Types of gold plating .. what do those letters on gold tone jewellery mean?



RG…..GF…… gold HGE……Gold bonded……GP…..Vermeil……Gold layered.


Have you ever looked at gold jewellery on a website and come across the above words and initials in the description? Do you wonder what they mean?

identifying initial letter stamps on gold plated jewellery fakes GP HGE tips

Read on for tips on how to identify your gold coloured jewellery!

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 that someone has purchased. Virtually every time 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 a rather ‘creative’ description of their jewellery for sale, which tries to gloss over the fact that their jewelry is not real – it’s gold plated.

So today, look no further than the Jewellery Muses’ 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.

vintage rolled gold pink deco glass bead necklace

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.

art deco vintage pink glass opal diamante ring

A ‘RG’ stamped rolled gold art deco ring. Note how well it’s lasted; 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.

vintage 70s toledo damascene pendant jewelry

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 – also see HGE, means a heavier gold plate, a slightly thicker coating of gold onto base metal than standard gold plating.

vintage sapphire glass paste cz ring deco (2) (640x617)

Some rings offered online have  ‘creative’ descriptions, such as ‘For sale: solid 18KHGE white gold and blue sapphire CZ ring‘, a description which in real life means nothing more than a cheap and pretty costume jewellery ring made with a sapphire coloured fake stone 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 925 sterling silver which has been given a thick coating of gold (normally 14k or 18k).  Base metal which has been gold plated cannot by law be described as vermeil, only genuine gold-plated sterling silver can.

vintage shell cameo brooch

If you come across a piece of jewellery that has a ‘925’ stamp on it, but it’s gold coloured, then you have a piece of true vermeil jewellery, like this vermeil frame shell cameo brooch.

~ HAMILTON GOLD – brass toned metal with gold plated finish; generally only used on watches.

~ PINCHBECK GOLD – an early gold imitation, invented in the 18th century and made from an alloy of zinc and copper.  True pinchbeck items are very rare and worth a lot of money.  Nowadays, the term ‘pinchbeck’ generally means any type of antique faux gold.

Antique victorian carved shell cameo brooch jewelry

Many dealers will describe any type of antique gold looking metal as ‘Pinchbeck’, but real genuine pinchbeck is hard to find! Always ask a seller if their pinchbeck is real, or just their general description for gold plate.

~ GOLD TONE / GOLD – COLOUR – jewellery that is gold coloured, not real gold.

vintage 80s gold tone snake chain flower necklace drop daggers (3)

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.

Look out for descriptions such as “fantastic genuine solid 18k HGE gold ring”, or “solid 14KGP gold ring”.  If you see any of these phrases, words or initials in the description of a jewellery item then be aware that the jewellery will not be genuine solid gold.

Two Final Quick Tips:

~ 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) can be dirt cheap to buy, and might be used to make gold plated jewellery appear more ‘real’.



Top ten no-nonsense tips for vintage jewellery shopping ..

I love shopping for vintage costume jewellery, but looking back I remember being really intimidated by it all when I first started out back in the 1990s. Over the years I’ve found some bargains, made some awful mistakes, and had the chance to discover towns and cities I’d never consider going to if I weren’t for my treasure hunting passion!

So here are my top tips for vintage costume jewellery shopping ..

1. Vintage jewellery is uncommon to find in ‘real life’ shops, unless it’s a specific vintage shop.  Charity and thrift shops do sell it occasionally (I absolutely LOVE charity shopping for vintage and make a day of it), but you have to search them out to find the best places, and even then they’re not consistent; a town bursting with unbelievable retro treasures in January may not produce anything else vintage jewellery-wise for the rest of the year. I actually keep a little calendar log of the towns I’ve visited, and don’t visit the charity shops there more than four times a year – yes, I’m that dedicated about it!

formby sefton coast beach merseyside pine trees free photos images beach sea (50)

When vintage and thrift shopping, always have a fun plan B if it’s one of those days where nothing is showing up. If I go to Merseyside, I make time to go to the lovely sandy beaches there on the Sefton coast (above), or a trip to rural towns normally means a countryside amble too. I  always shop in sturdy shoes, so I’m prepared for those unexpected detours!

