Oct 27

Gold Plating for Jewelry, With Pictures From the Workshop

By Calla Gold

Three tanks for rinsing in the gold plating process

Rinsing Tanks for the Multi-step Process of Gold Plating Jewelry

How Gold Plating is Done Step by Step

I’ve been asked what kind of equipment is used in the gold plating of jewelry. Having gold plated jewelry for years for my clients, with a little help from my plater friends, I decided to go “back stage” and take you with me!

In this post I’ll give you a peek behind the scenes at the equipment that is used in gold electroplating.

In order to help you understand plating better, I’ll also, with the help of K.V., give you some technical info about it. Let’s take a walk inside the workshop together. See my earlier post on “Gold Plating Jewelry Explained – How Plating Renews Your Old Jewelry.”

Machine tracking temperature of gold plating tanks

This Machine is a Plating Rectifier. It Controls the Current, Which is Shown in Volts and Amps and Adjusts for Both

The Basic Principles of Plating

Plating describes surface-covering where a metal is deposited on a conductive surface, like gold over silver. Plating has been done for hundreds of years, but with time it has become an integral part of our society.

Plating is used to decorate objects, for corrosion inhibition, to improve solderability, to harden, to improve wearability, to reduce friction, to improve paint adhesion, to alter conductivity, for radiation shielding, and for other purposes. Jewelry typically uses plating to give a silver or gold finish.

Poly pro balls in a gold plating tank

These Polypro Balls Keep the Heat in and Particles Out in a Gold Plating Tank

Doing it Right For Safety and Great Results

There are four basic best practices for the best plating results.

1) The first one is temperature control. Plating results are the best when the temperature is kept at a constant high temperature.

2) Another factor necessary to successful plating is voltage control. Plating needs to occur at a certain electrical level, and the voltage must be tightly controlled.

3) Cleanliness of the liquid is also a factor in the success of gold and other metal plating processes. Ideally, plating baths are constantly filtered to remove dirt and contaminants. This means that a plating bath can be used for years. Then the water can be allowed to partially evaporate and the remaining can be sent to a refinery to be filtered clean to keep it environmentally ethical.

4) Great care is taken with excellent ventilation and different rooms for different plating processes. This is for the health of the platers.

Cathode bar used in electroplating of jewelry


Cathode Bar. Items hanging from this Bar Get Negatively Charged Which Allows Plating Upon Immersion in  the Tank

The Positives and Negatives of the Plating Process (It’s a Pun)

The items to be plated are hung from a cathode bar. It is a pole with a negative electrical charge going through it. The pieces of jewelry connected to the cathode bar are also negatively charged.

When the jewelry items are submerged in the tank the electricity is turned on and the negatively charged jewelry attracts the positively charged ions present in the liquid.

The positively charged metal ions are submersed in the liquid bath. When the cathode bar is lowered into the bath the metal jewelry gets plated.

Different plating tanks are used to plate different karat amounts and different metal colors. The same tanks are used to plate the same metals over again. That’s why there are so many tanks.

polishing jewelry with a polishing wheel

Polishing Done by Hand

First Step to Plating – Preparing the Surface to be Plated

The metal to be plated must be very clean, with no oils or dirt.  This is necessary for two reasons:

A) dust and dirt interfere with the plated metals adhering to your piece, and

B) to keep the plating tanks free of contaminants.

Cleaning Jewelry with Steam

Steam Cleaning, an Important Step in Prepping Your Jewelry for Plating

Second Step to Plating – The Final Cleaning Step

We always want to be totally sure that your piece of jewelry has the best chance for an excellent plating result.

Steam cleaning blasts off any oils that managed to hang on during the polishing phase.

More intricate jewelry takes longer to prepare for successful plating, so expect to pay more if your jewelry has many nooks and crannies.

Third Step to Plating – Rinsing

Now that we’ve done all this cleaning, we need to make sure there is no cleaning chemicals left on your gold.

