Since the rapper Ugly God came out of the fake gold closet with his “good fake gold” response in an interview, many are wondering what exactly that is. I don’t know what kind he is wearing, but living in a hot, humid area where jewelry will die if it’s not very good, I can give some pointers.
First, let me say that I am not a jeweler. I will not be getting paid for promoting anything, and I have no vested interest in what choices you make. I just don’t like to waste money or see others do it. There’s also the environment to consider. Whenever someone throws jewelry away, it’s a waste of metals that could be used for something else. The longer you can keep a piece, the less of a drain you are on the Earth’s resources.
Second, almost everyone is wearing fake gold, according to women in places in the world one can still find 22k gold jewelry. Below 18k, and you are not meeting the standard for what constitutes real gold, for Thai, Chinese, Saudi, or other women for whom gold was part of their traditional wedding jewelry or dowry. If it’s not at least 18k, you may as well be wearing plated or gold tone. 14k is just considered fashion jewelry. So you may as well save your money to buy real gold and while you wait, just shop for what looks good on you.
When to Fake It and When Not To
Some things are timeless classics that never go out of style, and are physically durable enough to be passed through generations. Some things are validation of social status or mark a milestone or rite of passage in someone’s life. These should never be faked. Do not buy a fake or plated cross and chain for your niece’s confirmation. Get the real thing within your means.
When it’s just a matter of fashion, or something is trending, that’s when to go fake. You don’t want to drop a bunch of money on something for which the markup is going to be more than the materials and labor, just because a celebrity you like is wearing something. If you buy the right kind of fake, it should wear or fade right about the time that nobody remembers or cares what that trend was. The good fake gold jewelry is also well made enough that it doesn’t look cheap.
Another time to go fake is when you are hard on your jewelry. Gold is a very soft material, and if you do manual labor, art with your hands, or work with kids or out in the elements, you will destroy solid gold. You will utterly devastate hollow gold. You need a more durable material that looks just as good.
It’s also a good idea to fake it if you tend lose things, you work in crowded places, or you travel. If you’re well off enough to be trendy, but you’re not super wealthy, you will cry a lot less about losing a $100-$300 vermeil piece or designer stainless steel than you will about losing a $10,000.00 chain passed down from your great great great grandmother who smuggled it out of Angola under her breasts or something.
Sometimes they just don’t make certain things you may like in solid gold. There are vintage Monet pieces that were made to last, and you just can’t find anything similar anywhere. This is technically gold plated or gold filled, but it was made during a time when the makers of “costume jewelry” took in more seriously. These are status pieces regardless.
Gold Plating, Vermeil, or Filled
Everything wears out eventually, but some things last longer than others. I will skip the debate and just tell you what I’ve learned from my years of experience with jewelry.
For bracelets, nothing beats 316L stainless steel. I have a bracelet that I have been wearing for going on 3 years straight, and it has not faded. It has survived all sorts of housework and Voodoo, occasional fire, summer, and sex…and guess what? It’s not even gold plated. It’s freakin’ gold tone.
Gold tone stainless steel generally keeps its look much, much longer than gold plated because gold is soft, and friction wears it off rather quickly. The process they use to make stainless steel gold tone, IP or PVD “plating” is usually more durable than normal gold plating. It will take years to wear off, even with every day wear and exposure to water, sweat, and heat. It’s also usually given a top coat of a sort of electrophoretic lacquer. From what I gather, sometimes it has gold in it, but usually not. The best is made with titanium that has been treated to be metallic yellow. It is very versatile, and can be used to replicate the look of any karat of gold, and even a beautiful champagne color. When it does start to lose its sheen, it’s usually from accumulated dents more than it is fading. Try polishing it because good PVD coatings will take a polish nicely.
It is hard to know what process is being used for gold tone, but there are a couple of ways to tell when you’re getting the good fake. Almost all of these things are made in China, so buy from the same Chinese companies that make watches. They make bracelets the same way, and maybe chains too.
Another advantage of gold tone stainless steel is a lack of mystery metals. Gold is often alloyed with all sorts of things that can cause allergic or toxic reactions when combined with sun and sweat. With gold tone stainless steel, you are not going to have any kind of reaction that you wouldn’t with your faucet or doorknob…and it will last like your doorknob.
As to the color, it’s only slightly more orangey-brownish than real gold sometimes. Nobody who isn’t a jeweler or with some gold obsessive OCD will notice or care. On color though, we get to the one time I was ever disappointed with GTS, and that was with a rose gold bracelet I got a few years ago. Apparently, the pink finish was done over the lacquer, and so it faded off…but it stayed shiny and golden. So with the rose gold stuff, it’s hit or miss.
