All that glitters: Demystifying yellow jewellery metals

All that glitters: Demystifying yellow jewellery metals

How is gold-filled different than gold-plated? Do you have any real gold? This is brass? These are some of the questions I get from people looking at my jewellery on market days. Any time you see silver in my jewellery, it’s sterling silver. But there’s a bit of variety in the gold-toned pieces. Here are the reasons why, as well as a break-down of other types of gold-hued metals and finishes. 


Most often, gold-plated jewellery is electroplated brass or copper. Chemically cleaned jewellery is placed in an electrolyte solution full of dissolved gold ions.
Electricity passing through the solution causes the gold ions to stick to the jewellery. The longer the jewellery is left in the solution, the more gold sticks to it. Cheap gold-plated jewellery is often plated until it’s just 0.5 microns thick - a micron is 0.001 mm. Higher quality gold-plated jewellery will be closer to 1 or 2 microns. But no matter the thickness, gold-plating is a little like paint - it can chip-off, wear off, or be buffed off over time. 

Gold vermeil: 

Gold vermeil is precious metal all the way through.
This material starts with a sterling silver base, and is covered with thick, quality plating - usually 2.5 microns or more. 


Gold-filled jewellery often starts off as brass, but it’s covered with a much thicker layer of gold. Heat and pressure bond the gold to the metal core.
This layer of gold is much thicker than plating, and is typically 5-10% of the total weight of the item. It does not tarnish easily, and when cared for, can last a lifetime. It’s a much more affordable option than solid gold. 

Jeweller's brass:

Jeweller's brass is a much higher grade of brass - the type I used is 85% copper, 15% zinc, and nothing else. This makes it a surprisingly allergy-friendly option, as the human body is partially made of copper and zinc.
This type of brass is also known as red brass, and when polished, it’s a pretty good match to 14k gold.


Similar to brass, bronze is an alloy of copper, but mixed with around 12% tin. It’s also a popular alternate materials for jewellery, and has a slightly warmer, brownish hue than bronze.

Solid gold:

Surprisingly, the only real “solid” gold is 24k. Unfortunately, 24k gold is too soft to hold it’s shape for everyday wear. That’s where karats come in - the hight the karat number, the higher the percentage of gold.
18k gold is 75% gold mixed with another metal, often copper or silver. 14k gold is 58.3% gold and 41.7% alloy. And 10k gold is 41.7% and 58.3% alloy. 14k is the most common type used for everyday jewellery like rings. It’s tough enough to stand up to daily wear-and-tear, but due to the inclusion of other metals, it’s also more likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Why I’m obsessed with brass: 

While working with gold is the dream, it’s too expensive for me to keep a lot on hand - and it’s too expensive for most of my current customers.
Jeweller’s brass is a happy medium - it’s inexpensive, and still has those lovely warm gold vibes. As a bonus - if stored and properly maintained, brass can last for thousands of years! My goal is never to make cheap, trendy jewellery that lasts a season and then gets tossed or forgotten. It can be irritating to keep re-polishing brass, but the reality is that you can! Unlike plating, it will never wear off of itself, and it’s a great, affordable option. 
Adventures and mis-adventures in gold-filled jewellery:

While I love making rings, earrings, and pendants with brass, keeping a brass chain polished is hard work.
With all the nooks and crannies in chain links, it’s almost impossible! So while I do make a lot of brass pendants, I stick to gold-filled materials for the chains and connections. 

A couple of years ago, I bought a bunch of gold-filled wire and sat down to make a huge batch of jewellery.
What I didn’t realize is how light a hand you must have when soldering it. I over-heated the pieces, which caused the copper in the base metal layer to rise to the surface. There, it mixed with the gold and made some pretty odd-looking pieces. That scared me off of gold-fill for awhile, but as I’ve had more practice and improved my soldering skills, I’m ready to try again! I did a small test-batch of stud earrings, and I’m ready to start working on some bigger pieces. The tricky part about gold-filled material is that the raw brass core shows wherever you cut it. At first this isn’t a problem, but as time passes and the brass material oxidizes, it turns a darker brown. Polishing it is a bad idea as it wears away the gold layer. The best option is to connect cut-end to cut-end, so that brass hides away. This challenges me to design pieces that are all rounded edges, with lots of circles and elongated ovals. Stay tuned for a few of these pieces in later summer.
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