2. Not everyone like treasure hunting, so if you want to buy a vintage jewellery without the hours of rummaging through crappy stuff, then a good bet is to head for areas in cities which have a cluster of dedicated vintage shops in one road (often in student areas). A concentration of shops means competition, which often equals better quality goods at lower prices. A single vintage shop in a town or district can sometimes mean higher prices for a more limited range of items.

3. Have some background knowledge to what you want to buy if possible, especially when it comes to dating vintage stuff, or looking out for fakes. Ask your seller questions about an item, and trust your instincts. I’ve written some guides to dating vintage jewellery which can be found on this blog, or ask away here!

4. Quick vintage jewellery dating tips: Any necklace that has a lobster clasp is generally modern.  T-bar hinges on brooches mean very old antique jewellery (yay!). Gloopy pearlized enamel is generally modern. Aurora borealis (also known as ‘AB’) is a special type of rainbow lustre found coated on glass stones and beads, and was invented in the 1950s; therefore it’s never found on art deco nor antique jewellery.

Tips on shopping for vintage fashion costume retro shop jewellery

MAIN: a T-hinge brooch, only found on real antique jewellery
TOP RIGHT: glass beads/ stones coated with Aurora Borealis lustre, which is a guarantee the beads or stones were made after the 1950s.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Gloopy pearlized enamel (as seen on this bracelet) is generally modern.

5. Try not to buy vintage jewelry which is damaged – things like flaking pearls and damaged enamel are not fixable and will only get worse, and definitely avoid metal that has little green patches (called verdigris) which will only get worse no matter how you try and clean it, and it will spread to other jewellery it touches too).

6. You may hear people talking about ‘signed jewellery’. This means that the company which made the piece has had it’s name stamped on the back (eg Trifari, Napier, Hollywood, Exquisite). Unless you specifically collect vintage costume jewellery (which is a big passion for many people, but a subject for a different blog post), I wouldn’t be too concerned about this, and certainly don’t pay over the odds for something your not 100% in love with just because it has a stamped ‘name’ on it. Some of the most stunning vintage jewellery I’ve come across has been ‘unsigned’ (ie, no stamp), and it’s been whole lot cheaper too (WINS all round :))

7. If you fall in love with jewellery which is damaged and you know how fix it (eg, replace missing stones) then have a go at (nicely and respectfully) haggling the price down if you feel it’s too high. While vintage will show signs of light wear (eg, gold tone metal fading, slightly dull rhinestones), don’t fall for some dealers sale speak of damage being a ‘natural’ part of owning a piece of vintage –  it isn’t.  If you want your items to last (or sell on at a later date) then the jewellery should be good condition.

vintage 5 row pearl glass bead necklace repair (2)

This broken vintage faux pearl necklace was on offer for almost the same price as a good condition one. Use common sense, and only buy things which are in good condition (or if your crafty, fixable and at a discounted price).

8. You can find some real bargains at auctioneers – not the famous Internet ones, I mean the real life ones, with humans and hammers and dodgy winks and head shakes. In my experience,  they’re great for buying vintage costume jewellery in bulk, or individual items of vintage fine jewellery (ie gold or gemstones) at a bargain.

9. You never know what lies inside that town or small city your innocently passing through. My best finds have been: a pile of art deco Bohemian glass necklaces in Accrington (£1 each), a huge 1950s rhinestone brooch from Carlisle (£3), an antique Victorian Whitby Jet necklace from Knutsford (£4), a carved 1950s mother of pearl powder compact from Kendal (£5), a carved art deco Bakelite bangle from Chorley (£1), some 1940s reverse carved Lucite jewellery from Altringham (£3 each), and an art deco glass paste bracelet from Caernarfon (£4).  BTW, in the interest of balance and honesty, I usually don’t find one single thing when I’m out on a treasure hunt!

