Gold plating is quite an amazing invention - using some exacting chemistry a gold deposit is electronically bonded to the surface of another metal. If gold wasn't so valuable, it wouldn't be necessary. But as we all know, solid gold isn't possible in everyone's budget for every piece of jewellery they buy.
Whilst we have always gold plated over sterling silver, we've been working for months to upgrade to gold vermeil - here's why:
Gold plating vs gold vermeil? What's the difference and why does it matter?
Gold plating can be done over any metal, commonly brass, and still be called gold plating. Gold Vermeil is only done over silver, meaning the overall value of the piece is much higher, more hypoallergenic and higher quality.
Whilst you may imagine we jewellers over a big tub of liquid gold, and the metal being dipped in to be coated like paint, in reality the gold plating or vermeil process is very different.
Using a precise electric charge at precise temperatures, a thin layer of gold is deposited onto a carefully cleaned and prepared piece. This thickness is measured in microns - a micron being 0.001 of a millimeter. Low end plating could be as thin as 0.25 of a micron, higher end plating up to about 2 microns, and gold vermeil must be a minimum of 2.5 microns thick (and is often thicker, up to 5 microns).
Each of these thicknesses require specific gold plating liquids and specific times in the plating baths to achieve the desired thickness. Gold vermeil commonly requires a pre coating of an intermediate metal to strongly bond the gold to the piece, adding to the cost of labour and materials to produce Gold Vermeil and extending the wear of the Gold Vermeil piece.
From a practical point of view - Gold Vermeil is far superior. To paint a picture for you, with typical gold plating, a jeweller can take their torch and heat a piece for 30 seconds, and all of the gold on the surface will be burnt off the piece. When I was learning to Gold Vermeil and made mistakes on my initial pieces, to remove the faulty plating I had to use extremely caustic stripping salts, and then soak the pieces in a strong vinegar solution just to loosen the molecules up enough in order to be able to sand off all the remaining plating. Quite a bit more sturdy...
If you are going to buy anything other than solid metal jewellery, it really does pay long term to know what it is you are buying. Long term your EWJ piece is able to be repaired, loved and worn for years to come, rather than becoming scrap metal as soon as it's endured some regular wear and tear.