Precious Metal Plating – Purpose and Function

There is a stigma attached to plating with precious metals like gold and silver which is largely undeserved. People tend to look down on something as “gold plated” or “silver plated” as if it is a cheap imitation of a solid gold or silver object. In truth, the process of plating with a precious metal is often not about imitation, but protection and function. The fact that the finished product happens to look good is just a bonus, in many cases.

What is Precious Metal Plating?
Plating with a precious metal is basically just applying a thin coating of a precious metal over an object made from some other metal. Whether plating with gold, silver or palladium, the most common process used for plating is electroplating. This plating is often more effective if there is an “undercoat” plating of copper or nickel.

Beautiful Plated Pieces
Jewelry is a good example of something that is plated for aesthetic and economic reasons, since a beautiful gold plated piece of jewelry is identical to a solid gold piece, at least to the untrained eye. Silverware and fine serving dishes such as tea sets and trays have also traditionally been plated, often with silver, to give the appearance of high value. In both cases, however, there is another reason for the plating—gold and silver are more resistant to oxidation than most other metals, so the plating serves to protect the piece from age and rust.

Functional Plated Pieces
As the electronics industry has expanded over the last several decades, an interesting fact was discovered—precious metals conduct electricity very well. This led to precious metals being sought after for use in many electronic devices, from stereos to computers. As demand has increased, precious metals have become even scarcer, and precious metal plating has been identified as a way to gain the benefits of the metals without as much of the cost. These days, plated components are extremely prevalent in cell phones, computers, televisions and just about any other electronic device you can imagine.

Which Precious Metal to Use for Plating
Aesthetically, gold is often the preferred precious metal plating, with silver being a close second. Silver tends to be used a lot in functional plated pieces because it is much cheaper than gold, has many of the same properties and can be soldered. Palladium falls between the two, offering many of the same benefits as gold plating with a slightly harder finish, and costing somewhere between the cost of gold and silver plating.

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