The difference between Vermeil, Gold Plated, Gold Filled, Silver, Tibetan Silver and other Jewelry Metals
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I use a variety of mixed metal components and I am often asked lots of questions about the difference between different the metal types used in jewelry. Here an easy, general guide to understanding :
Natural Element 79 on the periodical chart symbol “Au” from the latin “aurum”. Pure, natural gold is found in the Earth’s crust and denser deposits are found deeper down. Gold is thought to have been present in the dust from which the Solar System formed arriving on Earth by way of asteroid bombardment during the formation of our planet. It is highly malleable, smeltable and resistant to corrosion. Because of it’s malleability, it is often alloyed with other metals to make it more durable and firm in jewelry making it is alloyed with silver, copper or palladium as well as other metals.
Karat or Carat is the measurement of proportion of gold and an alloy, most commonly copper in a piece.
24k -purest of gold and the softest. As the proportion of copper increases in the alloy the gold content carats decrease 22k, 18k, 14k,10k. Gold does not tarnish, but copper does, so the higher the copper content the bronzier it will become over time. 14k and 10k can seem almost bronze in color and are sometimes described as “antiqued gold”.
Rose gold is usually 18k gold with 25% copper. The mix creates a lustrous copper pink shine. Also here, depending on the ratios of gold and copper, you get different hues.
High quality white gold is gold with palladium and silver. 18K White gold is made with nickel, zinc and copper. Nickel has been proven to be highly allergenic and even toxic and is not recommended.
Why is gold expensive?
Gold is a precious metal and only found in it’s natural form in the Earth’s crust and its deeper layers. It is rare and extremely costly and time consuming to mine. It’s Economics 101, lesson number one; supply and demand. For example aluminum is abundant and therefore inexpensive. Gold is rare and therefore expensive.
Most commonly: Sterling Silver coated with 14k Gold (sometimes other precious metals are used). At least 10k gold must be used to say it’s Vermeil. Rose gold is also used in Vermeil which is rose gold over silver.
Sometimes you see the description Gold Filled. Gold filled is different to Vermeil in that it is considered more prestigious. Using 10k gold as the outer layer, the outer layer of gold on the base metal must be 1/10 in ratio to the weight of the item. Using 12k or 14k gold as the outer layer, the outer layer of gold on the base metal must be 1/20 in ratio to the weight of the item. However, the base metal is not usually silver as it is in Vermeil. Vintage jewelry from the 30’s and 40’s may be marked “Rolled Gold Plate” (R.G.P.) or even as “1/8” meaning it has a lower percentage of gold plating.
Natural Element 47 on the periodical chart symbol “Ag” from the Latin “argentum”. Usually found in its natural form along side gold but also in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite. Silver is also a byproduct of copper,gold, lead and zinc refinement. Sterling Silver or 925 silver is 92.5% silver with 7.5% copper. Silver flashing is the practice of plating a silver piece with .999% pure silver to give it a lustrous shine. Rhodium is often plated on silver jewelry for this purpose. Silver does tarnish so it’s best to keep separate from other metal jewelry.
Tip: put some chalk in with your silver it absorbs sulfate and your silver won’t tarnish (as quickly).
Real Tibetan silver is 925 silver with an alloy of another metal (nickel or tin).
There are many lower grade items sold or described as Tibetan silver and have been found to contain no silver at all. Ebay has sent an advisory regarding this. Today what is often described as “Tibetan silver” is a copper alloy mixed with tin or nickel. In some cases it is an iron base with pewter and/or silver plating. (see description at Firemountain.com)
Copper , Tin, Brass, Bronze,and Pewter are all relatively inexpensive metals that are used in jewelry making as main metals or base metals. They are warm and earthy and give an antique feel even to the newest of designs. Some people are sensitive to some metals so it’s always a good idea for sellers to inform the customer about the metal components used, and for the buyer to ask if the information is not given.
Copper is Natural Element 29 on the periodical chart symbol “Cu” from the Latin “cuprum”. Tin is Natural Element 50 on the periodical chart symbol “Sn” from the Latin “stannum”. Brass is copper alloyed with zinc. Bronze is copper alloyed with tin. Pewter is Tin alloyed with another metal (copper, antimony,or bismuth).