How To Gold Plate Jewelry

Whether as a hobbyist or a professional, you may want to learn how to gold plate jewelry. At home or at a business, the same steps will apply. Knowing the basics can help you create gold plated jewelry or can help you find the best quality when purchasing gold plated jewelry. But, first, you will need to have a few definitions at hand. 

  • Gold filled. The jewelry is covered with a layer of (at least) 12-carat gold.
  • Gold plated. The jewelry it is covered with a very thin layer of gold, usually applied by electroplating.
  • Rolled Gold. The jewelry is covered with a very thin layer of gold, using heat and pressure.
  • Gold Tone. Jewelry covered with a gold color. Not really gold.

Some sellers play fast and loose with these definition, so be sure to ask for specifics, like carat weight, before purchasing.

Now that you know what gold plating is and isn't, here's how it's done. (Keep in mind that some refer to "rolled gold" as being gold plated, but this article will only cover electroplating as it's the more common type.)

  1. Choose a base. Most gold plated jewelry starts with a silver base. However, some other metals, such as copper, can be gold-plated. Make sure you know what your base is whether creating your own piece or purchasing.
  2. Choose your layers. How much a piece loses color over time depends on what you layer your piece with. If you put gold directly on a silver base, the two metals will diffuse into one another and your piece will lose its luster. Tarnishing can occur when the silver surfaces. Putting copper between the layers can help as copper is not as reactive to gold. Adding non-reactive nickel between the layers does an even better job of holding a piece's color. However, some people have a reaction to nickel, so it's not a perfect solution.
  3. Put it together. If you are purchasing a finished piece, the first two steps are probably sufficient in getting you a good deal. But if you are plating an existing piece, you will have to decide whether you will send it to a professional for plating or do the job yourself. Either way, the science is the same. According to Finishing.com, the gold (or other metal) is deposited onto the jewelry by negatively charging it and "putting it into a solution which contains a metal salt. The metal salt contains positively charged metal ions which are attracted to the negatively charged object and are 'reduced' to metallic form upon it."  This sounds complex, but basically it requires an electrode on one end and your jewelry on the other, suspended in a vat of chemicals (often cyanide based).  Between the two ends (but above the chemicals), you'll have a battery.  For obvious (aka toxic) reasons, trying this on your own will require a well-made setup and caution. (Goldplating.com is a good place to get an idea of what you'll need to buy.)

Whether you are buying a necklace or just want to brighten up Great-Aunt Gertie's silver brooch, having a basic idea of the process of gold plating can be helpful. Keep in mind that what has been put into your jewelry, from start to finish, will determine how much it's enjoyed for years to come. Who knows, you may have an heirloom in the making!