Every jewelry lovers’ biggest fear has got to be tarnishing. Of course, losing your favorite jewelry piece is tight at the top of the list, but we’ve got to agree that tarnished jewelry isn’t good for the optics. Which is why you need to know if the jewelry you are investing in is worth your money or not.
In this article, we look at everything you need to know about the gold-plated sterling silver, and whether it tarnishes or not.
First thing first, you need to know the fundamentals of gold plating, gold plated silver. Let’s go.
What’s gold plating?
This is a technique that allows for the depositing of a very thin gold layer on the surface of some other metal, often silver or copper. Plating is done by the use of a chemical, but in most cases, electrochemical plating is used.
In jewelry, specifically silver, the plating process involves the diffusion of the silver atoms into a gold layer, a process that results in the slow/ gradual fading of the plated color, which eventually causes tarnishing. Note, however, that whether the gold layer tarnishes after months or years depends on the thickness of the gold layer.
It’s important to keep in mind that the plating for silver jewelry isn’t often a two-metal process, and metals like copper and nickel are often involved.
The use of these other metals is crucial in countering fast tarnishing. Copper is often used for this purpose – it migrates int the gold, but at a slower pace than silver.
So, the copper is often plated with nickel, which means that a gold-plated silver piece is more or less a silver substrate that features layers of nickel, copper, and the gold deposited at the top.
What is gold plated sterling silver meaning?
The gold plating process for solid silver or gold-plating of sterling silver and other silver alloys leads to a plated material called gilt silver.
Essentially, completely covering a silver object in gold creates a product called vermeil, which is a term that also applies to bronze products that are covered entirely in gold.
When it comes to gold plating and vermeils, the market is regulated, and vermeil only applies to settings where the minimum amount of gold or 10K gold and a thickness of 2.5 micrometers applied directly to silver’s surface.
For vermeils, the base metal must be sterling silver. Vermeil is common in costume and fashion jewelry, but the gold-plated layer isn’t very thick.
Gold-plated sterling silver, as mentioned above, is designed with a gold-layer at the top, and the thickness of the gold varies depending on the desired result. It’s also worth noting that there are different types of plating processes.
Essentially, if silver has gold on specific places on, by design, this plated silver will be called a parcel-gilt. But in cases of serving utensils or vessels that are gold-plated, the plating process is called a gold wash. And if the plated gold is of rather substantial thickness and the gold is inlaid manually onto the surface of silver, then you are looking at a gold-inlay.
The jewelry world, on the other hand, opts for a simpler, more electronic, and a faster process, hence electroplating. In electroplating, silver items will be deposited into the liquid with dissolved gold. An electric current then runs through the silver object, and the gold adheres to the silver’s surface – hence electroplating. So, if you ever wondered how gold-plated sterling silver worked – this is it!
Beware of other plating techniques too – silver gilding. Silver gilding is often used in jewelry to cater to the needs of the individuals with silver allergies, as well as the individuals who prefer yellow gold jewelry.
Will gold plating wear off?
Unfortunately, even with the use of gold to plate sterling silver, the gold plating will wear off. The biggest drawback when it comes to gold plating silver is that the gold layer will naturally tarnish and fade with time.
The reason for this is that the molecules of the sterling silver base metal will travel slowly but gradually up to the top of the layer, and with time, you will start to see signs of wear.
The good news, however, is that with proper, good, and consistent care, that gold-plated layer would last for at least a year or even longer.
Besides how long you’ve worn the jewelry for, the other factor that affects whether a gold-plating wears off or not is the kind of plating. Your sterling silver jewelry could be gold-filled, gold vermeil, or gold plated.
The gold filled jewelry consist of a base metal like copper and a rather thick layer of gold made of at least 5% of the total weight. Gold vermeils, on the other hand, are made of a core base of sterling silver and a thick gold layer at least 2.5 microns, while gold-plated pieces are made of a copper base metal and a very thin layer of gold. Gold-plated jewelry is, however, only made of a very thin layer of gold – 1/1000 to 3/1000 of one inch. Given the thin layer of gold in gold-plated jewelry, the gold layer will wear off; it’s only a matter of time.
Will sterling silver tarnish?
