Gold Plated Jewelry
What it is: Gold plating is the catch-all term for a process in which a layer of gold is bonded to a base metal by dipping the metal into a special chemical solution and zapping it with an electric current, attracting and adhering gold ions to the metal. To be considered gold plated, the gold layer should measure at least 0.5 microns (a micron is one millionth of a meter, for context). The thicker the gold layer, the longer it maintains its finish. In practice, though, many jewelry companies are usually plating only with 0.5 microns.
Where you can find it: Cheaper department store brands and many independent brands sell gold plated jewelry.
Value for money: The price of gold plated pieces can vary. Make sure to ask how thick the plating is. Remember, the thicker the plating, the longer the gold layer will last!
What it is: Gold-filled sounds like it would be the next best thing to solid gold—your jewelry is full of gold, right?!—but it’s actually a misnomer, as it mean that a thin sheet of gold is mechanically bonded to the outside of a core material (usually copper). Whereas gold plating is measured in thickness, gold-filled jewelry is measured in weight; the gold layer must contribute at least 5% to the item’s total weight. This is an old-fashioned technique from the early 1900s that is no longer used by modern manufacturers because it is time-intensive and expensive to produce while yielding a product that is not superior to gold-plated jewelry. Like gold-plated jewelry, the gold layer will eventually wear away and the only way to replate it is to use electroplating (i.e. turning it into a gold-plated product).
Where to find it: Not very popular nowadays but possible to find.
Value for money: Gold-filled jewelry is generally a bit more expensive than gold-plated jewelry with similar base materials because it’s not as economical to manufacture.
Gold Vermeil Jewelry
Warning: does not necessarily apply to Canadian brands, which can market lower-quality gold-plated items as "gold vermeil".
What it is: Also known as “heavy gold plating,” gold vermeil employs the same process as gold plating. To be called "vermeil", the item must have sterling silver (aka 925 silver) as the base metal, the gold must be at least 10K and the plating must measure a certain thickness. National consumer protection agencies regulate the label. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission requires a layer of gold that is at least 2.5 microns thick. In Canada, the Competition Bureau allows items with only 1.0 micron plating thickness to be called "gold vermeil". Beware of buying "gold vermeil" from companies based in Canada, as the requirements are much lower for using this term, and you are probably getting a product that is much lower quality (60% less gold) than you expect.
Where to find it: Higher-end brands.
Value for money: Gold vermeil is more expensive than flash plated and gold plated jewelry because it uses sterling silver as the core material and uses a lot more gold (unless it's Canadian "gold vermeil"). However, for those who don’t have the budget for solid gold, vermeil is fantastic balance of long-lasting wear and affordability.