Vermeil is the combination of a base metal (usually sterling silver) plated with a more luxurious and expensive metal over its surface. Although the exterior metal is usually gold, platinum vermeil is an option for people who want a shiny silver look without the expense of solid platinum. Vermeil is most often used in jewelry such as wedding rings.
Vermeil was developed as a process for plating silver with gold by French artisans in the mid-eighteenth century. The artisans mixed mercury and gold, and applied this mixture to a silver surface. The mixture was heated until the mercury evaporated, leaving only the gold. This process was banned before the end of the nineteenth century once it was discovered that working with mercury usually led to blindness.
Storage & Care
All vermeil jewelry is vulnerable to corrosion, erosion and scratching. Store your vermeil in an airtight container, away from other pieces of jewelry that might scratch the coating. Do not use abrasive cleaners. Polish vermeil jewelry with a clean, soft cloth and, if possible, avoid daily wear.
The Federal Trade Commission regulates vermeil created with a sterling silver base and gold or gold alloy plating. The gold must be no less than 10 karats and at least 2.5 microns thick. There are also regulations as to what can legally be called platinum. Any metal sold as platinum must be composed of 950 parts per thousand of pure platinum. If the platinum is mixed with another metal in such a way that the percentage of platinum is below 95 percent, the other metal must be disclosed.
Platinum vermeil jewelry is not made of 100 percent platinum, so it is less expensive than a pure platinum ring. Many people who like the look of platinum opt for vermeil to save money. As of early 2009, the market price for an ounce of platinum was $1,731. Platinum vermeil rings or earrings can be found online starting at less than $100.
Benefits of Platinum
Platinum is 60 times rarer than gold, as well as stronger and more expensive. Rings, necklaces or earrings plated with platinum offer stronger protection against wear than gold-plated jewelry.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the word "vermeil" can only be applied when the base metal is sterling silver. If the sterling silver is covered with another metal and then plated with gold or platinum, the seller must disclose this fact. If you're purchasing a piece of vermeil jewelry, be sure to ask the seller about the presence of any metal other than sterling silver or platinum.