Skip to main content

Silver Gilt
The Allure of Silver-Gilt: An Affordable Touch of Gold

Silver gilt, or vermeil (pronounced ver-may), is a luxurious material with a long and fascinating history. It refers to silver, typically sterling silver, meticulously coated with a thin layer of gold. This process creates an object with the brilliance and prestige of gold at a fraction of the cost and weight.

Gilding silver has been used for centuries. Early methods involved applying an amalgam of gold and mercury to the silver surface. The object was then heated, causing the mercury to evaporate and leaving a gold deposit. Thankfully, modern techniques like electroplating, which uses an electric current to deposit a layer of gold ions, have replaced these hazardous practices.

Silver gilt offers several advantages. First, it's significantly more affordable than solid gold, making it a practical choice for creating opulent objects. Second, silver provides a strong and durable base, while the gold layer offers a beautiful and resistant surface that doesn't tarnish as readily as silver. Additionally, the thinness of the gold allows for exquisite detailing and decorative patterns to be incorporated into the design.

For centuries, silver gilt has been the material of choice for creating a wide range of objects. It's found in grand settings, adorning everything from tableware and goblets to elaborate picture frames and decorative objects. Many famous sporting trophies, including the iconic Olympic gold medals (after 1912), are silver-gilt, not solid gold. Even some of the most dazzling crown jewels across the globe have a silver-gilt core beneath their sparkling exteriors.

The application of gilding can be full or partial. "Full gilt" objects are entirely covered in gold, while "parcel-gilt" pieces feature strategic areas gilded for contrast or to highlight specific details. In the 18th century, for example, it was common to only gild the interior of cups, perhaps due to concerns about the harsh chemicals used for cleaning silver tarnishing the gold layer.

Silver gilt continues to be a treasured material in decorative arts and fine jewelry. Its enduring appeal lies in its ability to offer the luxurious aesthetic of gold at a more accessible price point. While many modern silver-gilt objects are mass-produced, skilled artisans still use traditional techniques to create exquisite pieces that are both beautiful and heirlooms in the making.

Last Updated on: 2024-03-10