The Gold Series

Part one: A colour or a material?

I’ve been thinking of questions I often get asked in order to create journal posts and emails that will help de-mystify the world of jewellery for you. If there’s something you’d like me to write about just drop me a line and if I think it’s a good fit I’ll put it on the list.

First up is gold. A word that needs clarification more than most! So grab yourself a cuppa and get ready to learn all about it. Part one asks what is gold…

Did you know that in other languages such as Portuguese, there are two separate words for the colour gold and the material gold? Things might be a bit clearer if that were the case in English too. I’ve often spotted a piece in a magazine or on social media labelled gold, only to have to click though a few times to reveal that it’s in fact gold-tone or gold plated (which usually explains the affordable price tag).

There are so many similar gold related terms around that it’s really easy to be confused about what’s what. From solid gold to gold plated, gold vermeil to gold tone and gold filled.

Dwell pendant in the making by Sine Vasquez

As these terms can be so confusing I thought I’d explain them here. Now, I should first mention that these terms aren’t always used correctly, so do always check exactly what metals are involved before you buy. It’s important to know what you’re wearing next to your skin. The person you’re buying from should be delighted to tell you what metals are in their jewellery as well as exactly how they’re made, where and by who.

So here goes:

Gold tone: This just means it has a gold colour. It could be anything from plastic to metal and anything in between, but has no actual gold content.

Gold plating: This means that the metal can be silver or non-fine, often brass or copper, with a thin layer of gold plating. It will have an overall gold content of around 1%.

Gold vermeil: This means that the base metal is usually silver, with a slightly thicker layer of gold plating. This is preferable to gold plating both because its base metal is silver, and because there is a minimum thickness of gold applied.

Gold filled: This means that the metal can be can be any base metal, but has a thicker layer of gold, which is applied in a different way to plating. It will have an overall gold content of around 5%.

Solid gold: This means your piece is made of solid gold. So it will retain its value, will stand the test of time and wont tarnish. Legally this must be hallmarked to prove it is gold and what karat it is. I’ll explain gold karats & colours in a separate journal post soon. These are important to understand as not all solid gold is created equally.

All of the non-solid gold options above are useful ways to give a yellow gold appearance to a piece which isn’t actually made of gold, thus giving it the look of gold but with a much more affordable price tag. There are of course positives and negatives to this. The process of plating jewellery can itself have a significant environmental impact and adds absolutely no value to the piece, essentially hiding its underlying colour and finish. While this means it will lose its plating (and thus colour) over time, it can be a useful option for something more trend-led that you don’t expect to have an inherent value or to stand the test of time. The plating will tend to last much better on something like a necklace or earrings for example as opposed to a ring which will undergo much more wear and tear. Having said this, the price difference is vast, which is why plating has become so popular in recent years as gold prices have soared.

White gold is another thing I often get asked about in relation to plating, as solid white gold jewellery is usually rhodium plated by jewellery stores to give it a very ‘white’ glossy finish. This is something I don’t do as your piece has to be replated every year or so, each time losing a tiny bit of its surface in the process. My advice for an heirloom piece would always be to choose a metal that you really love the colour of and don’t hide it with plating.

In the next two posts in this series, I’ll be discussing the real deal, solid gold. Gold has been revered for thousands of years across every civilization, and with very good reason. In the next two posts, I'll cover history, ethical issues, gold karat and gold colour. Not only will you know what you're buying, but if there's a gold related question at the local table quiz you'll be sorted.

I only use solid gold, and I don’t use gold plating. If you see a piece that you’d like in a different gold colour or karat, just drop me an email on and I’ll be happy to help. Because each piece is handcrafted to order, it’s never a problem to customise. And of course I also make completely bespoke pieces. You can read more about those here.

I hope these last few days of January fly in for you,