Gold vermeil (pronounced 'vehr-may') also known as silver gilt, is a type of jewellery that is made by plating a durable layer of gold on sterling silver. Gold vermeil is very popular, and can even be found in the White House, which has a "Vermeil Room" that features vermeil tableware and a vermeil wine cooler, of all things! Unlike most jewelry that can be expensive, gold vermeil is affordable yet doesn't look cheap.
Gold vermeil is comparable to pure gold in appearance and artisanship. Because of its primary composition of sterling silver, gold vermeil is considerably more affordable than pure gold and people with nickel allergies or sensitivity to other metals can wear gold vermeil jewelry pieces comfortably and safely. In addition, because of its increasing popularity, there is a wide array of choices in gold vermeil pieces.
It was invented in France around 1750 when royalty and high society sought out fine jewels and precious metals as a means of affirming wealth and prestige. During the mid-1700s, the vermeil process involved fire-gilding liquid gold on to silver. France later banned this procedure because it involved working with high levels of mercury, which would blind and sicken vermeil makers. Today, vermeil is safely produced by electrolysis.
In order to qualify as gold vermeil and not merely gold-plated silver, a piece of jewellery must meet certain requirements. The base must be pure sterling silver. It may not be coated with any other metal prior to having the layer of gold applied. Finally, the gold layer with which the silver is plated must be at least 10-karat gold, and the layer must be at least two and one-half microns in thickness to be true vermeil. Of course, higher quality vermeil can exceed this number, but must never fall beneath it or it won't be considered "pure." The highest quality gold vermeil is used with 24-karat gold, while the most common gold vermeil falls in the 18-karat to 14-karat range.