GENERAL

Types of Gold Metal Used in Jewellery

Metals and materials are extremely important when looking for your next piece of jewellery for your collection. Gold is one of the most popular and precious metals used in jewellery. When you’re shopping for gold jewellery, you might find yourself getting a bit lost with all the different words and terminology flying around. What’s the difference between gold vermeil and gold plated? What’s a gold alloy? And what does all this mean in terms of quality and price tags? Here’s everything you need to know about gold metal in jewellery, from types and colours to alloys and carats.

What is gold?

Gold is a transition metal and chemical element that’s typically solid under standard conditions. Gold is extremely malleable and durable, for example, it can be stretched considerably before it breaks, beaten into a sheet and some gold leaf can be thin enough to appear transparent. In its purest form, gold is a bright red-yellow colour but comes in many different colours naturally and via an alloy – which we’ll explain later.

Many designers prefer using gold to other metals when making jewellery due to its workability, malleability and inability to tarnish. However, despite gold being easy to work with, it’s incredibly soft. This means that it wears away easily, so a lot of the gold jewellery you see on the market today are varieties of gold coated metals or alloys.

Common gold alloys

An alloy is a metal that’s made by combining two or more metallic elements together. Pure gold jewellery is hard to come by due to its softness and most of the time an expensive price tag! This is why gold jewellery is typically mixed with other metals to create a gold alloy or a gold coated metal.

The way this works is you have a base metal that’s then covered in a layer of gold. Metals most commonly alloyed with gold are silver, copper, brass, nickel and iron. The thickness and purity of the gold layer is what sets each gold metal type apart from each other and it can also change the colour of the gold. The gold metal types are plated, vermeil, filled and solid – keep reading for what these mean.

Types of gold metal

Gold plated

Gold plated is where a thin layer of gold is set over or bonded to a base metal, typically made of brass, copper or nickel. Gold plated jewellery – and most gold metal types – is made using electrolysis, where an electric current is passed through a substance to effect chemical change. When this happens to gold, it becomes a thick coating that covers the base material. In comparison to other gold types, gold plating has the thinnest layer of gold with the total percentage of gold at 0.05% of the overall weight of the jewellery. It ranges in thickness between 0.17 to 2.5 microns. This thickness makes gold plated jewellery the cheapest option in comparison to the other gold metal types and it can also tarnish more easily.

If you’re looking for something that looks like gold and won’t break your bank account, gold plated jewellery is a good choice for you. Make sure to take care of your jewellery, clean it often and take it off when showering or swimming – this goes with all jewellery, not just gold!

Gold vermeil

Gold vermeil is a thick layer of gold plating that covers a base of sterling silver or fine silver via electrolysis. To classify as vermeil, the jewellery must meet three conditions:

  1. The base must be sterling or fine silver.
  2. The thickness of the gold plating needs to be at least 0.0025 millimetres or 2.5 microns thick.
  3. The purity of the gold must be at least 10 carats, so the jewellery is at least 40% gold.

Gold vermeil ranges from 10ct up to 24ct and is an affordable and popular option when looking for gold jewellery. It’s of a high quality that it won’t easily scratch or tarnish, but it can wear away or dull if you don’t look after it properly.

Gold filled

Gold filled jewellery is a thick layer of gold that’s bonded to a base metal using a high amount of heat and pressure bonding. The way this works is that a gold sheet is wrapped around the base and heat is used to fuse the gold layer and the base together. This process means that the gold is mechanically bonded and can’t rub off, making it more durable and able to last for a long time. Gold filled contains an actual layer of gold that needs to feature at least 5% of gold by weight. This gives it the most realistic appearance to gold and it’s often confused with solid gold for this reason. Gold filled is also called rolled gold or gold overlay. Gold filled jewellery is more expensive than plating and vermeil but is high quality and will last for a long time.

Solid gold

Solid gold is when gold is alloyed to a mixture of metals. While solid gold jewellery isn’t 100% gold, it’s the closest to pure gold in terms of its colour, shine and purity. Solid gold jewellery is the highest in price compared to the other metal types and typically doesn’t fade or lose its colour.

All these gold metal types are typically measured in carats which indicates the purity of gold. A carat is the unit used to measure how much gold is in a piece of jewellery compared to the other metals present. The thicker the plating means the carat is higher and so is the quality. For example, if you have a piece of jewellery which is 10ct gold, the gold content is around 40% and the base metal or metals will make up the remaining 60%. If you have a piece that’s 24ct gold, the gold content is 99.9%. When looking for gold jewellery, you’ll find a range of carats like 10ct, 12ct, 14ct, 18ct and 24ct.

These metal types and carats also cover coloured gold like the below.

Coloured gold: how it’s made and popular types

Coloured gold can be found naturally or made by mixing metals and alloys. Yellow is gold’s original colour so any alloy of this metal that has a different hue is considered coloured gold. The colour of gold or gold alloy depends on what other metals are included in the mix. The main colours you’ll find in gold jewellery is yellow, white and rose but there are many others include green, blue and purple!

Yellow gold

While pure gold is typically a red-yellow hue, yellow gold is a brighter and warmer colour. Yellow gold is made when pure gold is mixed with copper and zinc. For example, mixing gold with copper creates a darker and redder colour and mixing it with zinc creates a paler yellow. In comparison to other coloured golds, yellow gold is the most pure, hypoallergenic and easiest to maintain.

White gold

White gold is made when pure gold is mixed with white metals like nickel, silver, platinum or palladium. White gold is a popular choice for wedding and engagement rings and is typically more durable due to the strength of the other materials present.

Rose gold

Rose gold is a blend of gold, silver and copper that gives it its red-pink colour. The strength or depth of colour depends on the ratio of gold to copper. A standard mix is 75% gold to 25% copper and these ratios affect the quality of metal and carats. For more of a red colour, you’ll want to go for less gold and more copper. For more of a pink-champagne tone, you’ll need a piece that’s made up of more gold than copper.

Other colours include green gold which is made by mixing gold and silver or cadmium, blue gold which is made by mixing gold and iron and black gold which is made by mixing gold and cobalt, copper, titanium, iron or black rhodium.

Gold Metal Used in Jewellery
Image credits: aureejewellery.com, simpleanddainty.com

Where to find the best gold jewellery

Most jewellery stores and brands – both online and physical shops – will advertise and sell gold jewellery. This includes the metal types, colours and carats mentioned above. Brands legally need to tell you what their jewellery is made of, so make sure you look at the fine print to find out what gold type it is and what carat of gold. You’ll also be able to see this on the jewellery as these pieces should come with a hallmark.