Have you ever looked at gold colour jewellery on a website and come across letters such as HGE or RG in the description? Is gold bonded jewellery real gold? Do you wonder what they mean?
You're not alone. I've had quite a few emails over the years which have asked for my help in explaining the letters on gold looking jewellery, and on investigation I've had to be the bearer of bad news; they've been conned and their expensive 'solid 18kgp ring' is actually gold plated costume jewellery. Sadly, some unscrupulous sellers give rather creative descriptions of their jewellery for sale, which tries to gloss over the fact that their jewelry is not real gold - it's plated gold.
Here's a quick glance guide to identifying letter stamps and initials on jewelry which are used to describe gold-tone/ gold-plated metal ...
~ RG - means rolled gold. This is gold sheet (usually 12K or 14k) that is rolled into a tube, and then filled with a base (ie non precious) metal such as brass. This process gives a longer lasting gold colour than normal gold plating, and is often stamped on jewellery: 1/20 12kt GF or 1/20 14kt RG for example.
ABOVE: Many old vintage glass bead necklaces were threaded on rolled gold wire, which is most commonly slightly square shaped and thicker than normal wire. Rolled gold wire also develops a nice patina like normal low grade gold (eg 9k), and is not prone to wear.
~ GF - means gold filled, which is simply another name for rolled gold. RG and GF are more durable than gold plated metal.
ABOVE; A 'RG' stamped rolled gold art deco 1920s vintage ring. Note how well it's lasted, easpecially as rings are notoriously prone to damage, yet this one is nearly 100 years old and is only now showing signed of wear to the metal. Rolled gold (aka gold filled) metal is a perfect bridge between costume jewellery and more expensive fine solid gold jewellery.
~ GOLD OVERLAY - again means a type of rolled gold; a gold sheet (usually 14k) that is rolled into a tube, and then filled with a base (ie non precious) metal.
~ GP - stands for gold plating, a process which involves spraying a fine layer of gold onto base metal. GP jewelry tends to lose the gold coating with day to day wear after a while.
ABOVE: The back of what was once a brilliant bright gold-plated circa 1980s pendant, which has now faded and worn out
~ HGE - means Heavy Gold Electroplate, a slightly thicker coating of gold onto base metal than standard gold plating.
~ HGP - means a Heavy Gold Plate, a slightly thicker coating of gold onto base metal than standard gold plating.
ABOVE: Some rings offered online have 'creative' descriptions, such as 'For sale: solid 18KHGE white gold and blue sapphire ring', a description which in real life means nothing more than a cheap and pretty costume jewellery ring made with a lab created sapphire and white gold-plated metal.
~ LAYERED GOLD - another type of gold plating.
~ GOLD BONDED - another type of gold plating, or occasionally used to describe rolled gold.
~ VERMEIL - this is genuine solid 925 sterling silver which has been given a specificly measured thick coating of gold. Base metal which has been gold plated cannot by law be described as vermeil, only genuine gold-plated sterling silver can. Also known as silver guilt, or silver guilded metal.
ABOVE: If you come across a piece of jewellery that has a '925' stamp on it, but it's gold coloured, then you may have a piece of true vermeil jewellery, like this vermeil frame shell cameo brooch.
~ HAMILTON GOLD - brass tone metal with gold plated finish; generally only used on watches.
~ PINCHBECK GOLD - an early faux gold imitation, invented in the 18th century and made from an alloy of zinc and copper. True pinchbeck items are now very rare and worth a lot of money.Today, the term 'pinchbeck' is often incorrectly used to generally decribe any type of antique faux gold.
ABOVE: Many vintage dealers will describe any type of antique gold looking metal as 'Pinchbeck', but real genuine pinchbeck is rare. Always ask a seller if their 'pinchbeck' is real, or they've just used it as a general description for antique gold plate.
~ GOLD TONE - jewellery that is gold coloured, not real gold. This is the most commonly used description of gold plated costume jewellery.
~ GOLD COLOUR - jewellery that is gold coloured, not real gold.
ABOVE: A cute gold tone necklace. Gold tone costume jewellery is often described as being made from 'pot metal' 'mixed metal' or 'base metal', which means there is no real gold used in the item, other than perhaps a thin layer of gold-plate.
~ GOLD LEAF - a type of gold plating.
Finally, look out for descriptions such as "fantastic genuine solid 18k HGE gold engagement ring", or "solid 14KGP gold chain". If you see any of these letter initials in the description of a jewellery item then be aware that the jewellery may not be genuine solid gold. Also, just because something has a gemstone in it doesn't mean it will automatically be encased in real gold.; low grade gemstones (or lab created gemstones/lab-diamonds) are inexpensive, and might be used to make gold plated jewellery appear more realistic.
There's nothing wrong with gold plated or silver plated jewellery - I use it all the time in my designs and it enables people to buy stunning jewellery at a fraction of the price of fine jewellery. The problem occurs when unscrupulous sellers try every trick in the book to fool people into thinking that a piece of costume jewellery they are selling is fine jewellery, and people end up paying £100s of pounds for a piece of jewellery that's perhaps worth a tenner.