Gold plated jewelry is made by bonding a layer of gold to the surface of a base metal through a process called electroplating. This thin layer of gold gives jewelry an attractive, shiny appearance similar to solid gold but at a much lower cost.
A common question surrounding gold plated jewelry is how long it lasts. With proper care and maintenance, gold plated jewelry can last 1-3 years on average, but may continue looking nice for up to 5-10 years if high quality plating is used. Lifespan is dependent on factors like:
- Thickness of the gold plating
- Frequency the jewelry is worn
- Exposure to substances and activities that cause wear
- Quality of the plating solution
- Care and cleaning methods
By understanding what impacts the longevity of gold plated pieces, you can help your jewelry last longer with some simple care and wearing habits.
This article will cover in depth:
- What is gold plated jewelry?
- How thick is the gold plating?
- Expected lifespan and influencing factors
- Care tips
- When to re-plate
- Alternatives to prolong wear
What is Gold Plated Jewelry?
Gold plated jewelry involves applying a thin layer of gold onto the surface of jewelry made of an alternative metal. This is done through a process called electroplating which uses an electric current to bond gold and another metal together.
Some key facts about gold plated jewelry:
- Base Metals Used: Brass, copper, steel, or silver are commonly electroplated with gold
- Gold Layer Thickness: Typically measures between 0.175 to 2 microns
- Benefits Over Solid Gold: More affordable cost and attractive appearance
- Differences vs Vermeil or Gold Filled: Vermeil involves thicker gold plating over sterling silver. Gold filled has a much thicker layer of gold bonded to brass or another base metal.
Now that we’ve covered a brief overview of the gold plating process and how it differs from similar gold jewelry types, let’s look closely at plating thickness and factors that influence longevity.
How Thick is the Gold Plating?
The thickness of the gold plating plays a major role in determining how long gold plated jewelry will last. Generally, the more microns or heavier the plating, the longer the lifespan of your jewelry.
Gold Plating Thickness Measurements
Gold plating thickness is measured in microns (μm), which are equal to one millionth of a meter. Some standard plating thicknesses are:
- Light Gold Plating: 0.175 microns
- Medium Gold Plating: 0.4-1.0 microns
- Heavy Gold Plating: 2.0-5.0+ microns
- Genuine Tableware: 0.8 to 1.2 microns
- Costume Jewelry: 0.1 to 0.4 microns
- Fine Jewelry: Over 1.2+ microns
As you can see, fine gold plated jewelry tends to use the heaviest, most durable plating. Costume or fashion jewelry has thinner plating, explaining why these inexpensive pieces tend to wear out faster.
How Long Should Gold Plated Jewelry Last?
The typical expected lifespan of gold plated jewelry is 1 to 3 years. However, some pieces with high quality plating applied at a thicker depth can continue looking nice for 5-10 years or longer.
What contributes most to shortening or extending the longevity of gold plated pieces? Let's take a look at the key factors:
Gold Plating Thickness and Durability
The thickness of gold applied greatly impacts wearability over time:
- 0.175 Microns: Less than 1 year lifespan
- 0.5-1 Microns: 1-3 years average lifespan
- 2 Microns+: Over 5-10+ years expected lifespan
You can ask jewelry retailers what micron thickness they use to gauge durability.
Frequency of Wear and Use
How often you wear and handle the gold plated piece also plays a role. The more you actively wear, handle, or manipulate a ring, bracelet, or necklace, the quicker the plating may wear away.
Items worn close to the skin also tend to wear faster from moisture or chemical reactions like perfumes interacting with the metals. Tight fitting jewelry tends to erode quicker around friction points as well.
Quality of Plating Solution
Not all plating solutions lead to the same quality and durability of gold layer deposited. Lower grade plating baths produce thinner, inferior gold layers that wear fastest. High grade solutions provide thicker, uniform, and durable plating. Known jewelry brands tend to invest in best quality electroplating methods.
Care and Maintenance
How you handle, store, and care for gold plated jewelry impacts longevity as well. We'll cover specific care tips next.
Now that we've covered the major factors that determine lifespan, let's talk about best practices in caring for your gold plated pieces...
How to Care for Gold Plated Jewelry
Caring properly for your gold plated jewelry can help significantly extend its lifespan beyond averages. Here are some best practices:
Gently clean in mild soap and water only when visibly dirty. Use a soft cloth or jewelry brush, avoiding rough paper towels. Over cleaning strips plating over time.
Store pieces individually in soft fabric bags or tissue to avoid scratches. Don't stack or allow pieces to bang against each other.
Keep jewelry stored in a dry, dark place like a fabric bag or enclosed case. General air and humidity can slowly corrode metals over time when left exposed.
Handling with Care
Gold plating can slowly scratch off or erode from daily wear and tear over time. But you can prolong your jewelry's lifespan by:
- Removing gold plated jewelry before showering, exercising, cleaning or other activities where they can become damaged by moisture or chemicals
- Avoiding resting hands or arms on hard surfaces that can cause premature wear of rings or bracelets
- Preventing thin chains from tangling or knotting which strains links
- Storing jewelry pieces with care not allowing metal parts to touch to prevent friction scraping
Being mindful of how gold plated pieces are worn prevents unnecessary wear and damage, keeping them looking beautiful longer.
When to Re-Plate Gold Jewelry
Over time with accumulated wear, you'll eventually notice the gold tone fading or chipping in areas. Once you see signs of base metal peeking through, it's time to consider re-plating. Here are the signs:
Signs Re-Plating is Needed
- Fading color
- Brass undertones visible
- Scratches exposing base metal
- Visible wear on prong tips or edges in particular
How Re-Plating Works
You can have real gold plated jewelry re-plated once significant wear occurs by going to a jewelry re-plating company. Re-plating essentially involves stripping the old plating off and then electroplating the gold tone color fresh anew.
Costs range widely based on the karat amount of gold used and size/detail level of your pieces. Expect to invest roughly $50 to $500+ per jewelry item re-plated. Finer gold and intricate pieces cost more.
If your gold plated item has sentimental value, re-plating can refresh its appearance for extended wear. For costume pieces not worth the cost, it may make sense instead replacing when overly worn.
Alternatives to Gold Plated Pieces for Longevity
If wanting jewelry that holds up better longer term, consider alternatives like:
Vermeil involves a sterling silver base coated in microns of karat gold. The thickness standards are higher (at least 2.5 microns) increasing durability for everyday wear. Lifespan is typically 5-10+ years.
Gold filled jewelry has a thick layer containing 5-10% or more actual gold bonded with heat + pressure to a brass core. Much more gold content means increased resistance to wear over decades.
Gold overlay also has more substantial gold applied through mechanical bonding vs just surface plating. This also lends more longevity over traditional light electroplating.
While these all come at a higher price point, they can be cost effective long term given their extensive lifespan with less maintenance needed.
In summary, most good quality gold plated jewelry when properly cared for can continue looking nice for 1-3 years on average. Good plating thickness and quality along with mindful wear and handling practices can help pieces last in some cases up to a decade.
Re-plating remains an option if you eventually notice brassy undertones peeking through your beloved gold plated pieces. And alternatives like vermeil, gold filled, or gold overlay make solid choices if wanting jewelry investments that will shine beautifully with minimal upkeep beyond the decade mark.