Vermeil. Goldplated silver or silver gilt. Such a composition has the texture, fineness, hardness and smooth finish of silver, but the color of gold. Vermeil (pronounced vair-MAY) was originally an early goldplating process, firegilding, developed in France in mid 1700s. The process burned off mercury vapors that were injurious to the workers, forcing the abandonment of the process in early 19th century. Firegilding could be applied to bronze and other base metals as well as silver and the early use of the term does not always mean the base metal is silver.With the development of electroplating in the 1840s gold was electrodeposited on silver and base metals completely eliminating the deadly process of firegilding. While theterm is French, it was first used for goldplating silver in England in 1858.Vermeil must be hallmarked by law because of its precious metal content (in England since 1904, in America since 1906). The hallmarking can take any form as long as the silver is identified: argent, plata, fine silver, coin silver, .999 silver (the gold may be omitted, or stated: pure goldplate, 24K gold plate, H.G.P., or – more recently– layered in pure gold.Vermeil was revived somewhat in the jewelry field by Tiffany & Co. in the mid 1950s. They had developed a process of using multiple plating tanks which reduced the gold content, but retained the color and hardness. Such objects may be found marked 22 1/2K or even 18 1/2K goldplated. (Only pure metals can be used in electroplating, which see.)Private mints in modern time eagerly adopted the term vermeil for use in their sales promotion literature because it sounded elite and exclusive. Such mints could produce a product in silver that looked like gold, tout it for its precious metal content, and let their advertising copywriters revel in the use of the term vermeil.
excerpted with permission from
For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators
COMPILED AND WRITTEN BY D. WAYNE JOHNSON
Roger W. Burdette, Editor