Howard Carter, describing his first look inside King Tutankhamun’s tomb, wrote, “…as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold.” The mellow glow of gold has seduced mankind for thousand of years, a mark of wealth and nobility, and often associated with the gods. It was no less valued by the ancient Egyptians, although its use was relatively limited. While Carter’s discovery of the royal tomb of Tutankhamun revealed hundreds of well-preserved artifacts such as elegantly decorated wooden boats and chairs, alabaster canopic jars, and intricately painted vessels, it was the abundance of gold that captivated the world’s attention.
Golden pectorals inlaid with precious stones, gilded wooden chests, and, ofcourse, the gold mask of the boy king himself; all of these and more populated the tomb. However, gold in ancient Egypt was not widely mined and was not used as a form of currency; its use was almost exclusively limited to royalty and their funerary artifacts. Mined primarily in the eastern desert and in Nubia to the south, relatively little gold was produced (or pilfered) by the Egyptians, at least as compared, for example, to the Romans who followed. Yet it was a sacred metal, thought to represent the sun, the giver of life. It was also believed that the skin of the gods themselves was gold.
Gold is still a highly treasured metal, widely mined and more stable in value than most currencies. Many cultures still prefer to hold their wealth in objects of gold rather than in stocks, bonds, or real estate. Yet it has also become more widely available and, as a result of plating technology, more affordable. Thus, those of you who prefer the warmth of gold to the cool shine of silver can affordably incorporate it into your beaded jewelry, capturing a small piece of the sun for yourselves.
Customers, however, are often confused about the different types of gold beads and findings on the market. For most of us, solid gold is too expensive (and often too soft) to use in jewelry making, but some perfectly beautiful (and affordable) alternatives now exist: gold-plated, gold-filled, and gold vermeil. Here is a quick rundown of these different types, and what they mean:
Solid Gold: Most people are familiar with the designation of karats, with 24 karat being pure gold, which is bright yellow, and rather soft. 14 karat is most typically used for jewelry due to its strength, and is a warmer yellow. The higher the karat number, the less other metal is mixed in. However, the purer the gold, the softer, brighter, and more expensive it is.
Gold-plated: In gold-plated objects, a thin layer of gold is deposited on the surface of another metal, usually copper and/or nickel. Typically, the gold plating is a high karat, such as 22k, but there is no regulation on how thick the layer of plating must be. Therefore, people with sensitive skin will likely have an adverse reaction to these plated materials. In addition, while gold-plated pieces offer the bright glint of pure gold, they also run the risk of tarnishing, rubbing off, or chipping over time.
Gold-filled: Gold-filled objects are also composed of a base metal (often brass) covered in a layer of gold. However, while the gold layer on gold-plated pieces can vary greatly, a gold-filled piece must, by definition, contain 1/20 of its weight in gold. The layer of gold is also significantly thicker on something that is gold-filled, meaning that with normal use, it is not likely to tarnish or wear through. On the other hand, gold-filled components usually use 10-14kt gold, which is less bright in color. Typically, people with sensitive skin can wear gold-filled components safely without a reaction.
Gold Vermeil: Gold vermeil is a type of plating, but unlike regular gold-plating, must meet specific requirements. Instead of base metal, the gold must be layered over sterling silver. In addition, the gold must be at least 2.5 microns thick, and at least 10 karats, though typically 22 karat gold is used. However, because sterling silver tarnishes (even under the gold-plate), gold vermeil items will typically darken over time from a bright yellow to an antique patina. But because the gold is layered over sterling silver, those with nickel or other metal allergies need not worry about reactions to gold vermeil pieces.
So, pulling off the glamour of gold is no longer limited to royalty like it was for the ancient Egyptians—practically anyone can afford it given the options outlined above! Bead Inspirations carries a wide variety of gold-plated, gold-filled, and gold vermeil components at the Alameda store, so we hope you’ll be able to find the perfect pieces to capture the soft glow of gold. Make jewelry to rival that of Nefertiti herself!