Vermeil is a style of gold plating also known as silver gilt. Gold thickness, the type of base metal, and the purity of the gold are three key factors that determine whether something is considered vermeil. Vermeil jewelry must have a sterling silver base with a coating of gold laid over the top. The gold coating must be at least 10k and be a minimum of 2.5 microns thick (100/1,000,000 inch).
Gold in Vermeil Jewelry
Gold thickness is the biggest difference between vermeil and gold-filled jewelry. Both gold-filled jewelry and vermeil jewelry can have a layer of solid gold over a sterling silver base, but gold-filled jewelry has a much thicker gold sheet rolled onto the silver. Vermeil is much thinner and is often applied using a powder or gold leaf instead of a sheet of gold.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between gold vermeil and gold plate because, at times, the jewelry might be both. Gold plated jewelry is commonly electroplated onto any base metal. Vermeil jewelry, on the other hand, must have a sterling silver base. Gold plating comes in a variety of thicknesses, whereas vermeil must be at least 2.5 microns thick.
The term vermeil cannot be used if the sterling is covered with a base metal before being coated with gold unless the presence of the base metal is disclosed.
Victorian and Modern Vermeil
Vermeil was popular in the Victorian era, and it wasn't used only on jewelry. Platters, vases, and silverware are just a few of the silver objects that were coated with a layer of shiny gold. The necklace pictured in this article is a 19th-century gold vermeil heirloom. You can see where the gold has worn off and the silver is showing through.
Modern gold vermeil looks very similar to gold plated or solid gold jewelry. It would be hard to tell the difference without testing the metal. Antique gold vermeil has a very different look: many antique vermeil pieces look much rosier due to the higher amounts of copper added gold back then. Antique vermeil pieces also tend to show their age more than solid or gold filled pieces, which makes it much easier to tell the difference without having to test the metal.
Regardless of the age of gold vermeil, the higher the gold content, the brighter yellow the tone will be. If you want a rosier colored piece of vermeil jewelry, opt for 10k-12k gold. If you want a bright yellow shade, pick 22k-24k gold. Even though pure gold is very soft, it works well as a vermeil because sterling silver is a very hard metal in contrast.
Even though the layer of gold on vermeil jewelry can wear down if you're not careful, it can generally last for many decades. It is a great choice if you want a durable piece of gold jewelry but you can't afford solid gold or gold filled jewelry. It is also great if you have allergies to metals because sterling silver is mostly pure metal and generally does not contain nickel.
Vermeil Tip: Never use a polishing cloth to clean vermeil jewelry. You risk ruining the finish. Instead, use gentle jewelry cleaning methods.