Gold plating is the electrochemical process of putting a thin layer of gold over a base metal. The gold plating process works by adhering positively charged gold ions to a negatively charged piece of metal. Plating jewelry with gold gives it the appearance of real gold; however, this doesn’t qualify the jewelry as gold.
Gold Plating Process
Gold-plated jewelry is affordable and readily available in most jewelry stores. However, you can perform the process at home if you have all the necessary tools and skills.
Step 1 – Getting the Tools
To plate your jewelry with gold, you need a plating kit that consists of the following:
- Liquid gold solution
- Plating wand
- Source of electricity
- Surface activator solution
- Electro-cleaner solution
Most gold plating kits have all the tools you need to plate your jewelry. One of the most important choices is the type of gold-plating solution you want, as it is available in different levels of purity, e.g., 14-karat, 20-karat, and 24-karat.
Note: Different plating kits might have slight variations in procedure. This article follows the plating procedure of the Jewel Master Gold Plating System.
Step 2 – Setting up the Plating Kit
Turn on the plating kit and mix the three solutions in the appropriate bowls. Place the beakers on the plating machine in the following order– electro-cleaning solution on the left, activator in the middle, and the gold solution on the right.
Fill two of the remaining two beakers with clean water and the remaining one with distilled water. You will use the beakers of water to rinse the jewelry as you proceed with the plating process. For easy access, put the beaker of distilled water in front of the liquid gold solution and the other two in front of the other solutions.
Set the voltage of the kit to around 2.7 volts and the temperature to 100 degrees. Finally, wear a latex glove before you proceed with the plating.
Step 3 – Cleaning the Jewelry
First, clean your jewelry with soap, warm water, and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Soap and water will not sufficiently clean your piece, so you need to electro-clean it. The steps to electro-clean your piece are as follows:
- If you want to electro-clean a single jewelry piece, clip it with the common lead cable. To clean multiple pieces, carefully place them on the jewelry rack.
- Place the jewelry into the electro-cleaning solution. If you’re using the hook, ensure it hangs on the gold-colored hanger above the container. The machine will send electrical currents into the jewelry piece(s), causing the cleaning solution to bring up little bubbles.
- After 20-30 seconds, take the jewelry out and rinse it in clean water.
Step 4 – Activate and Plate the Jewelry
The activator solution makes the jewelry surface chemically active so that the plating solution will adhere to it well. Remove the jewelry from the activator after 30-40 seconds and rinse it in ordinary water.
Immerse the jewelry in distilled water to ensure that the jewelry is free of the rinse water and all previous solutions. After rinsing, place the jewelry into the gold plating solution. After 90 seconds, flip the jewelry to face the other side and leave for another 90 seconds.
The thickness of your plating will depend on how long you leave the jewelry in the solution. The longer it’s soaked in the solution, the thicker the plating will be.
On average, the jewelry will receive 0.1 microns (0.0001mm) thickness of plating for every minute you immerse it. Therefore, the jewelry you use for this illustration will have a plating thickness of about 0.3 microns, which is jewelry-grade thickness.
Step 5 – Finishing
Take the jewelry out of the gold plating solution once your set time is complete, and rinse it in the distilled water immediately. Bring it out of the distilled water and check for any defects in the plating. If the plating is okay, give it a final rinse and clean it with a dry microfiber cloth.
Reasons for Gold Plating
Below are some reasons why jewelers gold plate jewelry.
1. To Imitate the Appearance of Gold
Gold jewelry has a beautiful yellowish glow that people have loved for centuries. Gold’s beauty, rarity, and popularity make it one of the most expensive metals, meaning that few people can afford it.
Because gold is so expensive, people can choose the low-budget option of gold-plated jewelry. Some jewelers even produce gold-plated variations of jewelry that they’ve made out of real gold. Also, some people who purchase gold-plated jewelry act like their jewelry consists of real gold.
2. There’s Profit in Selling Gold Plated Jewelry
Gold jewelry is expensive and difficult to make; therefore, only skilled jewelers with sufficient capital can venture into the business. On the other hand, gold-plated jewelry is cheaper to produce, with more significant profit margins.
Jewelers who have been prized out of selling real gold jewelry can mass-produce gold-plated jewelry in India or China. These gold-plated jewelry might cost a few dollars to produce, but the jewelers can sell them for up to twenty times the cost of production.
3. For Uniformity
Jewelers do not gold plate only metals like copper and bronze; they also apply the process to real gold items. The reason jewelers plate real gold is primarily because of uniformity.
Manufacturers might get the various parts of a jewelry piece from different jewelers. Because of the differences in the manufacturing processes, the appearance of each piece might be different. The solution to this problem is for manufacturers to gold plate all the pieces to make them look uniform.
4. To Protect the Metal Beneath
Gold scratches easily, so some people use gold plating to protect their gold jewelry. This way, only the plating will be affected when the piece is subject to scratches and other forms of abuse. The good part is that when the plating becomes significantly damaged, you can always re-plate to have that clean look again.
How Long Does Gold Plating Last?
Gold-plated jewelry will not last forever; like all plating forms, it will wear out over time. There is no broad answer to how long gold plating lasts on jewelry, and a few factors determine the longevity of your plating.
Firstly, the thickness of the plating goes a long way to determining how long it will last. Jewelry that is gold flashed (about 0.1 microns) will probably last only a couple of weeks before it begins to fade.
The plating process also matters; you must follow the plating steps properly to achieve strong adherence. Finally, how you care for the jewelry will determine how long the plating will last. Gold-plated jewelry exposed to scratches, moisture, chlorine, and other harmful chemicals will not last.
In summary, gold plating done right should last between 1-2 years before you need to re-plate.
Disadvantages of Gold Plated Jewelry
Gold-plated jewelry is great; however, there are a few drawbacks to this type of jewelry.
Con #1 – Nickel Allergies
Some gold plating procedures involve using another metal as a “bridge” between the base metal and the plating. The correct name for this “bridge” is the strike or flash layer, and it usually consists of a thin layer of high-quality nickel plating.
The flash layer helps to improve bonding between the plating and the base metal. It also serves as a barrier between base metals (like copper) that can atomically move outside the plating and create tarnish spots. Furthermore, it prevents costume jewelry metal from contaminating the plating tank.
The thing about nickel is that some people are highly allergic to it. If someone with a nickel allergy puts on gold-plated jewelry with nickel in it, it can lead to nasty rashes and blisters.
Con #2 – Gold Plated Jewelry Can Cause Skin to Turn Green
Oxidation is a chemical reaction that causes some metals to turn green when exposed to moist air. You don’t have to bother about oxidation if you use real gold jewelry since gold is a noble metal and isn’t affected by it. However, most of the base metals that receive gold plating aren’t.
The plating will wear off with time if you get a gold-plated copper ring. As the plating fades away, sweat and other moisture will get to the base metal, causing it to turn green. The green surface (copper oxide) can get stuck to your skin as you keep wearing the piece.
The solution to this is to clean the tarnished jewelry or to re-plate the jewelry again. Some people dislike the hassle and prefer to buy real gold jewelry.
Con #3 – No Uniformity on Appearance of Old Jewelry
Like the paint on your car, gold-plated jewelry doesn’t fade uniformly; some parts begin to wear off before others. The places usually affected first are the parts of the jewelry that come in contact with the skin often. The look is usually awkward as the patches of worn-out gold plating begin to expose the base metal.
You can combat the lack of uniformity by re-plating your jewelry.
Read More: Gold Filled vs Gold Plated