If you prefer that the whole piece be some sort of precious metal, gold vermeil (gold plated .925 or sterling silver) is a decent option. You will have to treat it with a lot of care, but it may be worth it if you prefer styles that aren’t normally mass produced, and you don’t mind the cost of replating instead of replacing.
If you have a status piece that you may fear could be lost or stolen, it may be a good idea to get something similar in gold vermeil for everyday wear. This way, if the style becomes more difficult to find, you still have it, and can get it replated inexpensively and easily. Replating usually costs around $40. If you take very good care of your gold vermeil jewelry, but you live in a hot climate, it will realistically keep its plate for maybe a year and a half to two years of every day (but taking it off at night) wear.
If you must go with gold plated, but don’t want gold vermeil because you have something against silver or something, the good gold plating is stamped with the brand of the company that made it. Good costume jewelry always has a brand stamp. Some places offer a lifetime guarantee on their jewelry, and you should take advantage of this. Most of the time, these are heavy gold plate.
I have worn two gold plated chains like this, and they did not last a lifetime. I got two summers from them, and in the second summer, they started to cause skin reactions, and the clasp looks a bit worn. I can wear them now in cool weather, but not in hot weather.
I got the same reaction at the neck with some gold plated stainless steel that wasn’t IP plated. This told me that the problem isn’t the base metal, but whatever is added to gold for plating. This didn’t happen with my gold vermeil pieces likely because I got them from a reputable jeweler who doesn’t use mystery metals in plating. So the lesson in this is that if you’re not going with gold vermeil, skip over all the plated and just get gold tone.
More on the good gold tone…though you may have an issue with people trying to sell you fake jewelry, understand that not all cultures view the lies the same way. Sometimes the seller is lying, but it’s like a “little white lie”. Gold filled scams abound, and some are actually trying to charge you prices as if something was gold filled while fooling you. Others however, are trying to sell you gold tone or “gold finish” (a little more realistic gold tone) that will last as if it was gold filled, that is extremely inexpensive.
So if you see “gold filled stainless steel”, and the price is under $10, that is probably gold tone stainless steel with a good coating. Some fake “gold filled” is gold tone or gold plated brass with a coating. It will wear faster than the stainless steel, but the lifespan will be at least a year and a half in hot sweaty weather. It will be worth the money you pay for it, not in scrap value, but in durability.
Another good buy that is often sold as gold filled but isn’t, is anodized aluminum. Anodized aluminum is a bit soft, but the finish lasts like a champ. It’s also very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. You can buy these by the dozen very inexpensively, so if one gets bent out of shape or broken, you can replace it right away. I use these chains when I make someone an amulet or talisman that needs to be worn at all times.
Real gold filled may be a good idea if you want to wear actual gold that will really last a lifetime, but you’re hard on your jewelry. Also, if it’s a choice between hollow gold or gold filled, choose the gold filled. Hollow gold is just stupid when there is gold filled that gives you the same look without being basically foil. Only get gold filled pieces from a reputable jeweler because there is the chance of mystery metals if you don’t.
Real gold filled jewelry that is brand new will not have the brownish tinge that most gold tone or plated does. It will have a slight yellow-greenish tinge if it is 14k or lower, and a sunnier orange tinge if it is 18k or higher. It will have a GF-Karat-Proportion stamp usually, and a brand stamp as well. There are some exceptions, and a stamp doesn’t necessarily mean that it is real. So as with buying vermeil or solid gold, you need to get these things from a jeweler you can trust.
Other Things to Look For
Whether it’s plated brass, vermeil, filled, or gold tone, a quality piece of jewelry is well made.
If it is a chain, its links will be welded closed. If the links are split, it can still look nice, but it shouldn’t cost you more than $10. It will snag on everything. The only advantage is that it’s probably easy to repair or adjust.
Any gems should be glass or stone, not plastic or resin. They should also be actually set, not just glued on.
If a karat number was given, the color should be comparable to other solid gold pieces. It probably won’t be exactly the same, but it should be somewhat close.
Where to Buy the Good Fake Gold
I made a board with products that have passed or are likely to pass my 1 year durability test. Bracelets, I wear for at least a year all the time, except when I’m in sulfurous hot springs. Most were still exposed to the steam somewhat. Chains I usually take off in direct sun because here, they heat up and burn your neck, but I do put them back on when I’m in air conditioning, or wear a scarf over and around them if I don’t want to fiddle with them too much. Rings, I take off at night, and when I need to do fine work, but they have been put through some things.
Recycle Your Old Jewelry
If you’ve got old pieces that you’re considering tossing in the garbage, don’t. Recycle it instead. Just send it to Friends of the Earth at:
Friends of the Earth
Amber Business Village
Tamworth B77 4RP
You might have a local company who does this, so check around.