Everyone has heard of gold and gold-plated, but people often wonder about the difference. And then, there is another kind of gold finish called vermeil, which is made into jewelry, tableware, and other fine pieces of home décor.
Pronounced “ver-may,” this material is a combination of silver and gold. The gold portion must be about ten karats, however, depending on the thickness of the piece for which it is being used, it can be as much as 14, 18 or 24 karats. To the naked eye, it looks just like pure gold but is often less expensive and can be shined up to a gloss, or left to tarnish for a more vintage look.
Some might wonder then, what the difference is between vermeil and gold-plated or gold-filled. With gold-plated, there is a base metal of steel or brass which is then dipped in gold to create a thin layer. The gold is known to wear off eventually. Anyone who is allergic to the base metal may experience a skin reaction, such as a black rubbing or rash if they are allergic to the metal underneath. Gold-filled is actually better quality than gold-plated. The base metal is still brass or copper, but the outside of the piece bonds with sheets of gold, usually 14 karat. The sheets of 14 karat will not peel off and offer a less-expensive alternative to solid 14 karat gold.
With vermeil jewelry the base metal used has to be sterling silver, which is much better for those who have skin allergies to other base metals. The silver is then gold-plated, but with a thicker coating, often as much as 50% thicker than a traditional gold-plated piece. While less expensive than solid gold jewelry, using this technique is still more expensive than either gold-plated or gold-filled, as the price of gold and sterling silver brings the cost up a bit.
When designers look to create pieces out of any metal, they start by understanding the vision they have for the piece. Then they decide on which metals they want to cast and shape, and then how to create the look of gold around it. Designers like Asian jewellers, like the flexibility of utilizing vermeil in jewelry, because it is available in wire, beads, connectors, clasps, and dangles. It is also available in many other forms, so it is usable with a variety of her designs. Some of Katie’s pieces include precious stones or religious symbols. Any piece can be made to look like it is either vintage or very modern.
Replicating pieces that are in museums, and made available for purchase in their gift shops, is a common use of vermeil in jewelry and other items to give pieces an authentic look. The story behind many of these pieces can evoke great conversations. In fact, there is a full collection of tableware in the White House which when not being used for state dinners, is displayed for the public to view in its own room.
Since the finish can tarnish, the best way to protect it is with a soft cloth. It is best not to treat the finish with chemicals as the gold is removable and should be stored in an airtight container.