Platinum, silver, and both 14k and 18k gold are not indestructible. Plated jewelry finishes are even more fragile because of the tiny layer of gold over the base metal.
In my thirty six years as a Santa Barbara Jeweler I’ve found that all jewelry is vulnerable to the hard knocks of the physical universe. Rings scratch, bracelets dent, and links rub against each other and wear out.
In this post I’ll explain how to care for and extend the life of your gold plated jewelry.
How Fragile and Thin is Gold Plating?
With karat jewelry, the gold metal with its hardening alloyed metals mixed in, is solid throughout the whole piece.
With plated pieces, the gold comprises only a very thin outer layer—so thin in fact, that it’s measured in microns.
One micron equals one millionth of a meter and I guarantee you won’t find that measurement on the ruler in your desk drawer.
Comparing Gold Plated Jewelry to Fine Gold Jewelry
Very, very thin layers of almost any substance are more susceptible to damage than thicker layers. Makes sense, right? A sheet of writing paper is easier to tear than a piece of cardboard.
It takes little effort to break a rubber band. Pulling apart a rubber automobile tire is another story. For this reason, it pays to be careful with your plated jewelry.
Chemicals in Our Lives Effect Your Gold Plated Jewelry
Perfumes, creams, lotions, and makeup all contain substances than can affect plated jewelry. Some soaps and detergents are stronger and harsher than others. Certain fruits and vegetables are acidic. Some are more alkaline.
The point is, any substance that isn’t PH neutral can potentially affect your plated jewelry. I’m no chemist, but I can offer you a few suggestions to extend the life of your gold plating.
Ten Ways to Extend the Life of Your Gold Plated Jewelry
1. Wash your hands before putting on or taking off plated jewelry.
2. Put on gold plated earrings after you’ve applied your perfume.
3. Put on your plated jewelry after you have applied lotion or put on makeup.
4. Take off your plated rings or bracelets before chopping tomatoes for dinner.
5. You also might want to remove your plated jewelry before changing junior’s diaper.
6. Avoid rubbing plated bracelets and necklaces against each other. Try to prevent plated rings from banging into counter tops and rubbing against car keys buried in pockets and purses.
7. Don’t swim in your plated jewelry. See below.
8. Don’t wear your plated jewelry when you’ll be sweating profusely. Covered later.
9. Clean your plated jewelry gently, and don’t rub it. Covered later.
10. Store your gold plated jewelry in a pouch or soft cloth separate from other jewelry
Seriously, Salt Water can Hurt Your Plating
I’ve been asked why salt water would effect gold plating. Plating is an electrical process, and salt water is a good conductor of electricity. Getting technical here, molecules of salt are made of sodium ions and chlorine ions. When you combine salt with water molecules, the water molecules pull the sodium and chlorine ions apart so they are floating freely. Those ions are electricity carriers through water. What electricity in the plating process deposits, water and salt in the ocean can to a lessor degree un-deposit. If you swim regularly in the ocean it will speed the breakdown of your plating.
Rose gold plating is particularly vulnerable to salt water. This is because salt is corrosive to copper and there is a lot of copper in rose gold plating.
Why Swimming Pools and Jacuzzi’s Can Damage Gold Plated Jewelry
The chlorine and other chemicals added to swimming pools and hot tubs can also produce adverse effects on plated jewelry. The chlorine in Jacuzzi’s and pools, will attack various metals. This will hurt your plating. It can cause a dull look or an uneven look to the gold.
Perspiration and Your Personal PH level
Last but not least, one’s own body chemistry can be harsh on plating. Just like fruit, some people are more acidic than others. Depending on one’s diet, it’s not uncommon for chemicals perspired through the pores of the skin to cause plated jewelry to tarnish and discolor.
Some people sweat more than others. If Jill works out for two hours every day and Joyce is a CPA riding a desk, Jill should remove her plated rings before going to the gym and Joyce, can stylishly rock her gold plated bracelets and necklaces while crunching numbers.
Cleaning and Caring For Your Plated Jewelry
Plated jewelry should be cleaned periodically. Even if you’re sure your ring hasn’t been exposed to any of the aforementioned substances, it’s been in contact with your skin—which does perspire.
Wash plated jewelry with warm water. Use a mild soap only if necessary. Getting junk out of nooks and crannies with an old, soft toothbrush is Okay. If you need to use toothpaste use a gentle one with no whitening agents or abrasives in it.
Be gentle and don’t rub too hard. I’ve seen examples of gold plated jewelry where vigorous rubbing with a polishing cloth took off some of the gold plating, revealing the darker less appealing metal underneath.
In some cases WD-40 is a good cleaner for gold plated jewelry. It’s tougher on dirt and sticky substances than gentler dish soap, yet in the short time it is in contact with your plated jewelry, won’t hurt it.
Other jewelry can damage or scratch your plated jewelry. Store your plated pieces separately to extend their life.
How Much Does it Cost to Gold Plate Your Jewelry?
Gold plating costs for rings range from $35.00 to $75.00. Part of the cost is the prepping of the surface of your ring. If your plating jeweler does not properly and time consumingly prepare the surface of your ring the plating may not adhere evenly. And truth be told sometimes even with great prep work plating is imperfect.
Gold plating chains can be more fraught with imperfection due to the many hard to clean and prep surfaces. Chain plating often starts at $75.00. Earrings can be plated with gemstones left in. The gold will not adhere to your gems as they are not metal. Earring gold plating will start at $35.00 and go up from there.
Not All Jewelry Can be Plated
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.
Re-plating, Like Reincarnation for Your Jewelry!
Don’t despair if the thin layer of gold on your ring eventually wears off in spots. It can be fixed! Not all jewelers handle jewelry plating, call around or search the internet for a gold plating jeweler.
If you live in the back of beyond you can mail your jewelry to be re-plated. I re-plate pieces every week.
Give your dowdy gold jewelry new life. The fountain of youth is in the hands of your gold-plating jeweler!
Gold Plating Jeweler