Gold, gold plate, gold-filled, and vermeil. What’s the difference?
A common question we get here is “What’s the difference between solid gold, gold plate, gold-filled, and vermeil? Are they all the same? Which is better?” First, they are not all the same. As to which is better, well, that depends on what you’re looking for and what you want to spend on it.
Solid gold is the most obvious, as the name describes exactly what it is. All gold, no fillers. All gold jewelry pieces we make at Saori C. Jewelry Designs employ only solid gold. Because, by nature, solid gold pieces contain more gold than any of the other three varieties, they tend to be the most expensive.
Of the remaining three, gold plate is the most common and usually the least expensive, as it has the least amount of gold in it. In gold-plated jewelry, an extremely thin layer of gold is deposited on a base metal (often copper or nickel) using electricity (hence the term “electroplating”). Because the layer of gold is so thin, it can easily wear off with heavy polishing. As well, the base metal tends to gradually bleed through the gold layer, and so people with copper or nickel allergies should beware of gold plate.
Gold-filled is the next step up. Gold-filled jewelry is made of a layer of gold pressure-bonded to a base metal. The thickness of the gold layer in gold-filled pieces is regulated by the US government, and can be hundreds to tens of thousands of times the size of those in pieces that are plated. A common mark you would see on a gold-filled piece might be “1/20 14k GF,” which means that the layer of gold is 14 karat and the gold makes up 1/20th of the total piece by weight (the minimum allowed by law). Because gold-filled jewelry contains much more gold that gold-plated jewelry, it can be quite a bit more expensive.
Last, and least common these days, is vermeil. Vermeil is also regulated by the US government, and consists of sterling silver plated in at least 10 karat gold of a specified minimum thickness (2.5 microns, in case you were wondering). There is less gold in vermeil than in many gold-filled pieces, but since the base metal is higher quality (sterling silver), prices can be comparable. However, very few jewelers make vermeil pieces anymore, so if you come across some, you’re most likely antiquing.