Is that “925” imprint on your gold jewelry good or bad news? It could be either. It really depends on whether you understood the meaning and implications of the stamp BEFORE you bought.
What does “925” mean on Gold Jewelry? When 925 is stamped on gold jewelry, it means that the item has Sterling Silver beneath its surface. The number ‘925’ represents the percentage of silver that’s added to Sterling Silver (92.5%). By plating Sterling Silver with gold, you can get an expensive look at a much lower actual cost!
If you understand the pros and cons of this type of jewelry, you’ll be a more savvy shopper. You’ll be able to buy 925 gold when you find a great piece at an ideal price. In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll teach you the ins and outs of 925 gold jewelry, so you can shop with greater confidence, and avoid getting ripped off.
What Does 925 Mean on Jewelry?
When you see “925” stamped on gold jewelry, it means that the piece isn’t gold all the way through. This type of jewelry consists of a gold overlay on top of a base of Sterling Silver. It would typically be referred to as ‘Gold Vermeil’ (pronounced ver-MAY). Gold Vermeil is like standard gold plating with two exceptions.
- The base metal is always Sterling Silver. Standard gold plating is done over a variety of metals like Nickel, Copper, and Brass.
- The gold layer, or coating, on the surface of the ring, is much thicker. Standard gold plating is thin (approximately .5 micron). Gold Vermeil generally has a gold thickness of at least 2.5 microns.
I’ll explain more about the difference between gold plating and other options like ‘gold-filled’ a little later.
But why those specific numbers (925)? The stamp has to do with the composition of the Sterling Silver that lies under the surface of the gold plating.
Rings suffer a lot of bumps and scrapes as you use your hands for everyday things. You aren’t even aware of all the things your ring comes in contact with as you move and grab things throughout each day. Because of these daily hazards, most common jewelry metals, have other alloys mixed in to increase hardness (durability).
Sterling Silver is more than JUST silver. Copper makes it more scratch-resistant than silver would otherwise be on its own. Other metals alloys are sometimes also added in smaller quantities.
Guess what percentage of Sterling Silver is actually comprised of silver (I gave it away earlier)…it’s 92.5% or more. Again, the remaining part is often made up of Copper, but could also include other metals. I wrote an article that dives into deeper information on the composition of Sterling Silver. Feel free to review it if you want to learn more.
‘Hallmarks’ are abbreviations, or symbols, that get used like disclosure labels for jewelry. Hallmarks disclose the metal composition of jewelry pieces—because visual appearance, alone, can be deceiving. They can also reveal the craftsman or nation that the item comes from in some cases.
The number 925 is a common hallmark, or ‘fineness mark,’ for Sterling Silver. The number 925, represents the minimal percentage of silver (92.5%) that has to get added for a metal mixture to qualify as Sterling Silver.
A 925 gold ring might have the “925” hallmark stamped on the inside of the ring where it’s visible only to the wearer. A 925 gold bracelet might have the numbers stamped on the backside of the clasp (where it isn’t visible as you wear it). The stamps are generally tucked away, and hidden, in areas where they can’t be observed by others.
Why Stamp Gold Jewelry with 925?
The simple answer is disclosure. A Sterling Silver ring, plated in 14k gold, for example, looks exactly like rings that are made ENTIRELY out of 14K gold. Because more gold is used to make the solid gold ring, it’s worth a lot more than the plated ring.
The 925 stamp on the inside of a gold ring, for example, lets buyers know not to pay solid gold prices for the gold-plated version.
While “925” is currently the most common mark for Sterling Silver jewelry, variations could include “92.5”, “.925”, “S925”, “Ster”, or “sterling.”
A solid gold jewelry item (without a base metal at its center) would get stamped with a number like 10, 14, 18, or 24, followed immediately by “K,” (or “KT”). That stamp discloses the purity of the gold used to make the piece. Again, these stamps allow you to know the metals used for the portions of the item that you can’t see…the part that lies beneath the surface.
Should You Buy Gold Plated Jewelry?
Not all gold plated jewelry is created equal. The type of base metal and the thickness of the gold plating are two important considerations. If you buy from the wrong manufacturer, you may be sorry that you purchased a plated ring.
