Vermeil is best known for its application in goldsmiths and silverware. However, many jewels are made in vermeil and have a remarkable preciousness. Vermeil is a very interesting alternative solution at a time when the price of gold is soaring, as its appearance and brilliance imitate it to perfection. Thus, while these jewels had been abandoned for the benefit of other precious metals (silver, gold, platinum), they are now on the rise thanks to designers like Charlotte Chesnais and Sophie Buhai.
Vermeil is considered a precious metal. It therefore has a stamp of State and is the subject of customs regulations.
In common parlance, the abusive term gold-plated silver is used to talk about vermeil. In fact, it responds to strict customs regulations as to its composition. The money use is said to be massive and must be at least 800 thousandths (minimum title). The gold layer must be of high quality and must be at least 5 microns thick in France, with a minimum purity of 750 thousandths (18 carats). In the United States, the minimum quality of the gold plating must be 14 carats with a minimum thickness of 2.5 microns while in Canada, the vermeil must be at least 92.5% silver and gold plated at least 10 microns.
Generally, large objects that seem made of gold are in vermeil as is the case for sporting trophies for example.The gilding reduces the need for cleaning and therefore the risk of damaging vermeil jewellery. In addition, it does not give allergies since it is composed of gold and silver, two hypoallergenic metals.
The Incas were the first to make vermeil objects using very complex gilding techniques. These techniques are numerous. In Homer's Odyssey, it is the folding or hammering on gold or silver leaf that is mentioned while the mercury gilding was used as early as the fourth century BC. However, the production of vermeil by this process was halted because of the toxicity of mercury. Now, the method used is that of electroless plating.
Although very resistant, vermeil did not have much success until recently but the rise in the price of gold has encouraged the rediscovery of this metal. Its history goes back to Antiquity, with the appearance of gilding techniques that preceded vermeil as it is known today. The word comes from the lower Latin vermis, which means cochineal and refers to the scarlet color produced by this insect. Vermeil is best known for being the precious metal which composes the gold medal of the Olympic Games since 1912.
Large gold-plated silver works have been found in pre-Columbian civilizations, as well as jewellery and goldsmith work among Greeks and Romans. The use is thus widespread among the crowned heads and the powerful ones of all time in order to state its wealth, its opulence and its power. The White House's Vermeil Room in Washington features a variety of gold-plated luxury items, including a magnificent glass cut by silversmith Paul Storr.
Ancient civilizations used twice as much imagination to develop their own processes of gold plating. The Greeks, followed by the Romans used techniques by folding and hammering. The first true vermeil objects were invented by the Incas. Gold is often worked with silver, which symbolizes the moon, and whose mines abound in the Andes. The method used is gilding by depletion, or by reduction. This chemical process involves removing all non-gold surface metals to ensure a high quality gilding layer on the silver.
In the eighteenth century, in France, the technique of mercury gilding was developed and vermeil became a precious metal in its own right. However, as this technique was toxic for workers, it was abandoned, and vermeil was banned for a time by the French authorities. Today, vermeil is created by the advanced method of electroplating, that is to say a deposit of gold by electrolysis on a solid silver object.
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