With its lustrous beauty and inherent value, gold has been prized by humans for millennia. This precious element holds several alluring qualities: it does not corrode or rust, it can effectively conduct both electricity and heat, and its malleability allows it to be formed into many different shapes (including some so thin that light can pass through them). Consequently, few precious metals have had such an influential role in human history. And, of course, gold’s unique ability to be both malleable and durable has made it an ideal material for creating stunning jewellery.

Gold alloys make a stunning setting for diamonds, as seen in this wideset diamond eternity ring in rose gold.

The power of gold

Gold has many attractive qualities: it resists tarnish so retains its high shine, can be hammered into various forms, and can even have wires drawn through it. Pure gold, however, is too soft to go through all the processes required for crafting into jewellery and thus it is alloyed, or mixed, with other elements to increase its durability.

This process of adding an alloy is the reason that gold jewellery is categorised by karat. Pure gold is mixed with elements such as silver, copper, zinc, or platinum and the number of karats indicates how much pure gold is included in the combination of elements. Twenty-four karat gold is the purest form for jewellery.

Due to its malleability, gold mixes well with most metals and sometimes alloys are used to create coloured gold, most commonly, yellow, white, rose and pink. For example, white gold is an alloy of yellow gold and a white metal, such as silver or palladium. Since the white gold alloy usually appears a little yellowish, it is often plated with rhodium to give it a bright, white appearance. Other, more unusual varieties, such as green or purple gold, are also available. Purple gold, for example, is created with an alloy of gold and aluminium.

Multi metal tennis braceletsBracelets work fantastically well in a variety of gold alloy settings. This diamond hinged bangle in white gold makes the perfect classic jewellery gift for a loved one.

Not sure which gold alloy to go for? Find out which metal will work best for your skin tone.

What is gold plating?

Gold plating, by contrast, involves encasing another element, such as copper or silver, in a surface layer of gold. This is achieved by dipping the element in a solution of gold or gold-coloured alloy and then exposing it to an electric current. The resulting electrochemical reaction deposits a thin layer of gold to the outside of the base metal.

There are advantages: not only is this a cheaper option, due to the reduced gold content in the jewellery, but it also gives the soft gold – which can dent easily – more strength, thanks to the more durable layer of metal underneath.

However, there are also significant drawbacks. Since the metals are not chemically mixed – as they are in an alloy – gold-plated jewellery is susceptible to tarnishing over time as the molecules of the base metals eventually transfer into the gold layer, causing it to break down. This leads to discolouring, so gold-plated jewellery needs to be polished frequently to keep its shine, whereas pure gold or alloy does not.

Due to the softness of the thin gold layer, it will easily scratch, revealing the base metal underneath. Any friction will also cause the thin gold-plating to chip, wear away or flake quite quickly. And immersing gold-plated jewellery in water, such as showering while wearing it, is a definite no-no, as repeated exposure to moisture will wear away the surface gold. For all of these reasons, none of our jewellery is gold-plated and we only specialise in the highest-quality precious jewellery.

Gold alloy doesn’t have to mean compromising on quality! Eternity rings work particularly well in platinum, such as this brilliant diamond half eternity ring.

What kind of gold is best for jewellery?

Choosing the right metal for your jewellery is a very personal decision, but our recommendation is to always go for the best you can afford. We want your pieces to last and perhaps even become family heirlooms that are treasured for many years. By contrast, a gold-plated piece of jewellery, on average, has a lifespan of just one year.

Solid gold also has the added advantage of being hypoallergenic, so won’t irritate those with allergies, unlike gold-plating, which can turn skin green. Gold also retains its high shine, unlike gold-plated items, which require more care and maintenance, as exposure to small amounts of moisture, sweat and lotions will degrade the piece rapidly.

Finally, it is more valuable and so a better investment than gold plated jewellery, which requires regular re-plating to restore pieces to their original condition, resulting in added ongoing expenses.

We hope you’ve found our guide useful, but if you require any more advice on choosing a metal for your jewellery, please do contact us at Diamond Rocks and our expert consultants will be happy to help.