Gold has been a captivating precious metal since ancient times and a favored material for jewelry making ever since, due to its rich natural yellow color. Pure gold has commonly been associated with power, immortality, and beauty in many cultures around the world because it does not corrode or tarnish. Today gold is still very beloved and fashionable but many hand-made or fashion jewelry lines do not use solid Karat gold because of the costly expense due to its rarity. So what alternative gold material options are available and how do you decide which one to use? Here are 4 steps that will help you decide:
1. Understand your options:
The first thing is to examine all the other options which are gold plated over brass, gold over sterling silver, vermeil, and gold filled.
A. Gold Plated over Brass: The gold plating needs to be at least 0.5 microns, anything less should be avoided.
-Plating should last about 1 year which makes this an affordable option but the brass will appear over time when the gold layer wears out. Since brass is not a precious metal, the piece will decrease in value.
B. Gold over Sterling Silver: Normally less than 1 micron gold plating on top of sterling silver. For all “gold plated over sterling silver” items, the gold layer needs to be at least 0.5 microns.
-Plating should last for more than 1 year in normal wearing conditions. It is an affordable option, with precious metal as its core, and is easy to find on the market. A downside is that the gold layer will need replating once it wears out and it lasts the shortest amount of time compared to vermeil and gold filled.
C. Vermeil: Has 2.5 micron plating over a silver core and should last several years with normal wearing conditions.
-While vermeil lasts longer than gold over silver and has a precious metal core, it can be more expensive. It is even harder to find on the market as its price point is very similar to gold filled, and it will eventually need replating after several years.
D. Gold Filled: 1/20 thick gold layer bonded on a metal core (not silver).
-It lasts at least 10-30 years, a significant amount more than the previous options and it doesn’t need replating. It has the same look as Karat gold but with more affordable pricing. It does not have a precious metal core but this is not a concern for many since the gold layer does not fade out over time. There is a limited selection of gold filled items on the market because it can only be made by forging, not casting, and can only be made by using gold filled sheet or wire. These materials are not available in many countries so they would have to import, which is a high cost. For example, China and India cannot produce gold filled material for those reasons.
2. Does your item need to be made from casting?
If the answer is yes, then gold filled cannot be an option as it is forged. If no casting is needed than all the other material options are available.
3. What are your product price points and brand image?
A. Low: If your price point is at the low end and your product is a fast fashion piece, consider gold plated. The cost is cheaper, but you won't be able to mark the price higher since people don't want to pay too much for a brass core piece.
B. Low to Medium: If your price point is at low to medium end, consider gold over silver. It will have the same physical structure and look as vermeil but just last a shorter time. After all, the core is solid sterling, a precious metal, which will be appreciated by customers. It is a reasonable option for products that are not intended to last many years or be collected and passed down through generations.
C. Medium to High End: If your price point is at medium to higher end, consider gold filled or vermeil. They last longer and have a better customer satisfaction rate. Even though gold filled material is limited, it’s easier to find than vermeil as the supplies to make 2.5 micron vermeil is hard to find on the market currently. For vermeil, the best way to guarantee the plating is correct at 2.5 micron is to buy silver products then have your own supplier or your own company do the plating. Some vendors pass lesser plated items off as “vermeil” or “vermeil style”, which is misleading.
4. Will having all precious metal jewelry pieces be important to your jewelry line or brand?
Gold filled is a good option if your customers don’t care that the core is not precious metal because the benefit is that the outer gold layer lasts a long time. But if your customers want precious metal pieces and your brand’s image relies on that, then gold filled is not a good fit, nor is gold plated over brass.
Before choosing a Karat gold alternative for your jewelry line, carefully take into consideration your price point, your brand’s image, and the nature of your product. These steps will help make sure you find the best material for your jewelry making needs.
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