If you look at fashion jewelry at mall stores and always ask yourself whether gold plated or vermeil pieces are worth their money, then you are exactly right here. In this article, we will weigh the pros and cons of vermeil jewelry and explain why in most cases it’s better to consider solid gold rings.
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What is Vermeil?
Silver-gilt or Vermeil (correctly pronounced “vehr-may” because the word is French) is pure or sterling silver plated with a layer of gold. According to Federal Trade Commission standards, vermeil jewelry in the U.S.A. must:
- contain sterling silver as a base material. This alloy consisting of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other materials is a standard used in quality jewelry;
- be plated in gold of at least 10 karats; so, these gold layers have to contain not less than 41.7% of gold;
- and lastly, gold layers have to be at least 2.5 microns thick. It can be more, surely. The thicker the layer, the more wearable a vermeil piece is. Plating that is 2.5 microns thick will last longer than for example 1.0 micron.
Keep in mind that in other countries requirements to vermeil jewelry may be different, meanwhile lower than in the U.S.A. By asking your jeweler or at the store, how thick in microns are gold layers of a vermeil piece, you will understand if it’s American standard vermeil or not.
Vermeil Vs. Gold Plated Vs. Gold Filled
At jewelry stores, you can easily find gold plated or gold-filled jewelry, but it does not mean it’s vermeil.
Gold plated jewelry means that another metal, not silver, was plated with gold. It can be copper, brass, or any other metal. Layers of gold can have any thickness or karat weight. So, here there are no strict standards and there are many gold-plated pieces on the market of low quality and durability.
Gold-filled jewelry (or gold fill) means that this piece has a very thick layer of gold over the base metal (which again can be not only silver). This solid layer of gold typically constitutes at least 5% of gold according to USA industry standards. So, it’s quite a lot of gold in a gold-filled piece in comparison to vermeil and especially gold-plated pieces. It will probably be more expensive than vermeil.
Above from the left to the right: compare copper chain to a brass or bronze chain, and down from the left: a gold plated necklace to a yellow gold necklace
Why is vermeil jewelry quite popular?
The honest answer is that vermeil is more affordable than solid gold and more valuable than low-quality gold plate pieces. Historically, vermeil jewelry was purchased when it was not possible to buy gold. New vermeil items were at first indistinguishable from real gold, but actually much cheaper. Sometimes it led to big disappointments. For example, the Crown of Queen Edith from the Crown Jewels of England was always considered to be of massy gold and surely with a very high value. When the English Commonwealth estimated the Crown, they discovered it was made of vermeil which valued very low in comparison to an expected price.
So, in the past, vermeil was widely used in tableware, decor items where solid gold was an extravagance not everybody might afford. But the use of vermeil in jewelry sometimes was regarded with distrust.
Nowadays, vermeil jewelry pieces are offered by the fashion industry and jewelry brands as an affordable alternative to solid gold pieces. It fits people who like to have different looks every day and make an impression without big expenses. Still, they have to remember that after active everyday wear, gold plating will have scuffs and scratches and usually needs to be renewed.
Silver-gilt (or vermeil) tableware pieces from the 18th-19th centuries are displayed in museums around the world
How to choose a quality vermeil
To the naked eye, quality vermeil pieces will almost look like gold: usually, it will look like yellow gold, but you will also find some in pink gold and Hamilton gold.
So, if you find any discoloration or tarnishing on the item, it means the level of gold layers is poor, and probably it’s not vermeil at all.
Thirdly, you will find a 925 stamp — it’s a hallmark for high-quality vermeil. Look attentively at the item and check for the 925 mark, which tells you it’s a real silver covered in gold.
And lastly, check if your seller is reputable enough and the standards of his vermeil jewelry are clearly written on his internet page. Moreover, he may offer you a warranty for vermeil items. In this case, you can be quite sure it’s not fake vermeil or poor gold plating
What are the Cons of Vermeil Jewelry?
Vermeil will wear off
A quality vermeil jewelry will have a good thickness of 3 microns of 18 k gold plated on sterling silver and even it can have a warranty from a manufacturer. But it’s usually for 12 months. So, you can approximately understand for which period your vermeil piece is offered. Sooner or later depending on your way of wearing the silver underneath will start to show through. If we speak about rings, if worn continuously, the gold plate can start to wear away after 6 months.