Some manufacturers focus on producing cheap jewelry that looks great when it’s new—not on making durable pieces that last. The coating on these thinly-plated rings might only last for a few weeks before the base metal starts showing through the surface.
Quality plated rings aren’t always more expensive, but you should be willing to pay a little more, if needed, to get something more durable.
How to Recognize a Quality Piece of Gold Plated Jewelry
For a non-professional to visibly assess the quality of a particular piece of 925 gold jewelry is difficult—at best. You can’t tell how thick the plating is with a visual inspection. I do have two recommendations though for ensuring that you don’t get stuck with a garbage ring that gets worn out in a matter of weeks.
- Read reviews from other past buyers. Most online retailers seem to collect and display reviews from past buyers. Access to these reviews empowers you to make more informed buying decisions. I can quickly learn about the strengths and weaknesses of a particular ring from past buyers that have first-hand experience with it. They’ll share their actual experience and won’t ‘sugar coat’ their experience with the ring.
- Make sure the ring is covered by a solid return policy. If a retailer gives you a generous return policy, you’ll have greater confidence in the quality of their products. If you quickly wear through the gold plating on a ring that you purchased from them, for example, you end up stuck with it. This is one of the reasons (among others) that I’m not a fan of buying jewelry through auctions sites. They’re often a ‘buyer beware’ environment that can leave you holding the bag on a shoddy product.
The Pros and Cons of 925 Gold Jewelry
Where there are a lot of reasons to love gold plated jewelry, there are also some serious cautions. As the band Poison put it, ‘Every Rose Has its Thorn.’ We’ll explore both the pros and cons of 925 gold rings in this section.
First the “pros”…the biggest advantage of gold plated jewelry is price. Because Sterling Silver is so much less expensive than gold, you can buy 925 gold jewelry for a fraction of what the solid gold version would cost. That means that you can buy very expensive-looking jewelry, at prices that you can afford.
It isn’t only people with limited budgets that love saving money with gold plated jewelry. Even if you can afford to buy the pure gold version of a particular item, should you? It may make more sense to use the money you save elsewhere. If you LOVE variety in your jewelry—you might be able to get 5 or 10 Gold Vermeil items instead of 1 solid gold piece. Remember, that to outside observers, a gold plated ring is going to look just like a solid gold ring.
Plated rings make great starter rings—when you know that you’re going to upgrade the ring down the road anyway. They provide something beautiful and inexpensive now…until you can afford the ring you really want down the road.
Plated gold rings, and their center stones, are often far less expensive. Because of this, you may not have to bother with insuring them—which saves you money! If they get lost, stolen, or damaged, you can replace them with another inexpensive 925 gold ring.
Now for the “cons”…plated jewelry will need to be recoated as the gold layer is worn away over time. As we’ve already mentioned, the plating can sometimes be pretty thin.
You will need to have a Jeweler dip or re-plate your 925 gold jewelry periodically to make sure worn spots are recoated. How frequently that happens depends on the craftsmanship of the jewelry, how it’s cared for, and how often it’s worn. That replating may be needed every few months for some or every couple of years for others. Re-plating will likely cost $30 to $65.
If you have to pay $50 to have gold reapplied to your ring every 3 years, you’ll end up spending around $350 to maintain your plated ring over 20 years. Because of that maintenance, a plated gold ring will be cheaper in the short term, but may not save you much over the long term.
Sterling Silver can be plated with any type of gold. You can commonly find 925 White Gold and 925 Rose Gold jewelry available, in addition to yellow gold options. The level of gold purity used is typically 10k or higher.
Is 925 Gold Jewelry Susceptible to Tarnish and corrosion?
Because normal gold plating is typically very thin, tarnish and corrosion is possible if your jewelry is in an environment that’s conducive. That’s especially true as the thin outer layer is worn through.
Gold Vermeil provides a much thicker layer of gold-plating, so it’s far less likely to have problems with tarnish and corrosion. The fact that it uses Sterling Silver as it’s base metal, instead of Copper, also helps. In spite of all this, corrosion is still possible—particularly as the gold layer begins to wear thin, and the jewelry gets exposed to moisture.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires jewelry advertised as Gold Vermeil, to have a thickness of at least 2.5 microns. Other nations have similar consumer protection groups with their own set of standards. Those requirements may be different in various parts of the world. In Canada, for example, the standard is only 1 micron. At that thickness, Gold Vermeil is only about twice as thick as standard gold plating. While thicker is always better, that’s still far too thin to offer much long-term durability.
