Gold vermeil (pronounced vehr-may) is a gold-plating technique that incorporates a thick layer of gold over sterling silver. The style is held in high regard because it only uses precious metals.
Fine jewelry aficionados may know that solid gold (meaning gold through and through) is the most valuable type, but it’s costly. More affordable options include gold-plated, gold-filled, and gold vermeil.
Today, we’ll be going over gold vermeil jewelry, teaching you what gold vermeil means, how it compares to gold-plated or gold-filled jewelry, how valuable it is, and how to take care of it.
First up, what is gold vermeil made of?
“Gold vermeil” refers to a type of higher-quality gold-plated jewelry and the technique used to create it. The technique is also called “silver gilt,” as the French term vermeil refers to gilded (gold-coated) silver or bronze.
Federal regulations differ, but generally, a piece can only count as gold vermeil if:
The base metal is solid sterling silver (925 silver)
The gold is at least 10K (41.7 percent pure)
The gold layer is at least 2.5 microns* thick
*1 micron = 0.001 mm.
The minimum thickness above is set by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but most jewelers follow this requirement.
Is gold vermeil real gold? Yes, in that the outer layer is real gold. The gold layer can also be yellow gold, rose gold, or white gold. Regardless of shade, the purity of that gold can vary.
By “purity,” we’re talking about karatage, or how much of the metal is pure gold vs. additional metals mixed in. Pure gold is too soft for jewelry use, so jewelers must mix in other metals to make it durable. The result is a gold alloy. The ratio of pure gold to other metals is the gold alloy’s purity, expressed in karats.
The purest gold is 24K, meaning 100 percent pure — no additional metals. Most gold used in jewelry has lower purity, like 18K gold which is 75 percent pure gold.
Touching on mixing metals, let’s discuss how gold vermeil is created.
Gold vermeil jewelry is made via the same process as gold-plating: electrolysis or “electroplating.”
First, the jeweler cleans and preps the base metal (sterling silver in this case) to prevent contamination and make the gold adhere better.
Second, the jeweler prepares the plating solution, which is usually a precise ratio of nitric to hydrochloric acid and dissolved gold. The prepped sterling silver is attached to a negatively charged cathode bar, then lowered into the positively-charged solution.
Lastly, the jeweler runs an electrical charge through the solution, causing the positively charged gold particles to bond to the silver. Gold vermeil takes a longer time in the solution than gold-plating.
Most gold vermeil jewelry is made with 14K or 18K gold, the most common karatages for gold jewelry overall.
Solid gold is the most valuable, durable, and long-lasting option for gold jewelry, but its price is inaccessible to many.
In terms of price, the next most valuable option after solid gold is gold-filled, followed by gold vermeil, then gold-plated.
But cost isn’t everything, so let’s see how gold vermeil compares to other styles, starting with gold-plated jewelry.
Pictured above: Gold-plated ring with opals and cubic zirconia gemstones
As you know by now, gold vermeil is a type of gold-plating. Both techniques involve bonding gold to a base metal via electrolysis, and the gold can be any karatage, though usually a minimum of 10K.
But how are they different? The main differences between gold vermeil and gold-plating are the base metal and the gold layer thickness.
Base Metal: Gold-plated jewelry can have pretty much any base metal — copper, brass, you name it. Gold vermeil must have a sterling silver base metal.
Amount of Gold: Gold vermeil is also called “heavy gold plating” because the gold layer must be at least 2.5 microns thick, while gold plating is typically 0.5 microns thick (a layer less than 0.5 micron thick is called “gold-flashed” and common in inexpensive costume jewelry).
That means gold vermeil is a minimum of 5 times thicker than gold-plated jewelry.
So, which is better: gold-plated or vermeil? Gold vermeil is of higher quality and lasts longer, but it’s slightly more expensive than gold-plated jewelry.
Pictured above: Gold-filled necklace
Gold-filled jewelry has a thick gold sheet permanently attached to a base metal, and the gold must be at least 5 percent of the total weight. You’ll see hallmarks like GF or 1/20 (the fraction for 5 percent) followed by the karatage (e.g. 1/20 18K) on gold-filled jewelry.
Comparing gold-filled vs. gold-plated jewelry, gold-filled jewelry often has 100-times the amount of gold in gold-plated jewelry, but what about gold vermeil?
