Have you ever started looking for a specific item and end up lost in a labyrinth of searches that get you nowhere? 

Because my ultimate goal is to make gorgeous jewelry at affordable prices, I have to be very mindful when I purchase gems.

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation when it comes to jewelry terms and items, so I have much to talk about.  

I would like to discuss the following:

  1. Authentic gems! London blue topaz versus London blue topaz Quartz. Authentic sapphires versus lab created gems, aka pretty colored mundane glass versus gorgeous authentic gems.
  2. Gold plated, Gold filled, vermeil and real gold. 

Gems versus Glass:   

As a jewelry designer I must get my gems from a good supplier. It all starts here! The foundation of jewelry is being able to acquire authentic, high quality gems and metals. Sounds simple right? Not quite. 

For the last couple of months I have spent endless hours searching for good sapphires, tourmalines, blue topazes, and aquamarine gems. Yes, as you can see I am the lady in Blue. I love authentic, sparkly blue gems, perhaps because it reminds me of the ocean, where my soul is at home and my happy place 💙.

To my surprise I encountered so many sellers listing “London Blue Topaz Quartz”. Frustrating, labyrinth indeed, but perseverance always helps you find the way out. Please know that there is NO such thing as a "London Blue Topaz Quartz" OR ANY blue quartz that is crystal clear, no matter what it's called. Blue quartz is not translucent but an opaque, cloudy gem, and it is called blue Chalcedony. Topaz and Quartz are two different gems, and you can’t have a Blue Topaz Quartz. This is a “code” that sellers are using nowadays to upsell lab made glass. It might look pretty, but it is worthless colored glass. 

There are better ways to spend your hard earn money. 

Next I spent some time looking at suppliers of gems and what other jewelers are selling. Even very successful sellers here on Etsy are misrepresenting gems used in their necklaces, earrings and bracelets. So many sellers say “sapphires”, when what they are selling is mundane Crystal colored dark blue that should say "sapphire imitation". Some terms you will often come across are: “Hydro”, which means lab-created. Or adding “Quartz” to any other gem implies it is not a genuine gem, just glass and should be listed as "Imitation sapphire" or "imitation London Blue Topaz".   

Here is a useful tip to test a blue topaz: Make sure your gem is clean.  Using a rod, thin straight bar, can be wood or metal; place a droplet of water at the top of the gem.  If it is genuine Topaz, or a gem harder than 9 on the Mohs scale, the drop will just stay there. If it is Quartz or a stone softer than 8 on the Mohs* scale, the water droplet will disperse over the stone. The higher the rating on the Mohs scale, the more rounded the drop of water.  

I can tell based on the pictures, the way the light reflects on the faceting of the gem, lack of variation when it is a strand, etc. When in doubt you can always send me that picture 😉

So please before you jump into buying a pretty necklace ask questions, and make sure you are getting what you think you are getting. If you are buying a gem, you should get a gem. If you are buying colored glass, you should not be paying more than $10.  Buy from a reputable seller. Authentic gems will cost more money, but are for you to treasure not just for a couple of months. Sometimes it amazes me how much they are actually charging for colored glass aka “Blue Topaz Quartz”. 

(*):The Mohs scale of mineral hardness is a qualitative ordinal scale characterizing scratch resistance of various minerals through the ability of harder material to scratch softer material.       

Gold Plated versus Gold Filled or Vermeil: 

Let’s start with pure gold which is 24 karats.  

Pure gold is soft, so it’s often mixed with other metals to increase its hardness and durability. The total of pure gold and other metal always adds up to 24, so: 18 kt gold is 18 parts gold for 6 parts alloy. 14kt gold is 14 parts gold for 10 parts alloy. (I think this section about Gold should come before “Gold Plated”.)   

Gold Plated: 

Gold plated is basically a base metal (mostly simple brass) dipped into a superficial layer of gold. So the amount of gold is non-measurable, and it will come off and chip in a matter of months. It is not a durable or valuable option. Brass is not a precious metal. It is an alloy mixture of copper and zinc. 

Gold Filled:  

Gold filled is a layer of gold that is bonded to a base metal, usually brass.  The bonding of gold to brass occurs through heat and high pressure.  In the United States, the quality of gold-filled is defined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If the gold layer is 10kt fineness, the minimum weight of the plated layer on an item stamped "GF" must equal at least 1/10th of the total weight of the item.  If the gold layer is 12 kt or higher, the minimum layer of karat gold in an item stamped "GF" must equal at least 1/20th the total weight of the item. The most common stamps found on gold-filled jewelry are 1/20 12kt GF and 1/20 14kt GF. 

Also common is 1/10 10kt. Some products are made using sterling silver as the base, although this more expensive version is not common today. These standards are for modern gold-filled items.    If by law Gold Filled must be 1/20 the weight of the item, that means that only 5% of that piece is gold, and 95% of that is brass (or other metal).    

Gold filled jewelry will not last indefinitely, but has a lifespan of daily wear of between 5 to 30 years before wearing through.  Sometimes after years, the gold filled layer will peel away from the underlying base metal.     When gold filled becomes tarnished, it can be cleaned with a tarnish removing solution, and it will look like solid yellow gold again.  You can expect gold filled to last at least a couple of decades when well taken care of.  

Vermeil: 

Vermeil is sterling silver with a layer of gold plating. The gold is usually 18k or higher, up to pure 24k gold.  Vermeil has a lot more gold than other gold plated. In the United States, Vermeil, like gold filled, is also regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  

Vermeil sometimes is gold plated pure silver or nearly pure (97%) silver.  The layer of gold has to be a minimum gold thickness of 2.5 microns on all surfaces.   A Vermeil piece of jewelry is made entirely of precious metals, which gives the piece an intrinsic value.  Vermeil jewelry should maintain the look of yellow gold for many, many years.  Will vermeil tarnish? Yes, but it can be easily cleaned with sterling silver jewelry cleaner or cloths to look brand new.   Vermeil is made with only PRECIOUS metals silver and gold and no brass.  

Does Vermeil Tarnish?  Does Gold Fill Tarnish?

Although I have not had gold filled tarnish on me yet, over years, both Vermeil and Gold Fill will tarnish. Precious metals in their pure form are less prone to oxidation, they do tarnish too, rarely but it can happen.   Sterling Silver will tarnish.  How much it oxidizes and how quickly depends on many different factors such as moisture,  air pollution, exposure to chemicals, exposure to lotions and chlorine. 

The good thing about Silver is you can always remove the tarnish. 

How do we best take care of jewelry? 

Keeping it in a closed zip lock or box with an anti-tarnish paper will help prevent tarnishing. 

Try to keep it away from all heavy chemicals.

 When needed clean with mildly sudsy water, rinse well and pat dry, and your shine should be restored. The regular and gentle use of a polishing cloth for jewelry is safer and will also keep metals sparkling clean and like new.  

Aloha, don’t forget to take good care of yourself, just like your jewels. For me my best anti-tarnish solution is yoga and a good Sunday workout 😉, more on that next.    

Federal Trade Commission: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0293-gold-silver-jewelry