Gold-filled jewelry encapsulates a base metal in a THICK coating of bonded gold. It’s so thick, that you typically never have to worry about tarnish or corrosion.
Whether your gold jewelry is solid, plated, or filled—I recommend removing it before showering, swimming, playing in the ocean, soaking in a hot tub, or cleaning with household chemicals.
Leaving it on once or twice, won’t be catastrophic, but prolonged exposure could hurt your gold jewelry over time.
Is 925 Gold Worth Anything?
The resale value of Jewelry that has gold plating over a Sterling Silver base isn’t very high. This is true because brand new plated rings are so affordable. You can easily find quality gold plated rings in the $50 to $150 range, for example. While you could probably find someone willing to buy a used ring, in good condition—they definitely wouldn’t want to pay retail. Because of that, the resale value of these rings is hardly worth the effort of listing them.
The good news, is that you stand to lose very little on your inexpensive plated ring if you aren’t able to resell it at some point down the road. Your worst-case scenario is the loss of maybe $50 to $150. Contrast that with the experience of many people that try to resell a $6,000 diamond ring, but are only able to get $1,500 for it (a loss of $4,500)!
Is 925 Gold Pawnable?
The melt value of silver is minimal (typically $20/ounce or less). The melt value of the thin layer of gold lining the surface of these rings is also minimal. Pawnshops will most likely turn you away. If they do give you something for the ring, it won’t be much…unless you have a diamond mounted to it. Even then, the amount offered will likely be disappointing, because they ‘low ball’ when they buy diamonds too).
Gold Plated vs Gold Vermeil
Gold plated rings involve a thin layer of gold over other base metals that could include Copper, Brass, or Nickel for example. The ultra-thin coating of a cheap plated ring may look beautiful when it’s brand new, but it can quickly change color, and start to look drab, as the surface gold wears away.
Imagine having a thin layer of 14k White Gold coating a copper base metal. As the plating wears away over weeks or months, reddish-brown Copper begins to show through the surface, ruining the look of the ring. The dark base metal catches the eye and is hard NOT to notice.
Gold Vermeil is also considered gold plating, but it’s a thicker application (about 75% thicker), producing a more durable ring than standard plating provides. Another distinction is the type of base metal used. Gold Vermeil utilizes 925 Silver as the base metal. That’s a much better metal for jewelry use, than cheap alternatives like Nickel and Copper.
Both forms of plated jewelry are MUCH less expensive than buying solid gold jewelry. Both types will need to have the gold coating reapplied occasionally as time passes.
Gold Vermeil vs Gold Filled
Gold Filled jewelry isn’t plated—it’s gold that’s physically bonded to a base metal, so the two essentially become one. Roughly 2 dozen layers of gold are then also applied to build up a thick and durable gold coating that can look and wear like solid gold jewelry!
The gold that is applied to the surface of Gold Filled rings ends up being 5% of the total weight of the item. That may not sound like much gold, but it IS—especially compared with alternative products.
The 5% of the ring’s material that’s comprised of gold, makes the ring look and function like a solid gold ring. Since gold is so expensive, the less you use in your jewelry, the cheaper it will be. Since Gold-Filled jewelry uses a common base metal for 95% percent of the total weight (the part that’s hidden on the inside), it ends up costing A LOT less.
What if There is No Stamp?
If jewelry is advertised as 18k gold over Sterling Silver, for example, but you don’t see the 925 stamp on the item, you should proceed with caution.
Absent the reviews, reputation, and return policy, I probably wouldn’t buy the item. There’s too much room for deception and disappointment in buying an unmarked item. If the reviews, reputation and return policy were strong, I might decide to go ahead and buy even without the hallmark stamp.
The 925 mark provides valuable insight into the metal that lies at the center of jewelry, which has the appearance of being solid gold. Sterling Silver is great base metal to use for plated or gold filled rings. A 925 gold ring provides an excellent way to buy the beautiful gold jewelry that you want at a price you can actually afford.