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topic 32087

Gold plated vs. gold-tone finish

A discussion started in 2004 but continuing through 2020


Q. While shopping for gold silverware I came across one that was gold-plated and another one that had a gold-tone finish. Would someone be able to tell me the difference between the two and which one would be the better buy?


Nancy Hamilton
homeowner - New Port Richey, Florida, USA


A. I think this is just a truth-in-advertising issue, Nancy. If a seller claims that something is gold plated, it must have a coating of genuine gold on it, albeit probably only 20 millionths of an inch thick. Gold-tone just means that it is the same general color as gold with no real gold being involved. That doesn't necessarily mean it's inferior in terms of function; it might be a long-lasting titanium nitride finish.

I'd probably go for the gold plated, but if it's not from a reputable manufacturer, you have no way of estimating its life.

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

October 31, 2011

Q. I have a great looking Chinese fake wrist watch finished in a very convincing red gold. It is certainly harder than gold and takes a polish -- what is the finish?
In general I am interested in learning about various passivation, plating and dyes used for decoration and protection of metal surfaces. A good reference book may be enough to get me started. My area has many metal finishing shops to support the electronics industry.



Guy Williams
watchmaker - LOS ALTOS, California

October , 2011

A. Hi, Guy.

It is very difficult to guess what a finish is just from its color. If you are sure it takes a polish, then it is unlikely to be anodized titanium because that is very thin and would wear through from a little polishing. Similarly, it is unlikely to be an electrocoating or a tinted lacquer because those are organic coatings that wouldn't seem to polish well. That probably leaves PVD coatings like titanium nitride (looks like gold) and zirconium nitride (looks like brass) with some subtle contaminant added to give it a pinkish coloration.

PVD coatings are pretty common on watch cases. The equipment is expensive but if you can coat hundreds an hour it can pay for itself quickly; unfortunately, the process is not well suited to onesy-twosy with the capital cost of the equipment, and the cycle time to evacuate the chamber, etc.

The Metal Finishing Guidebook is inexpensive and has pretty broad coverage of most finishing issues. Good luck.


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

July 29, 2013

Q. Hi,

Can you please tell me, what are the finishes on modern "gold tone" costume jewelry pieces and what are the best (most long lasting) finishes available on costume jewelry today?


Jeannine Harden
- North Babylon, New York, United States

July 31, 2013

A. Hi Jeannine. We have dozens of threads on that subject because it can't be easily dispatched . . . To some people "costume jewelry" means sterling silver jewelry with a minimum of 40 microinches of real gold plating, preceded by PVD hardcoating and/or followed by high quality clearcoating, such that at least a couple of years of life can be expected. To others it means no precious metal at all, and anything they can get away with to fool the consumer -- quality not much better than a Cracker Jax prize.

The second trouble spot is that what is practical and economical depends greatly on volume. PVD-applied titanium nitride hardcoatings do not use gold or other precious metal, so they are quite cheap, but the PVD machines cost a million dollars and up. That makes the technology very practical for companies selling school rings or high volume earrings, but out of the question for a home-based custom jewelry designer. The best clearcoating is probably electrophoretic lacquer, but again the required e-coating installation will be prohibitive for the small player, and you might settle for UV-hardened clearcoat lacquers similar to what manicure shops use on finger nails.

The longest lasting finish would be a PVD application of titanium nitride, followed by 40 microinches of gold plating, followed by electrophetic lacquer clearcoating. Much less expensive (if the volume supports it) would be simply the electrophoretic lacquer with a gold-tone tint. More practical for a custom jeweller would be gold plating followed by a UV curable clearcoat because a very small gold plating operation and UV-curable clearcoat operation could probably be gotten for one to two thousand dollars. And when you're making custom jewelry the difference between using $4 worth of gold vs. $0.04 is relatively unimportant.

If you tell us where you fit in the supply chain, exactly what you wish to coat, what price point you need to meet, and how many you want to make, then people can probably help you choose ... but there are fat textbooks on each of these technologies, so offering a 'general' answer just isn't possible. Good luck.


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

What metal/plating/treatment is best for gold costume jewelry?

December 24, 2018 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I am new to the jewelry business and, after much research, am thoroughly confused on what metal is best to use for costume jewelry. I want the look of gold, but need something that will hold up to tarnishing for at least one year. Is brass that is PVD coated best? I have a sample product that I would like reproduced for a new product line, but am having trouble dealing with outsourcing because of my lack of knowledge.
Many thanks for any help provided!

Dacia Gravlin
Entrepreneur - Santa Rosa Beach, Florida USA

December 2018

A. Hi Dacia. We appended your inquiry to a thread where it has already been answered. Give us full particulars and people can probably suggest some of the better approaches for your situation. Good luck.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

March 7, 2020

Q. I'm still confused? The numbers confused. I'm looking for an Omega necklace that's silver on 1 side and gold on other. I had one from Big K and it never tarnished?! l had over 5 years and still wasn't tarnishing. I misplaced it. Can someone please help me, please, break it down in layman's terms? Which is better plated or 2 toned? .925 silver two tone rhodium & yellow gold finish? This is more expensive than plated so I'm so confused. And so bummed it was misplaced!! I would appreciate any help on topic? Thank you Sharon

Sharon Clark
- Braintree Massachusetts, United States

May 2020

A. Hi Sharon. ".925" means 92.5% silver, the same thing that "Sterling" means. Sterling silver is a very good, and reasonably expensive, base for jewelry -- nowhere near as expensive as solid gold or platinum, but much more so than zinc or copper or brass, it's the premium material for costume (not solid gold or platinum) jewelry. But bare sterling silver quickly tarnishes -- that's its essential nature.

What keeps silver from tarnishing is some protective coating, and there are no laws what the coating has to be be nor that it be accurately disclosed. It can be rhodium plated on one side, gold plated on the other, but there may be a 'clearcoat' protecting it too. Or it may be nickel plated on both sides followed by gold plating on one side, or nickel plated with a TiN PVD coating on the gold side. Sorry to say this, but as a consumer myself with 50+ years in the finishing industry you'll never figure out the durability of an item by eye or by reading the sales pap from the jewelry manufacturer or seller. All you can do is rely on reviews and personal experience with the brand and jewelry store. Sorry.

affil. link
Omega 2-tone Necklace

If this is the necklace you had, there you go -->
If not, maybe a reader can help you locate the right jewelry brand or store though.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

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