What Is It Made Of? Things to Know About Gold Before You Buy

What Is It Made Of? Things to Know About Gold Before You Buy

Solid Gold > Gold Vermeil > Gold Plate > Gold Tone


Solid Gold

Solid gold jewelry is the highest quality gold you can buy. It comes in various types and carats, which indicate the purity of the gold used. Carats refer to the proportion of gold in an alloy. Here are the common types and carats of solid gold:

24K Gold: This is pure gold, with 24 out of 24 parts being gold. It's the highest purity and tends to be soft and easily bendable, making it unsuitable for intricate jewelry.

18K Gold: This is 75% pure gold, mixed with 25% other metals for added durability. It's a popular choice for fine jewelry, balancing purity and strength.

14K Gold: With 58.3% pure gold, 14K gold is durable and affordable, making it one of the most common choices for jewelry.

10K Gold: This gold contains 41.7% pure gold and is often considered the minimum karatage for jewelry. It's durable and more affordable than higher karat options.

Each type and carat of solid gold offers different levels of purity, durability, and price, allowing individuals to choose based on their preferences and budget.


Gold Vermeil (pronounced ver may)

Gold vermeil is a thick layer of gold (usually at least 2.5 microns) plated over top of .925 sterling silver. 

Vermeil is an affordable alternative to solid golds, and is a higher quality than plated golds.


Gold Plate

Gold plate (or plated gold) refers to a thin layer of gold electroplated onto a base metal, such as brass (or sometimes copper). The durability depends on how frequently it’s worn and how it is treated by the wearer. 

Plated golds can last years or more with proper care and wear. It’s best to remove plated jewelry nightly and when showering or swimming.

The gold layer may wear off over time, or with rough handling or exposure to lotions and sunscreens. When this happens, the base metal underneath is revealed.

For large and statement-sized pieces of jewelry, plated gold is an affordable alternative to solid gold, which becomes expensive at a larger volume of material.

Gold Tone

When buying jewelry, know that “gold tone” pieces are going to be your lowest quality (think children’s play jewelry).

If the price for something seems too good to be true, it probably is, and it might be gold tone.


Other types of metal and finishes you may come across —

Brass or Copper Jewelry
If you come across very large, statement pieces of jewelry (think items that are 2” or more in size) it might be made of brass or copper at that size. It might look or feel like gold, with a darker or reddish tint. Check to see what the finishes (chains or earring posts) are made of. Often there is a combination of silver/gold in the piece of jewelry (ie the necklace pendant is brass and the chain is gold OR the earrings are brass with silver or gold posts)

What is PVD jewelry?
You may have noticed new jewelry brands that advertise as swim proof and sweat proof. Jewelry you never have to take off and keeps its shine.

It’s likely made by Physical Vapor Deposition, or PVD, which is a process that many manufacturers now use for coating metals such as titanium or stainless steel. The technique involves “blasting” the gold onto another metal at a high temperature. During the process, the material moves from a condensed vapor phase that to a thin solid film.

Well-made and maintained PVD-coated jewelry can last for decades or even a lifetime, even with daily wear. The thickness and quality of the coating plays an important role in the longevity. Be sure to check what sort of warranty or guarantee the jewelry comes with.

If you don't mind a lower-value base metal, PVD gold pieces are a decent choice when it comes to long-lasting and durable jewelry. Although they contain the least amount of the precious metal (gold), they are a great alternative for the everyday pieces you never take off. Once they wear out, they have little value and should be replaced. If you lose this type of jewelry, it’s not a huge loss.

However, if your budget allows, solids golds are the way to go: solid gold jewelry combines beauty, durability, and value, making it a luxurious and enduring choice for jewelry.


Additional things to consider

Be sure the jewelry you are buying is nickel and lead free — these are the most common allergens found in cheap jewelry.

Sensitive skin? Try sterling silver or 14k gold. If those metals still irritate you, look for surgical steel jewelry.

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