gold here.