Platinum, silver, and both 14k and 18k gold are not indestructible. Plated jewelry finishes are even more fragile.
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 Compared to Karat Gold?
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.
Gold Plated Jewelry, is 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.
If you’ve ever looked at the scratches on wedding rings, you’ll have seen depths greater than 2 microns.
Gold plating is the skin deep of beauty. Average gold plating depth is .5 to 1.0 microns thick.
Heavy gold plating for example ‘gold vermeil’ is 2.5 to 5 microns deep. Vermeil is heavy gold plating over silver.
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
How Water can Hurt Your Gold Plated Jewelry
The chlorine and other chemicals added to swimming pools and hot tubs can produce adverse effects on plated jewelry. Ocean salt water can effect plating, as well. The ocean thing is a long shot, but if you swim regularly in the ocean it will speed the breakdown of your plating.
Remove your plated jewelry before swimming in chlorine laden water, be it the neighbor’s backyard swimming pool or a patio Jacuzzi. You’re probably fine swimming in the local reservoir, or skinny dipping in a water hole.
Perspiration and Your Personal PH level Affects Your Plated Jewelry
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. Jill works out for two hours every day. Joyce is a CPA riding a desk. Jill would be wise to remove her plated rings before going to the gym. Joyce, on the other hand, is stylishly safe wearing her plated bracelets and necklaces while crunching numbers.
Cleaning 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.
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.
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 gold 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-gold-plated. I re-plate pieces every week.
Give your dowdy gold plated jewelry new life. The fountain of youth is in the hands of your gold-plating jeweler!
Gold Plating Jeweler
Chloe image: <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>