10.  It’s what you’ve been hoping for all blog post – where to shop (ie, outside London, as that’s a blog post for someone who actually knows London well and who isn’t an odd day tripper like me). I’m not going to give away all my favourite places, but here’s a random 5 to get you started. In no particular order:

  • Glasgow: Byres Road area, which is near Glasgow University. A treasure trove of good quality vintage shops at proper prices (hint – don’t forget to investigate the cobbled side streets off it too – some of the best shops are found down there).
  • The cities of York and Chester – different counties but similar in enchanting olde world feel, and both a treasure trove of good quality second hand shops that don’t overcharge. If in Chester and you’ve got time, nip over to Wrexham too.
  • If you want proper couture and luxury designers such as Chanel, then head over to Alderley Edge in Cheshire (apparently the town with the highest concentration of millionaires or something). As seen with my very own eyes when I decided to have a quick nosy in while passing through on other business, the charity shops there are rightly the stuff of legend.
  • Ramsbottom in Lancashire has some great charity shops, and for the full vintage experience you can even catch an old  vintage train there too. It’s also home to the incredible ‘Memories Antiques’ vintage emporium centre, which is bursting at the seams with stalls selling vintage clothes and vintage jewellery from floor to ceiling, all at very reasonable prices too. Even thinking about it brings a warm smile to my face and song to my heart.
  • And last but not least, take a day out along the lovely North Wales coast, from Prestatyn to Colwyn Bay and ending in Llandudno. All three are packed with charity shops and the odd old fashioned antique curiosity shop (the one in Prestatyn is legendary), and what the heck, ambling along these neighbouring seaside towns is just lovely way to spend a day.
views from great orme llandudno wales

Vintage shopping along the North Wales coast, Jewellery Muse style (be sure to pack those walking boots to take in the view from the top of Great Orme!)

Tips on how to tell if your jewellery is vintage

help on how to tell if your jewellery is genuine real vintage not modern

Loving REAL vintage!

Genuine vintage jewellery is in massive demand at the moment, and rightly so.  It’s got character, is often amazingly beautiful and well made, and of course almost no one else will own your unique piece!

As with anything that becomes fashionable, you’ll always get sellers and store owners trying to cash in on the trend.  While there is of course nothing wrong with this, it can become a problem if they describe their jewellery as vintage when it isn’t.  In fact at the moment I’m really disappointed at the amount of jewellery I’m seeing online that is being described as simply ‘vintage’, when on closer inspection it is modern ‘vintage style’ or a marriage of new jewellery with salvaged vintage bits and pieces attached to it.

Here are my tips to make sure you’re buying genuine, real vintage jewellery.

1.  ‘Antiqued’ gold tone is usually modern.  You know the colour I mean – that bronzed and slightly dappled dark gold plating that’s really popular at the moment.  Dark antiqued gold plating has been used in the past (especially on circa 1920s to 1940s Czechslovakian/ Bohemia region jewellery though this isn’t very commonly seen). If you’re not sure then email the seller for clarification of age.

vintage 1980s bronze brown celtic scottish agate bar glass brooch jewellery

Modern antiqued gold

2.  Plastic rhinestones are cheap modern alternatives to glass, and have been used in jewellery since the 1980s. Tap rhinestones on your teeth to see what they are made from.  Glass has a cold hard high pitched clink, while plastic is warm and soft, and makes a much duller sounding click.

3.  Gunmetal colour, ie dark shiny pewter colour metal is generally modern, though absolute matte black metal was occasionally used in vintage jewellery.

mixed lot vintage gunmetal japanned silver tone chains jewellery making

Modern gunmetal chains

4. Cute kitsch pendants on simple chains are very popular at the moment,and are sometimes advertised as simply ‘vintage’.  These are usually modern made, not proper genuine vintage jewellery.  A seller may be using old parts taken from vintage jewellery (which is fine and can be really beautifully done), but they should make this clear in both the title and description of the jewellery.  Jewellery like this is correctly called ‘vintage inspired‘…’vintage recycled‘ ….’vintage reworked‘ or ‘vintage style‘ etc…..not just ‘vintage’.

vintage style envelope and love letter pendant necklace charm

Describing modern items as simply vintage? Do stop.

