People have long sought a method for turning lead into gold. While the alchemy for that task hasn't been found, we do have the technology to make that lead look like gold with a thin plating of the precious metal as a surface coating.
Gold is dissolved into a liquid solution. To be plated with gold, the base object must either be metal or coated with another metal before coating with gold. It should also be cleaned so it is free of oxidation and oils. The object is placed in the gold solution, and gold molecules pull out of the solution to coat or plate the object. When electrical current is applied, a heavier deposit of gold can be achieved. Eventually, the solution will be depleted of its gold content and will no longer plate other objects unless more gold is introduced into the solution.
The simplest method of gold plating is an instant plating solution. This method is inexpensive and can be a quick way to refresh previously plated jewelry that is showing wear. A very small amount of gold is deposited, so it is not a sturdy coating for items that will get a lot of wear. Results can also be uneven.
Pen plating utilizes a small amount of direct electrical current to create a better bond between the metal object and the gold plating. This method also allows for the selective application of gold to create decorative two-tone effects on the metal. A small amount of solution is need for many applications, so it can also be economical. The thickness and therefore durability of the deposit can be controlled with multiple applications.
In bath electroplating, the object is connected to a direct current power supply and suspended in the gold-laden solution. Multiple objects can be plated at the same time. The level of electrical current can be controlled to create a thick and long-wearing coating of gold. With this method, gold metal can be introduced into the bath during the electrical process to replenish the gold in solution, so chemicals can be replaced far less frequently. This system is more complex to set up, but is far more efficient for quality volume gold plating.
Plating kits can be purchased from many suppliers. The instant plating solution is available at many general retailers who sell jewelry. Disposable instant pen plating kits can be bought from craft retailers. Pen plating and bath electroplating kits can be purchased from jewelry suppliers and some specialty automotive parts suppliers. There are also companies that will do the gold plating for you, whether individual pieces or in bulk, for a fee.
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