With the rising costs of gold, and jewelry designer's efforts to cater to a younger clientele with lower prices I have been noticing a lot of gold vermeil jewelry being introduced. Nothing wrong with this as it can using be a great and more cost effective way to make jewelry.
But what is gold vermeil and should you care about jewelry made with it?
Gold vermeil is when a jeweler first makes the metal base out of sterling silver and then plates it with a thin layer of gold. To legally be considered vermeil it must be plated with at least 10 karat gold. You can make yellow gold vermeil or rose gold vermeil. The layer of gold can be thin though, so there is a higher risk of scratching a gold vermeil piece than traditional 18k gold. Because there is less pure gold in this jewelry the cost is often much more reasonable.
But wait, what's 18k gold then?
So let's start at the beginning with this question, 24 karat gold is 100% pure gold. Which is very malleable and not good to make jewelry with. So to make 14k gold or so on they basically mix it with other metals (we will get to that in a minute).
14 karat gold is 14 parts gold to 10 parts alloy (14 + 10 = 24). 18 karat gold is 18 parts gold to 6 parts alloy (18 + 6 = 24), and so on until you reach 100% gold at 24 karat. Depending on the color of the gold jewelers, mix pure gold with other precious metals such as copper, silver, nickel, zinc, tin, palladium, and/or manganese. A great question to ask your jeweler is what other metals they mix to make their gold.
I've heard of jewelers making something called gold filled? What's that?
Gold filled jewelry basically like a quality in between traditional 14k gold and gold vermeil. Jewelers use a base metal such as copper, brass, or sterling silver and they cover it in a sheet of gold through a bonding process. Because it is coated two to three layers of gold, it more durable than vermeil gold.
Moral of the story...
If you see gold jewelry and the price looks really cheap to you, it's probably made with less gold using the filled or vermeil technique. It's always a good to idea to check what you actually buying so you understand it's full value.