I’ve actually seen a seller describe their modern jewellery (which happens to have a little piece of vintage jewellery stuck onto it) as simply ” ‘vintage handmade necklace”. I understand completely that sellers need to make money, and want to get to the top of jewellery searches in Google search engine for vintage jewellerty.  However, surely this kind of description can’t be right?  How would this seller feel if they’d bought a ‘vintage handmade’ Art Deco wardrobe, only to find out it’s a modern wardrobe with Art Deco handles stuck on it?

5.  Genuine vintage jewellery is generally unique, which is why it is so sought after.  If you see words such as ‘limited stock on this item‘ it will not be authentic vintage jewellery.

6.  Always read the ‘about me’ or ‘about us’ page of a website.  Who is it that you are buying from?  Are they experienced vintage jewellery dealers?  Do you get a feel for their love of genuine vintage jewellery?

7.  If the description of a jewellery item only says ‘vintage’ and doesn’t give an actual approximate date to the item (eg made circa 1950-60s, or made circa late 19th century) then be a little wary, and email the seller for a date to the item.

Hope this helps you find your perfect piece of real vintage jewellery.

If you’re  a real vintage seller, what are your tips for buying vintage jewellery? (other than shopping at your fabulous shop of course 🙂

Five tips for buying vintage jewellery online

Those in the know have been secretly adorning themselves with vintage jewellery for years, but for anyone new to the vintage world, things can be a little daunting.  Here are five quick tips to get you started!


1. Always go for good quality.  Rhinestones should all be present and clear (none missing), clasps should work properly and be secure,  beads shouldn’t be damaged and pearls should never be flaky or peeling. Borrow the antique dealer motto – buy the best quality you can afford. On the other hand, vintage items will rarely look in brand-new condition – they are over 20 years old and have been used, often on many occasions. General wear is acceptable, though serious damage such as missing stones or broken beads isn’t.

Tips and ideas on how to buy and cameo where to start buying genuine vintage and antique jewellery jewelry

This beautiful cameo is sadly damaged – it has a bad crack down one side. Buy the best you can afford and avoid damaged vintage jewellery like this.

2.  Shop around. There is no set vintage industry standard to prices, and they can vary wildly for the exact same item. Some dealers have huge overheads and costs which they need to re-coup, so charge for their jewellery finds accordingly. Other dealers have virtually no overheads so can give you a real bargain.  

Tips and ideas on how to buy and where to start buying genuine vintage and antique jewellery jewelry paste glass

The rhinestones on this beautiful 1950s necklace have yellowed slightly with age after 60 years – this is quite normal for vintage rhinestone jewellery. A vintage jewellery piece has a history and life, which you are adding to while it’s in your possession

3. If you’re on a very low budget, then possibly the best place to buy vintage is Ebay.  However, it does have  drawbacks for buyers who are new or not very experienced to vintage; there are masses of fakes or poorly described jewellery on there – what may be described as a 1960s chunky necklace can sometimes be a 2 year old high street copy.  Check out the sellers feedback and About Me page to make sure they are true vintage jewellery enthusiasts.

Tips and ideas on how to buy and where to start buying genuine vintage and antique jewellery jewelry Swarovski bridal

This necklace was advertised to me on Ebay as from the early Art Deco 1920s period, but I knew that it was made after the 1950s. Why? Because it had a colourful coating called ‘AB’ on the beads (you can just make out the AB rainbow lustre), a glass coating process only invented in the 1950s by Swarovski.

4.   Always check that a vintage jewellery website is up to date (eg, check their social media pages – when was the last time they posted anything?), has a proper street address you can contact if there is a problem, has good descriptions/ photos and has a friendly open feel. Check their returns policy too – you may find your jewellery doesn’t fit or look right once you’ve received it.  Do they happily accept returns? Or instead do you get the feeling that it will be a pain to sort things out if you want to send an item back?

5. Watch out for the use of the word ‘vintage’, and fully read the description – real vintage jewellery should always have a rough guide to it’s age, ie ‘circa 1970s’ or similar.  Too many companies, including high street ones, are using the word ‘vintage’ out of context (ie as a description of style rather than an actual pre-1990s item).  It’s very misleading – please don’t be caught out.  Be safe, and buy from a dedicated proper vintage store from someone who knows and loves the genre.