Both gold vermeil and gold-filled jewelry have a thicker layer of gold than standard gold-plating, but the minimum thickness differs. The gold layer in gold-filled jewelry must be at least 2 microns thick, compared to the 2.5-micron minimum in vermeil.
However, the primary difference between gold vermeil and gold-filled is how they’re made.
Instead of electrolysis, gold-filled jewelry is created by using heat and pressure to bond the gold to the base metal. The base is sandwiched with the gold, then the layers are rolled under high heat to bond them together.
Another major difference is the base metal, as gold-filled jewelry usually has a brass base. Despite the lower-quality base metal, gold-filled is slightly more valuable than gold vermeil because the gold layer is typically more durable.
On that topic, we’ll discuss gold vermeil’s value next.
First, is gold vermeil good quality? Overall, yes. Jewelry like gold vermeil rings are a more affordable yet visually indistinguishable alternative to solid gold. Plus, sterling silver doesn’t contain nickel, making 18K (or higher) gold vermeil more hypoallergenic. The cost is between that of solid gold jewelry and gold-plated jewelry.
But the value of gold vermeil depends on a few factors — namely, the karatage.
Higher karatage will mean higher price, so an 18K gold vermeil necklace will be more valuable than a 14K one. But any karatage gold vermeil will last longer than gold-plating.
Have some sterling silver you want plated in the vermeil style? The cost largely depends on the piece’s size and the gold karatage desired. Gold plating usually starts around $80 for a layer of minimum thickness, increasing in price with thicker layers like vermeil.
Typically, just buying gold vermeil jewelry is more affordable than having sterling silver gold-plated.
When you’re buying gold vermeil jewelry, look for these stamps:
V (for Vermeil)
HGE (for Heavy Gold Electroplated)
925 (hallmark indicating the sterling silver base)
Ideally, the karatage will also be stamped. An additional stamp from an assay office (discussed in the 925 hallmark article linked above) is the best way for ensuring authenticity.
Of course, any gold jewelry can be an investment you’ll want to last.
Pictured above: Onyx and gold vermeil earrings | Image credit: Shallowfashion, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license
While solid, 24K gold will never tarnish, the other types will eventually tarnish because the base metal’s molecules seep into the gold, making it slowly break down.
Does vermeil gold wear off? Yes, gold vermeil jewelry will eventually tarnish. Luckily, gold vermeil will tarnish much slower than gold-plated jewelry.
The amount of time it takes to tarnish really depends on you. Wearing your gold vermeil jewelry during swimming, showering, cooking, and other activities and not storing it properly can mean the plating starts fading in as little as a month.
With the proper care, however, gold vermeil jewelry can last multiple years.
Taking care of your gold jewelry is crucial to its longevity. Proper care means knowing when to remove your jewelry, how to clean it, and how to store it.
Can you shower with gold vermeil on? Technically yes, but it won’t last as long. The issue with water has more to do with other chemicals present than the water itself.
It’s best to remove gold vermeil jewelry before:
Washing your hands
Putting on cosmetics (e.g. makeup, perfume, lotion)
Any activity that could scratch the gold layer, that involves harsh chemicals, or that involves high heat
After you take your jewelry off, wipe it down with a clean, microfiber cloth (like a lens cloth) to remove any oils or moisture.
For storage, keep each gold vermeil jewelry piece in its own resealable plastic bag (like a Ziploc bag) with as much air taken out as possible, then place that inside a jewelry box or fabric pouch. The place you store it should have a stable temperature and low to no humidity.
Good news: you can clean gold jewelry at home!
You’ll want to wipe gold vermeil down between wears, but it will need a deeper cleaning every week or so or if you plan on storing it for a long period. To clean gold vermeil jewelry, follow these steps:
In a plastic bowl, mix lukewarm water and mild soap.
Place your gold vermeil in the mixture and gently rub away dirt or debris with your fingers.
Rinse the piece under lukewarm water (avoid sudden temperature changes) to remove soap residue.
Thoroughly dry it with a microfiber cloth before storing.
Still seeing some spots? You can gently wipe it with a jewelry cloth, but don’t use these too often.
The simple truth is that not everyone can afford solid gold jewelry. But gold vermeil is a more affordable alternative with the same appearance, so it’s definitely worth it! Sport a gold vermeil necklace and no one will know the difference.
Ready to shop? Browse our collection of beautiful gold jewelry today!
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