As the Dear Abby of Santa Barbara Jewelers, I get asked questions about gold plating jewelry all the time. What exactly is the procedure? Can my jewelry be gold plated again? Will it affect my gemstones? Is it worth doing?
Cindy’s Ring, Heartily in Need of Plating
Case in point: Cindy, a client of mine, told me one day she wished her mother’s old ring looked better. I knew exactly what the problem was the minute she showed it to me. Much of the gold had worn off. I suggested she re-plate it.
“What do mean?” she asked.
“Re-gold plate it,” I answered.
I described how the ring had originally been gold plated and pointed out the areas on the ring where the silver colored, underlying metal was now showing.
“So you could really re-plate the gold on it?” Cindy asked skeptically.
“I gold plate jewelry all the time.”
“It sounds expensive,” she said.
“It’s not. And compared to making a whole new ring from scratch…it’s a deal!”
“And how does this gold plating work?” she asked.
Gold Plating Jewelry Defined
The term “plating” is actually short for “electroplating.” Without getting technical—or boring Cindy to death!—electroplating is the process of covering one metal with a thin layer of another.
The item to be plated is immersed in a chemical solution containing the covering metal , electricity is added, and by the process of electrolysis, the suspended molecules of gold are transferred to the piece of jewelry.
How long the jewelry is left in the solution determines the thickness of the plating. But it can't go too far or it gets lumpy and unattractive.
"What are My Color Options in Gold Jewelry Plating?"
Jewelry can be plated in yellow gold or if you want a white metal look, it can be rhodium plated. (See my blog post on rhodium plating.) Often, other gold color tones can be applied depending on the desired color. Rose gold is popular. Green gold, not so much. But some antique rings have details in green gold and re-plating them brings back their cool vintage look.
Why Costume Jewelry and Fine Jewelry are Gold Plated
One of the main reasons older jewelry; costume or real, is re-plated, is to improve the gold color of the piece. After years of wear the old gold plating even if not worn off can just look sad and dull. Real gold jewelry can also look old and tired and need a good plating treatment to look its best. A new gold plating treatment gives it new life and pizazz!
Four Factors in How Long Your Gold Plating Will Last
“Won’t the plating wear off?” Cindy asked. “How long does it last?”
“It depends on four factors,” I answered.
- The thicker the plating, the longer it will last.
- Its contact with the real world. The plating on a ring typically wears off way faster than a pendant due to rubbing against the fingers and hand, and by coming into contact with what the hand is touching like soaps and lotions. A gold plated pendant would last longer than a ring before it had to be re-plated.
- Gold plating has various levels of clingyness to different metals. Gold likes silver, so when you gold plate over silver it'll stay on longer that on random costume metal. Gold plating likes Gold even better. So the metal you're gold plating on plays a role in how long the plating treatment will last.
- My clients with a more acidic body chemistry seems to wear their gold plating off sooner. Also for rings if the soap you are using has a harsh ph level, that can damage the gold plating layer."
"Will it Hurt my Amethyst?"
“So you’re saying,” Cindy asked, “that you would simply dip my mom’s amethyst ring in this plating solution and twenty or thirty minutes later, pull it out, and I’d essentially have a whole new piece of jewelry? And it wouldn’t hurt the amethyst?”
“Well, we do prep the jewelry piece to protect your gem. But essentially you're right, that’s all it would take, and no, it wouldn’t affect the gem at all,” I replied.
Repairing Plated Jewelry
“What about the worn down prongs?” Cindy asked.
“I’d fix those first. Soldering—applying heat to—any gold plated jewelry causes the thin layer of gold to liquefy and run. Most gold plated jewelry has to be re-plated after it’s had repair work done.”
“All right then, you convinced me! Let’s do it!”
I saw Cindy a week later and she was thrilled out of her mind at her ring.
“Oh my god!” she exclaimed. “This looks brand new!”
Indeed, it did.
Final Word on Getting the Gold on Your Jewelry
If you are reading here to learn how you can get your jewelry gold plated after it's looking faded or other problems have cropped up it's important to know that not all 'gold plated' jewelry is actually gold, nor plated. There is a new technology out there golding up watch bands and door knobs thanks to NASA, who first brought this technology to space flight. It's called PVD coating and is explained in detail in my blog Gold Electroplating VS PVD Coating.
Do you have a piece of jewelry that could use a lift? How about re-plating it?
Your Personal Jeweler,