Why are we discussing "gold vermeil" on a
website about sterling silver? Simple. The
term "vermeil" (pronounced "ver-mey") refers to a silver
item, containing no less than 92.5% silver, that has
been plated with a gold or gold alloy that is no less
than 10 karat, to a thickness of not less than 2.5
Gold is typically applied through
electroplating. One approach is called flash
plating, and leaves very little gold on the surface,
perhaps as little as .25 microns. With this
approach, gold is dipped into an electroplating solution
for a short period of time. This method has been
called "color plating," as the gold will often wear off
in a matter of days or weeks.
Much better is micron plating.
With this approach the thickness of the gold applied is
measured. The piece to be plated is soaked in a
gold plating solution for a long time to ensure an ample
coat of gold is applied. Jewelry should have a
thickness of not less than 2.5 microns, while watches
should have a thicker coating, perhaps 5 microns or
more. This is because watches must endure much
more use and abuse.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has
regulations governing the use of the term "vermeil."
Here is the law:
§ 23.5 Misuse of the word "vermeil."
(a) It is unfair or deceptive to
represent, directly or by implication, that
an industry product is "vermeil" if such
mark or description misrepresents the
product's true composition.
industry product may be described or marked
as "vermeil" if it consists of a base of
sterling silver coated or plated on all
significant surfaces with gold, or gold
alloy of not less than 10 karat fineness,
that is of substantial thickness
and a minimum thickness throughout
equivalent to two and one half (2 1/2)
microns (or approximately 100/1,000,000ths
of an inch) of fine gold.
Note 1 to § 23.5: It is unfair
or deceptive to use the term
"vermeil" to describe a product in
which the sterling silver has been
covered with a base metal (such as
nickel) plated with gold unless
there is a disclosure that the
sterling silver is covered with a
base metal that is plated with gold.
Note 2 to § 23.5: Exemptions
recognized in the assay of gold
filled, gold overlay, and rolled
gold plate industry products are
listed in the appendix.
Gold Vermeil Bead, image courtesy of Beads of Bali.