Wondering what’s underneath the shiny exterior?
We understand that it’s important to know what materials you are working with when making your jewelry. With Sterling and gold prices sky high, plated metals are becoming an ever more tempting alternative to putting a major dent in your wallet. Here’s some answers and FAQ to the most common questions we get about plated metal, findings and chain.
1.) How are plated metal beads and findings made?
Most metal findings and beads in this industry are made by casting. A mold is made in the shape and design of the item. Then the mold is filled with molten metal, cooled, and then finished (usually) to a high polish. Objects made of Sterling or Gold are cast directly in those metals. Most plated metals start as copper or pewter castings that then receive a silver or gold plating.
The process of plating can be accomplished by using any number of methods. One common method is electroplating, where the piece to be plated is submerged in a chemical solution bath that has an electric current running through it. The power within the current can coat a conductive material with a thin coating of a desired metal or provide the object with a number of other properties (such as reducing corrosion).
This is a casting tree, ready to be invested in a flask. Once the investment has set, these will be put into a casting machine.
2.) How long will the plating last?
Since the plating on most metals is very thin, it important to know what to expect. Unlike pure metals or silver and gold alloys, plated metals may deteriorate in quality much quicker. One thing that may happen is that the surface of the metal may darken or lose the original shine that it had. Some people refer to this as “turning”. What is actually happening is the copper base metal is reacting with the oxygen in the air after a period of time and that COPPER OXIDE is rising to the surface of the metal, causing a tarnished look. Unlike sterling, this oxidation is not easily polished away since that may end up damaging the plating even more by removing it all together. In some other cases, plating can actually be chipped or removed from the surface of the metal, exposing the copper casting underneath the plating.
This is a basic electroplating bath set-up.
3.) How can I prolong the life of plated metals?
The best way to keep your plated metals happy is to make sure that they are not exposed to any other undue chemical corrosion. This chemical corrosion can be caused by simple things like perfumes, make-ups, direct sunlight and human sweat over time. People that live in much warmer climates tend to see their plated items deteriorate faster due to these causes. When using plated metal beads in jewelry design, spacers may be helpful, since scratches to the surface can expose the base metal.
4.) Once the plating is compromised, what can I do?
If the damage is minimal, a very SOFT cotton cloth can remove some tarnishing. However DO NOT use regular silver/gold cleaning solutions or coarse cloths on items that are plated. If the piece is dear to you and it has lost much plating, the best thing to do is bring it to a jeweler and have the item re-plated.