Gold vermeil. Gold plating. Recycled gold. Fairmined gold. What’s it all about?
We know the pure frustration after you’ve spent money buying a lovely new piece of jewellery and before long, the gold appearance has worn off or worse still, it’s turned your finger a particular shade of green. Unless you know what to look out for or what questions to ask, it can be a challenging space to navigate. Add to the mix you’re a conscious consumer and weighing up the benefits of recycled gold vs Fairmined gold, it's a lot to take in.
We're here to make sense of it all.
Gold plating vs gold vermeil
Gold plated and gold vermeil are one of those “Same, same. But, different” things. From the thickness of the gold to the type of base metals being used, there are key points of difference you should be aware of.
What is gold vermeil?
Gold vermeil is essentially a base metal that is high quality, usually pure or sterling silver (in our case sterling silver) that has a layer of gold coating over the top.
When the plating thickness exceeds 2.5-micron levels, the jewellery qualifies as being vermeil. The coating will also be of a higher carat, typically 18-24ct. We only use gold vermeil here at Amphi as we use 2.5 microns of 18ct Fairmined gold with recycled sterling silver as the base metal.
Gold vermeil is luxuriously high quality because of the use of two precious metals and the thickness of the gold. This makes it a great way to wear gold without the hefty price tag of buying a pure solid gold piece.
Most vermeil jewellery available today is created by electroplating sterling silver with gold, a chemical process that uses an electrical current to bind the two metals together.
Amphi tip: If a jeweller isn’t disclosing the plating type or micron levels on their website, it could be because it’s flash plated which can be as little as 0.1 micron levels meaning its gold appearance will disappear quickly.
What is Gold Plating?
Gold plating is a process where, again, a thin layer of real gold is bonded onto a base metal through electroplating or mechanical sheathing.
Plating and vermeil are similar in process, however, with gold plating the base metal will be of a lower quality such as copper or brass. Also, in contrast to vermeil, there are no specific requirements meaning the gold can be of any quality, and the electroplated layer can be any thickness.
Amphi tip: Because of the above it’s important to pay close attention to the jewellery’s quality if the micron levels and base metals are not listed. If the price is low, it will typically mean the quality and micron levels are low.
Flash gold plating
Flash gold plating is when jewellery is given a very thin layer of gold - less than 0.175 microns – and just about enough to give jewellery a gold colour and even finish.
The base material is usually a cheaper metal such as brass and is most commonly used to plate costume jewellery or display items found on the high street.
Now let’s talk ethical gold ~ Recycled vs Fairmined gold.
This is a difficult topic to uncover. Before we get into it, it’s important to know this is a complex area and one which desperately needs more awareness and reporting to bring the facts to the masses in a digestible way.
On the surface, if we're only considering carbon impact then recycled gold has a far lower footprint as the gold is already above ground and doesn’t require the same carbon intensive practices to extract. However, it’s widely debated on whether it has any positive impact on the mining industry, in particular the miners who suffer from poor working conditions and low pay.
Generally, the argument used for recycled gold is that gold mining is one of the most environmentally destructive types of mining with 20 grams of gold generating 40 metric tonnes of mining waste and over 520 kg of green-house gas emissions and consuming almost 8 kg of cyanide. Gold mining also sees millions of gold miners learning low wages and working in dangerous conditions.
It’s stats like this which help the narrative that recycled gold is better as - allegedly - recycled gold reduces the demand and impact to mine for new gold.
But is recycling all materials really the answer? Or have we just come to believe that recycled and sustainable are synonymous when they can in fact just be disguising a far greater problem.
We all know that recycling some materials can be a great way to reduce demand for materials. Take a plastic water bottle for example. When recycled the plastic is fed back into the supply chain rather than being sent to landfill and the demand to create a new bottle is replaced as the old essentially becomes the new.
This same process cannot be applied to gold because the demand is so high. And the reason it’s so high according to Patrick Schein, member of the Alliance for Responsible Mining´s Board of Directors is because gold is money.
“Demand for gold is so high that it can likely never be reduced to a point where people stop mining it. Due to the immense value of precious metals, it will always be worth somebody's effort to dig them out of the ground”.
Patrick also believes that using only recycled gold is in fact quite unethical as it does not bring progress and development to a sector that desperately needs it, and one which will not disappear or change unless demand increases to become more responsible. Additionally, contrary to certified artisanal and small-scale gold mining such as Fairmined, recycled gold is not traced back to the point of extraction meaning that nothing prevents dirty mined gold ending up as “recycled” gold.
There’s also nothing that guarantees recycled gold didn’t originate from a mine that endorses mercury poisoning, slave labour, ecocide, poisoned aquifers and indigenous displacement.
This is why ethically we firmly believe in the power of Fairmined gold. Fairmined is an assurance label that certifies gold from empowered responsible artisanal and small-scale mining organisations. It transforms mining into an active force for good, ensuring social development and environmental protection, providing everyone with a source of gold to be proud of.
There are plenty of reasons to feel proud of Fairmined gold – thriving communities, environmental protection, the list goes on - but one we love in particular is because it ensures small-scale miners are paid fairly for their work and in safe working conditions. You can guarantee no child labour has been endorsed, something which is also rife in the industry. It also enables you (the consumer) to wield your economic power to benefit the most responsible small-scale mining operations in the world.
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