Gold jewelry has an allure that is hard to resist. In most cultures, wearing gold jewelry is a sign of success and wealth, and it remains highly popular.
When jewelry shopping, many opt for less expensive gold-plated jewelry because it has the look of real gold and doesn’t cost as much.
Below, we explain what gold-plated jewelry is and how much it’s worth.
What Exactly Is Gold Plating?
Creating gold jewelry that looks expensive, but isn’t, involves a process known as gold plating. This term is a fancy way to describe a popular metal-coating process in which less expensive metals are covered in a thin layer of gold. How thin? We’re talking micro-thin. On average, a gold-plated layer ranges from 0.175 microns to 2.5 microns per inch in thickness. That means the gold you see on a finished piece of jewelry has wonderful visual appeal, but there’s only a trace of real gold in it. Kind of like those gold flakes you can get on food at some “fancy” restaurants.
Different terms you might see for the type of gold plating refer to the following levels of thickness:
- Gold Electroplated and Gold Wash or Flashed: 0.175 microns
- Gold Plated: 0.5 micron
- Heavy Gold Plated: 2.5 microns
Is Gold-Plated Jewelry Worth Anything?
Your gold-plated rings, chains, bracelets, earrings, pins, and pendants look like they’re worth something, even after you’ve worn them for a while. Plus, they’re made with gold, so naturally, you’d think they have some resale value.
Well, put that thought out of your mind, because the trace amounts of gold found in gold plating are not enough for gold refining companies to reap any kind of profit. Should you try to sell it to a pawnbroker, gold-buying company, or another third party, you’ll likely be turned down. Or, you may get lucky and make enough for a cup of coffee, or a burger meal. You can try your luck at these jewelry stores that buy jewelry.
Even the thickest plating — heavy gold plating — will have so little gold that it will have little to no resale value. Thickness level matters most for gold-plated jewelry because the thicker the plating, the longer it remains bonded to the base metal and keeps its gold look.
The quality of gold used in gold plating also varies but is never high enough to make gold plating valuable. The pureness of the gold used in electroplating solutions follows gold jewelry purity standards such as 10K, 14K, and 18K. While higher a karat means more pure gold was used in the piece, there is still so little gold that even 24K wouldn’t give the piece significant value. For this reason, most gold-plated jewelry isn’t even labeled with the karat amount. For gold-plated pieces, the karat number is more about color than quality. A jewelry piece with 14k gold has a less rich yellow color than 24k gold.
Does all this mean your gold-plated jewelry is worthless? Not quite. If you enjoy wearing it, or if it has sentimental value to you, that alone is worth something. As far as monetary value, there’s practically none.
Does the Base Metal Affect the Value?
Gold is a soft metal, which makes it a great choice for a plating material because it adheres easily to certain types of common metals. Most gold-plated jewelry has one or more of the following base metals:
- Brass: Made of a mixture of copper and zinc, brass has been popular since ancient times. Brass oxidizes into a brownish color, which can show through once the gold plating wears off.
- Nickel: This white metal is often used to make inexpensive jewelry, but tends to cause allergic reactions in some people.
- Stainless Steel: Stainless steel has a strong, modern, industrial look, which is increasingly popular with jewelry lovers. It’s naturally resistant to staining and corrosion.
- Sterling Silver: This popular metal alloy is a mixture of pure silver and a small amount of copper or other metal. While it holds up well under normal use, it does have a tendency to tarnish over time.
- Titanium: This silvery-white metal is three times stronger than gold, and it has the added benefit of being 100% hypoallergenic, making titanium safe for those with sensitive skin.
Base metals are used to add aesthetic appeal and strength to gold-plating mixtures, and that’s where their main value lies. They do not increase the monetary value of gold-plated jewelry.
How to Extend the Life of Gold-Plated Jewelry
Because gold-plated jewelry has little to no resale value, one of the ways to get the most value out of it is to maximize the amount of time before it gets damaged or worn and can’t be used anymore. Unfortunately, jewelry makers and sellers are not required to reveal thickness, so you won’t be able to determine how long the plating is going to last. Re-dipping is not usually available for gold plating, though white gold rings can be re-dipped in their rhodium coating. Therefore, your enjoyment of this jewelry comes down to how well you take care of it. Here are some steps you can take to extend the life of your jewelry.
- Avoid strong chemicals: Keep your jewelry away from direct contact with compounds containing acidic mixtures such as chlorine bleach or pools and hot tubs containing chlorine, foods with fruit acid, and vinegar.
- Carefully apply personal care products: Apply hand and body lotions, hairspray, makeup, and perfume before you put on your jewelry to avoid direct contact with harmful chemicals.
- Cleaning: Develop a routine of regularly cleaning your gold-plated jewelry. The main goal of cleaning is to remove all or most of the built-up body oils and other chemicals from the outer layer. You can gently clean pieces by polishing them with a soft dry cloth. Make sure you wash and dry your hands first. Alternatively, you can place jewelry pieces into a container of mild soap and water to remove surface oils. Be careful not to rub the metal as you clean. Remove from the water and dry pieces thoroughly with a soft cloth.
- Cooking: Remove your rings and bracelets before diving into your favorite recipes. Certain foods such as apples contain acids that can erode gold-plating by causing a chemical reaction. Once you begin cooking it’s easy to forget about your jewelry, so try to get in the habit of taking it off ahead of time.
- Keep it covered: Never leave your jewelry sitting in a place where it’s exposed to natural sunlight. Powerful sun rays and heat can cause gold plating to fade, ruining its original color. When you’re not wearing it, store your jewelry inside of a protective pouch or box.
- Prevent jewelry friction: You may like layering jewelry pieces together to achieve a certain look, but when gold-plated jewelry comes into contact with other jewelry pieces (i.e. two bangle bracelets) the rubbing motion causes friction. This metal friction can wear down that beautiful gold finish quickly, so it’s best to wear a single piece by itself.
- Sweating: Your natural body sweat contains chemicals that can naturally corrode gold-plating. Remember to remove your jewelry before engaging in exercise or strenuous activities. If you know you’re going to be heavily sweating, and you want to wear jewelry, choose pieces that aren’t gold-plated.
- Wash your hands: Your hands and skin contain natural oils, which can cause a chemical reaction that leads to tarnishing. To avoid this wash your hands before and after handling the jewelry.