Gold Electroplating Tank for 24kt gold

This Tiny Tank is Only Used for 24kt Gold Plating

Controls for Temperature and Electrical Charge

Big Old Electrical Cords Snaking to Different Tanks with Voltage Controls

Fourth Step to Plating – Immersion in the Plating Tank

With the time, temperature and voltage carefully controlled your chain dives down into the liquid, and is deliciously covered in bright happy ions of gold.

When the time is done, out it comes, brighter, gleamier and prettier. Otherwise, why do it?

Rose Gold Chains Hanging to Dry After Their Final Rinse

Rose Gold Chains Hanging to Dry After Their Final Rinse

Fifth Step to Plating –  Rinsing

Once rinsed they are dried and ready to go.

Additional Steps to Plating – Using Other Metals

Sometimes plating takes more than one plating immersion. Sometimes other metals are plated first to create a barrier between the original metal and the final metal to make a longer lasting bond.

Sometimes with costume jewelry the base metal would contaminate the tanks with the gold in them. So a different metal is plated prior to the gold plating.

End of Tour

I hope you enjoyed your armchair field trip to the gold plating palace!

My thanks to K. V. for answering my barrage of questions. “Do people really want to know this stuff?” he asked me. Let me know in your comments if indeed people want to know. I’ll tell him.

Gold Plating Jeweler,
Calla Gold

 

 

 

28 thoughts on “Gold Plating for Jewelry, With Pictures From the Workshop

  1. Calla, thank you so much for this tour! To answer K.V.’s question: “Yes, I do want to know.” This is all fascinating, and I had no idea plating involves electrical currents or that it is used for so many reasons (I just thought it was all decorative).

    • Dear Emylou,
      Thanks for answering my big question, do you want to know. I’m delighted that you enjoyed your virtual tour.
      Your Personal Jeweler,
      Calla

  2. Yes, K.V. People are interested in this kind of information. I love going behind the scenes in different industries and walks of life. For me, the back story is usually the more interesting one.

    • Hi Amy Marie,
      Thank you so much for letting me know that like me you like to peek behind the curtain! I find the machinery quite interesting myself. Thanks for letting me and K.V. know!
      Behind the scenes jeweler,
      Calla Gold

  3. Calla Gold,
    I actually read metal design in the university, and been wanting to start up a business in gold plating. Is there any way you can help.

    • Hello Frank,
      Thank you for writing. Check out a site called Rio Grande. They sell various pieces of machinery and perhaps they have plating equipment.
      I wish you the best of luck.
      Your Personal Jeweler,
      Calla

  4. Hi
    I want to do 24 kt gold plating on 18 kt gold jewellery can u help me ??

  5. Very good article. I’ve learned a great deal from reading this article. Thank you. Keep up the good work.

  6. I have a small heart keepsake, 1-1/2″-2″ that has my sisters ashes in it.it was gold plated but now it’s just old and worn.

    Would gold plating work for this type of thing?

    • Hello Lindi,
      You have asked an excellent question.
      I’m going to assume that your sister’s ashes are sealed in and that the heart is water-tight. If this is so then you could have your heart gold-plated. If however it is not water-tight, then the heart would not be able to be gold-plated. If it is not water-tight, your sister’s ashes would need to be removed, the heart cleaned inside and out and then gold-plated and the ashes at that point re-inserted.
      I have made memorial jewelry in 14kt gold. I always close the heart, locket or whatever I have created, with the ashes inside and solder it completely shut. This is done so the wearer can go in the shower, the ocean or other watery places wearing their piece of memorial jewelry with no worries.
      Your Personal Jeweler,
      Calla

  7. I actually read metal design in the university, and been wanting to start up a business in gold plating. Is there any way you can help.

  8. Dear calla gold,
    This article is very informative.Also pl explain me the describtion of liquid used for gold plating

    • Hello Muthu,
      The solution that holds the gold particles is closely guarded formula. You can however buy the solution from suppliers who cater to gold plating professionals.
      Your Personal Jeweler,
      Calla

  9. Is there another method of gold plating instead of dipping the item ? Like spraying or something ? In case you wanted to plate the outside and not the inside. I’m wondering how they do a gun ” pistol”.