Yes. Sterling silver isn’t an inert metal, which means that it will be oxidized when exposed to air over time. However, you could slow down or reduce the appearance of the tarnish by cleaning it and taking good care of the jewelry.
Even with high-quality sterling silver jewelry being very popular in the jewelry world, sterling silver will still tarnish. The primary reason for this is that sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, hence an alloy.
Copper is the most common type of metal added to silver to form sterling silver, and it’s also the reason why sterling silver will tarnish over time as long as they are exposed to the moisture in the air.
Does Gold-Plated Sterling Silver Tarnish? Or will gold plate sterling silver turn green?
Yes. Both the gold-plated layer and the sterling silver will tarnish, and the tarnishing will result in color changes.
So, why do gold-plated sterling silver turn green?
One of the most annoying things when it comes to jewelry is the ugly layer of tarnish that forms, but mostly, that green film. As annoying as it is, understanding how and why that layer form is very important. So, why do metals turn green? And why did your gold-plated sterling silver jewelry turn green?
Well, not all metals turn green, but the primary reason why gold-plated jewelry turns green is that the gold layer wears off, exposing the base metal in the process. The exposure of the base metal causes a chemical reaction, which would result in the staining of your skin with that annoying green tinge.
The green tinge and tarnishing aren’t only limited to fashion and costume jewelry, and high-end jewelry pieces may also tarnish and form that green tinge. The reason for the color change in the high-end sterling silver pieces has to do with the presence of metal alloys besides sterling silver, specifically, copper, silver, and nickel.
What this means is that if the sterling silver jewelry is made with specific metal alloys, it will turn green. Copper and nickel are the main reasons for the green tinge, which means that if the 7.5% metal alloy added to silver is copper and/or nickel, you can expect the green color after some time. As mentioned above, sterling silver is only 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper (at least).
Pure sterling silver is liquid in nature, and the only way to make it hard is by adding other metals/ metal alloys, hence the addition of copper. The catch is that adding copper/ nickel will make the silver susceptible to tarnishing.
Copper oxidizes when exposed to air, forming a copper oxide that stains the skin green. Besides the natural reaction, the reactions around copper are sped up by perfumes and lotions, which have chemicals that speed up the oxidation of copper, which means that the green tinge will appear too soon.
So, before you buy sterling silver jewelry, you need to keep in mind that this jewelry will at one point or the other tarnish, and it might turn green. The added metal alloys are quite reactive, making tarnishing unavoidable. And then there is the fact that the gold-plating over sterling silver will wear off.
How long does gold plating over silver last?
Generally, gold-plated silver/ sterling silver lasts two years. The gold plating will wear off over time, flake off, hence exposing the base metal.
There’s also the fact that the gold plating will lose its natural luster with time, and it will fade.
To slow down the wearing off, you should take good care of your jewelry. Re-plate the jewelry as required/ recommended.
Is gold plated sterling silver good quality?
Sterling silver/ silver is an excellent, high-quality base metal when it comes to gold-plating.
Sterling silver is made of 92.5% pure silver and only 7.5% metal alloys.
Thanks to the high level of purity, it makes a good quality material for gold plating, and the resultant product is just as good.
How do you care for gold plated sterling silver?
- Here are some of the things you could do to protect your gold-plated sterling silver jewelry.
- Don’t spray perfume or sprays on the jewelry.
- Wear jewelry only after your lotion/ cream is absorbed into the skin
- Remove your jewelry before exposure to harsh conditions, for example, swimming or heavy work.
- Clean the jewelry using a cotton ball or soft cotton cloth after use to remove dirt or dust. Rub it gently to restore the jewelry’s shine. Don’t use a polishing cloth. And if it needs extra cleaning, use warm, soapy water, soak it in for about 10 minutes, then clean it. Don’t use harsh soaps, cleaners, or antibacterial soaps/ solutions.
- Store your jewelry in safe, soft, and clean jewelry boxes, separate from other jewelry.
- Always store like jewelry items together. Never store gold-plated jewelry with silver-plated jewelry. And if possible, store all pieces separately.
- Finally, avoid buying cheap jewelry.
Gold-plated sterling silver jewelry is one of the most popular types of jewelry on the market today. The options on the market are affordable, but they are not free from tarnishing or wearing off.
All you need to do is to take good care of the items and remember that you’d have to re-plate the jewelry after about two years.