In the left photo: it’s a post-medieval vermeil ring with tarnish spots but still in very good condition. In the right photo: this vermeil ring from the 19th century was less fortunate
You have to replate vermeil after a quite short period
Logically, if your vermeil ring seems to have too many scuffs and scratches, its gold bonding has to be replated. It has to be done approximately after 6 months or a year. Also, you have to keep in mind that if your vermeil piece has a heavy nice plating some jewelers will not be able to replate it to the same level. Possibly, they’ll only be able to do a much thinner and therefore less robust replating.
Vermeil pieces may color your skin
It’s known that copper and some other metals can color skin green because this metal tends to corrode when put into contact with something liquid (including your sweat or body lotion). Though gold vermeil has sterling silver as a base metal, it can produce a similar effect because of silver oxidation. So, you can discover a dark spot on your finger under the vermeil ring.
Vermeil is sensible to liquids: no shower, no sport while wearing a vermeil ring
Following the idea above, you see that one of the quickest ways to tarnish vermeil is contacting with any liquids. So, you have to avoid lotions, hand washing, perfume, and sweating while wearing a vermeil ring.
More expensive vermeil rings are less scratch-resistant
While deciding for more expensive vermeil with a really thick gold layer — for example, a 20k instead of a 14k one — keep in mind that a 20k vermeil jewelry piece will be less resistant than a 14k one. That’s because solid gold is a soft metal that scratches easily. The 14k gold alloy in the layer will contain other harder metals and (though cheaper than 18k vermeil) will be more durable. As you see, here you will NOT have a “more gold, more quality” situation.
You have to deal with quite a lot of low-quality gold plated pieces
Honestly, lots of fashion jewelry pieces are gold plated with layers well below 1 micron in thickness which can not be considered quality jewelry at all. Very often it’s done also with other base metal instead of silver which even can cause allergies. You have to be very meticulous and attentive while choosing. And still, there is no guarantee that the piece you’ve chosen will be durable and nice looking during the next 6 months.
When vermeil jewelry can be good for you
It can really be the case that you are an eager fashion lover and you can’t help but buy one more trendy vermeil piece. Vermeil can give you the look without the steep price.
Next, you don’t plan to wear it actively every day, only occasionally. And you have a special jewelry box that will keep your vermeil jewelry out of trouble. So, according to this all, vermeil looks like a good buy.
Also, you probably like to wear necklaces and earrings more than bracelets and rings. Rings get scuffed a lot more than necklaces and will show wear a lot faster than earrings. In this case, vermeil earrings and necklaces may be a better and more durable option than a vermeil ring.
When it’s better to consider other options rather than vermeil jewelry
If you consider a vermeil ring, think firstly that a ring is expected to last for a long life period and the right materials are essential here.
You probably will not be able to go every 6 months to replate your ring. And your vermeil ring would require meticulous care in order to keep it looking nice. It will still wear down to the silver with friction and regular wear and tear.
Remember that rings wear off faster than other pieces since we are rougher with our hands. So, if you plan to wear your ring every day and you enjoy many everyday activities, vermeil is far from your ideal choice.
Dealing with vermeil jewelry will require careful thinking before purchase. There’s a lot of low-quality gold-plated jewelry on the market that is sold as vermeil. (More about mall jewelry you can also read here). Ask your seller carefully to be sure that your vermeil piece is of good quality and all standards are met. Still, many vermeil pieces sold by mall jewelry stores don’t have any quality confirmations. If you are not ready to face fraudulent sellers and evasive answers, it’s better to search for alternatives.
For example, you are searching for an engagement ring and the price is an issue. Don’t forget that an engagement ring is a long-lasting purchase and often is bought as a future family heirloom. Vermeil is hardly considered in this situation. In this case, it’s better to keep saving until you have enough for 14k gold — either yellow or rose. Both are good options if you don’t plan to deal with the regular replating needed for white gold.
We in NinaVova totally aware that in some cases, solid gold jewelry may be quite expensive in comparison to gold plated or vermeil items. Still, from our experience, people prefer rather save up for a piece of real gold jewelry than purchase fast fashion items that will get thrown away once their plating wears off. As we know, only a few customers are really ready to replate vermeil pieces. Most people don’t count with a replating and meticulous care for a vermeil item.
From our considerable experience in working with different customers, with different budgets, a client feels extremely rewarding to wear something he has thoughtfully considered and saved up for it. Such a jewelry piece gives him more satisfaction and joy rather than spontaneous purchase.
Solid gold will last lifetimes which cannot be said about plated pieces. Let us together design the ring of your dream by choosing the best materials in full accordance with your budget.