Answers to Your Questions about Plating

“I just got a beautiful piece of silver-plated jewelry,” says a man in New York. “Is there any chance that the silver is plated over gold?”

That’s a logical question. But it does show a basic misunderstanding about when and why one metal is plated atop another. The general rule this man did not understand is that more beautiful and expensive metals are almost always plated over less beautiful and valuable metals. Why? Because if you plate gold over silver, you are creating the impression that an item is made of solid gold. Applying silver over gold, just doesn’t make any sense because of that rule.

Yet if one smart man asked that question, it makes us think that today would be a good time to clear up some basic misunderstandings about plating. Let’s explore some basic questions and issues.

Why Are Platings Applied?

In general, one metal is plated onto another metal for one of these two reasons:

  1. The plating serves a functional purpose. For example, I have a towel rack in my bathroom that is made of chrome-plated iron. The purpose of the chrome is to cover the iron underneath with chrome, which resists rust. If the towel rack was just made of iron, which oxidizes, the rack would quickly rust in a humid environment like a bathroom. So the chrome serves a protective and functional purpose. Plus, chrome is easy to clean.

  2. The plating serves a purely aesthetic purpose. For example, a layer of gold is plated over a silver piece of jewelry. This, as we noted at the start of today’s post, is done to make the item of jewelry appear valuable, as if it were made of solid gold.

Is Gold the Only Valuable Metal that Is Plated onto Other Metals for Aesthetic Reasons?

No, other metals are applied to other metals too. They include rhodium and platinum, which are often applied to jewelry to add a bright shiny white appearance. Note that both rhodium and platinum are not really protective metals. They are relatively soft! That explains why it is sometimes necessary to reapply rhodium to jewelry after the plating wears thin.

What Is the Difference between Plating and Mixing Metals Together?

Simple answer. When a plating is applied, a second metal forms a layer atop another metal. For example in my towel rack, the chrome can only be found in the outermost layer of the rack. When metals are mixed together (creating an alloy), both metals are found everywhere through the metal item; they are blended. If you were, for example, to slice a 14K gold ring down the middle, you would find that the entire ring is made of 14K gold. Note that 14K gold is not pure gold, but an alloy that is made of gold and other metals that could include silver or even copper.

How Can You Tell If an Item Has Been Plated?

It is often difficult to tell just by looking. For example, a gold-plated earring that has been made by plating a thin layer of gold over a silver core looks just like it is made of pure gold. Similarly, it is difficult to know if you simply use an inexpensive gold-testing kit, which can test only the metal that is found on the outer surface of the item you are testing. But there are ways to know for sure, including:

  • There could be markings on the item. It could be stamped, for example, “!8K gold plated.”

  • You can send the item to Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners and let us test it for you. This is the way to know for sure. To learn more, call us at 800-426-2344 and inquire about our testing services.

All that Glitters Is Not Pure Gold . . . But It Could Be

One danger of taking your gold-toned items to a roadside “We Buy Gold” store is that if that store is not run by honest and expert people, you could be taken advantage of. The store owner could say, “This is gold-plated” and offer you just a few dollars for an item that is worth far more.

Deal direct with a refiner! We are waiting to answer your questions at 800-426-2344.