Among the many options when selecting luxury watches and jewelry is the material from which they are made. Durability is essential when choosing jewelry, as it allows us to wear our pieces more frequently with less wear and tear. Frequently, jewelry producers utilize two options that have the appearance of gold but for a much lower price: vermeil and standard gold-plating.
Vermeil is a French word that means the combination of silver, gold, and other precious metals. Vermeil jewelry is generally sold as a solid sterling silver base coated with gold. It is available in 10K, 14K, 18K, or 24K varieties. In the United States, jewelry stores cannot label their items as vermeil unless the sterling silver base is coated with a minimum of 2.5 microns of 10K gold. One micron equals 1/1000 of a millimeter or 0.001 millimeters. For perspective, a dime is 1250 microns thick.
While this may seem thin, it is actually much more durable than regular gold plating. The process of creating vermeil involves electrolysis. A sterling silver piece of jewelry is placed in an ionic substance. The ionic substance, either molten or dissolved in a suitable solvent, is then combined with a direct electric current. This causes a chemical reaction that adheres the gold to the surface of the sterling silver. Previously, gilding was used to create vermeil, but the process includes the use of mercury and has been known to cause severe health problems in jewelry artists, so it is no longer used in most cases.
Gold-plating is a thin layer of gold over any non-precious metal by electrolysis. Most commonly, copper is used, and a thin layer of nickel is placed in between the copper and gold to prevent the piece of jewelry from tarnishing. Because the United States Federal Trade Commission only requires gold-plated jewelry to be 0.175 microns, the layer of gold is considerably thinner than that found on vermeil. This means that the cost of gold-plated jewelry is significantly less, but the layer of gold can wear off very quickly due to environmental factors or average wear and tear.
Vermeil is an excellent choice of material for jewelry, as it provides customers with durability that is not available from regular gold-plated pieces. The thicker layer of gold required on vermeil jewelry provides extra protection against wear that occurs during normal use, without the increased costs found in gold jewelry. Quality vermeil can also last for generations without becoming worn. For example, we have a 1953 Rolex vermeil watch that has very thick coats of 18K plating that has lasted for 50 years without wear due to having much thicker gold than the minimum required by law.
Below is a photograph of a quality vermeil Masonic Ring.
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