Sometimes jewellery terminology can sound complicated. One example that has been baffling people for years is vermeil jewellery. If you’re a potential buyer, and ask if the piece that you’re keen on is vermeil, you can get one of these answers:
- Yes, it is. It is gold plated brass.
- No, it is gold plated silver.
- Yes, it is gold plated silver.
- No, it’s not. It actually gold plated brass.
Do you want to call a friend for help? All of these answers are super confusing. Two of them in italics are theoretically right, though they contradict each other. Huh? 🤯
The truth is that even a lot of sellers don’t always understand the difference between gold plated and vermeil jewellery. We can’t be angry at them. Instead, let’s educate ourselves on what vermeil is, so that we are not muddled with misnomers or elusive answers.
What is gold vermeil jewellery?
Vermeil actually stands for a technique that has been developed in the XIX century where a thick layer of gold is added to sterling silver. This ensures that the layer of gold does not wash off for a very long time (or, if cared for properly, ever), thus making the piece a worthwhile investment as it bonds two precious metals, gold and silver.
The gold plating on vermeil jewellery should reach at least 2.5 microns, which makes it five times thicker than the technique of plating items in gold. Also, for items to be called vermeil, the base metal has to be sterling silver. This means that gold plated brass and copper are just that – gold plated brass and copper.
While vermeil as a term is relatively new, this does not mean that this method was ignored before its inception and formal acceptance as its own technique. Prior to vermeil, you would find terminology such as silver gilt which essentially describes the same approach of opting for thicker plating of silver in gold, but without an exact rule of it being at least 2.5 microns.
Can silver be gold plated and not gold vermeil?
Yes! The main difference here is the thickness of gold. Gold plated items will carry a thin layer of gold, while vermeil jewellery, a much thicker one. This is why vermeil pieces will be more expensive than gold plated ones; even if both options have sterling silver as the base metal. The bump up in price is worth it though as the longevity of vermeil pieces will outperform any gold plated silver jewellery. The latter will wear off much sooner, while vermeil with proper care may never wear off at all.
Can copper or brass be gold vermeil?
As mentioned before, vermeil is a term only for items which have sterling silver as the base metal. The method was created to bond these two precious metals. Gold plated brass or copper are not vermeil jewellery.
Having said that, brass or copper can be gold filled or rolled gold. This means that just like vermeil, brass and copper will be plated in a very thick layer of gold, at least 5%. This holds value, and gold filled pieces are often stamped. The stamp of such a piece can look like this: 18/20 GF (there are other variations, depending on the gold karat). This means that 5% – or the 20th part – of the overall metal is gold, and it is rolled or filled with 18K gold like a sandwich, the inside of which is base metal.
Sometimes marketeers call gold plated brass or copper jewellery demi fine or semi fine jewellery, as these pieces can often feature semi previous or even precious gemstones. The jewellery jury is out on this term. When the plating washes away, these tend to move towards costume jewellery territory as only base metals are left, making the piece undesirable unless re-plated. In theory, gold filled jewellery could be called demi or semi fine as it is much longer lasting, and does tend to hold value. Find out more about the difference between costume and fine jewellery here.
Is gold vermeil the same as gold jewellery?
That’s a very loaded question. But a fair one, because you need to understand what you’re buying. Vermeil jewellery is not pure gold jewellery. It is silver plated with gold. If you want to know more about pure gold, read my deep dive into gold jewellery here.
Vermeil jewellery is attractive because it looks like gold, it wears like gold, and it comes without a super high price tag that’s often associated with gold. Of course, do bear in mind that it is still not costume jewellery, and vermeil is made of precious metals, so it’s not exactly cheap.
How do I know I am buying vermeil jewellery, and not gold or gold plated?
The key giveaway that a piece may be vermeil rather than gold is the stamp. Vermeil is stamped 925 as sterling silver, while gold is stamped based on its karat – for example 9k, 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k or 24k (or their equivalents in X/1000 – for example 375, which stands for 9k). As discussed above, gold filled pieces may also come with stamps.
Gold plated brass or copper will not have a stamp. These may have makers marks though.
This leaves us with silver that’s gold plated. Unfortunately, unless the merchant specifies that this is vermeil or gold plated, you won’t be able to figure it out with a naked eye. It’s one of those time will tell moments.
Find out more about jewellery shopping basics in this handy guide here that I wrote while in looking for jewellery in Turkey.
How to care for vermeil jewellery? 🧼
Make sure you take off any vermeil rings when washing your hands or doing the dishes as it can affect the layer of plating. The same goes for showering or swimming, all your vermeil jewellery should be taken off.
And now onto cleaning. Use lukewarm water and a simple dish soap – or if your vermeil is tarnished (which can on occasion happen) a small amount of toothpaste. Lightly coat your jewellery with soap or toothpaste and rub it gently with a cloth or tissue, and then rinse in the lukewarm water. Don’t use brushes on vermeil jewellery, not even soft ones, as these can be a bit too tough. Keep those brushes for scrubbing pure silver or gold pieces. Once cleansed, gently pat dry your vermeil jewellery. Et voila, your pieces will look shiny and new!
Summary: Should I get vermeil jewellery?
Why not? Many designers favour vermeil jewellery as it allows them to express themselves creatively, and construct intricate pieces that they know will be more affordable to consumers than those made of pure gold.
As vermeil is simply silver covered in a very thick layer of gold, the lasting power of the technique also makes this an attractive option for those keen on that beautiful gold sheen.
Be aware, that there are products out there that are not vermeil jewellery. These are gold plated brass and copper, gold plated silver and gold filled items. See, it’s not that scary once you get the hang of it.
Do you wear vermeil jewellery? Would you add any to your collection?