    • Hello Greg,
      When I client wants gold plating in only certain places on a ring we mask off the area not to be plated with a special wax. I am not familiar with a “pistol” approach to gold plating. I use the immersion method.
      Your Personal Jeweler,
      Calla

  10. Do you do gold plating or just sell kits. If you do is there a minimum price.

  11. Hi, Calla do you tell that how gold plating is reversed? as i need to peel of colour of gold plating jewels..

    • Dear Ranga,
      Gold plating and most other types of plating can be removed or “stripped”. It sometimes involves reversing the current or using a special stripping solution for the particular type of plating being removed. Often after stripping the part will have a dirty residue that would need to be cleaned. Sometimes the part would need to be refinished or polished again to return it to it’s desired state.
      Your Personal Jeweler,
      Calla

  12. Thanks for the great information on gold plating. I have a costume ring that has three peridot stones with golden bars between each stone. The top looks great but the sides and bottom of the ring has all the gold worn off. It was not an expensive ring but I like it. Could you please let me know some idea of the cost, if I have the ring replated? Thank you, Joy Carles.

  13. Thanks Calla, This was very interesting and informative. We were trying to find out how long the plating would last. I guess that depends on the thickness of the plating and the type of wear and tear on the jewelry I guess you have less wear and tear on earrings than say on a ring. Is there a difference if you plate in 10k 14k or 18k gold? Thank you for this presentation and hope your still out there. I wait for your reply.

    • Hi Richard,
      Plating is fascinating. You can only electro-plate so deeply. Meaning there is a limit to the depth you can plate and have it look good and smooth. Because the color of the gold you plate isn’t the same as the real gold I like to plate 14kt on 18kt pieces because I find the 18kt yellow plating can look too orange. But the 14kt looks better because it is more yellow.
      I think each jeweler tests their brand’s different karats of plating product to determine what they like best. That preference for 14kt yellow gold plating over 18kt is just my personal choice.
      You are absolutely right that earrings when plated stay plated vs rings which can have plating wear off much quicker.
      I’m still out here.
      By the way because there is confusion between watch band ‘gold plated’ and gold plating that is electro-plating which is what I do, I’ve added to the info with this new post:
      https://www.callagold.com/education/gold-electroplating-vs-pvd-coating/
      Your Personal Jeweler,
      Calla

  14. I had some gold plating done at two different places I’ve lived. In one town the gold plating lasted about three years till I started to notice fading. In my new town I had it re-plated, it was less expensive, but is getting faded and it’s only been a year.
    Shall I ask them to re-dipped it after already dipping it? To get a thicker layer?
    How do they get it to have a heavier gold plating?

    • Hello Jode,
      One of the things that can make a difference is if you move from a dry climate to a humid one. In a humid environment there is more perspiration which can break down the plating. Wearing your item of jewelry can also be a factor in plating wearing. The more it is worn the quicker the plating breaks down.
      The way to achieve a heavy gold plating is to leave the items in the plating bath longer. For example: assuming the rectifier current, bath temperature and area of items being plated is the same, if you leave them in the bath for 10 minutes you will plate twice the thickness compared to leaving them in the bath for 5 minutes and so on. Taking the pieces out and putting them back in kind of achieves the same effect but there is no need to take them out. Unless you are talking about plating one item at a time and the item gets dull or smutty after a couple minutes then you have to take it out and clean and polish it again and then plate again. That is what happens a lot when novice platers try to plate. The main problem there is probably the current is too high.
      To get a heavier (actually, thicker) layer of plating, leave it in the bath as long as you can afford to. Remember, the longer it’s in the bath the more material you are plating out and gold, rhodium, silver, etc costs money!
      There I go being all technical. Hopefully that answers your question. Understanding how it works may help you in communicating with them. Good luck with your piece and may the gold plating cling on longer.
      Your Personal Jeweler,
      Calla

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