Guide to Jewelry Plating

Learn about adding electroplating to your studio and how to select which plating system meets your business needs.

Last edited: 9/16/2019
Midas six-station plating system with rectifier and solutions

Electroplating is a method of coating an object by placing it in a solution containing the desired metal and applying an electrical current. There are four main reasons for electroplating jewelry: to change the color, to add value with a layer of a more expensive metal, to prevent tarnish such as with silver plating and rhodium plating, and to camouflage soldering seams or other similar flaws. If you plan on serving bridal jewelry customers, or you have a repair shop, plating is a required service.

Jewelry Plating Tools and Equipment

How should I ventilate my studio for jewelry plating? This may be most important consideration. Electroplating involves a plating solution with current passing through it. For safety, you must have a ventilation system or do your plating near an open window.

Where should I set up my jewelry plating equipment? You need a dedicated workspace for plating; it needs to be clean and not near a buffer. Buffing and polishing equipment for jewelry and lapidary kick up dust that can contaminate plating solutions. Think about where it could go and where you can set up plating in a dust-free environment.

What type of handling wire should I use? There are two options: Copper and stainless steel. Copper works well for pre-plating over base metal. (For example, pre-plating base metal with palladium before plating with gold.) Copper is also appropriate for precious metal plating, if you're using a single type of plating bath. If you'll be working with different plating baths, use stainless steel handling wire to avoid cross-contamination. We also recommend using stainless steel handling wire when plating rhodium to prevent contamination.

What type of anode should I use? The type of anode you'll use depends on the plating solution you're using. Platinized titanium is commonly used for precious metal plating, but the instructions or technical sheet for your solution will specify the type of anode you need.

What jewelry plating equipment meets your business needs? Assessing your needs helps you choose the right jewelry plating system. Plating systems vary depending on your immediate and future business plans. You may know you want to plate X number of pieces a month, you may want to add a special touch to a couple of pieces of jewelry, or you might be exploring plating to see:

  • If it suits your line
  • If your customers like the plated pieces
  • If your customers will pay the higher price for the plated pieces

Discovering your perfect jewelry plating set-up depends on your business needs. To help narrow down options, also ask if your jewelry plating needs will be immediate and consistent, occasional or one-time.

Photo of a plating kit

"Getting Started" Jewelry Plating Systems

If you're testing plating and/or know you'll need it infrequently, one of the Midas three or five amp starter kits, exclusively at Rio Grande, will suit your needs. For the lowest financial commitment, you'll have almost everything you need: handling wire, beakers, ceramic screens and more. With the addition of plating solutions and anodes, you'll be ready to begin plating immediately.

The Midas starter plating systems are entry-level systems built for jewelers who occasionally plate; they know they're going to use it and then box it up until they need it again.

"Step-It-Up" Jewelry Plating Systems

If you find that you are pulling out your plating equipment frequently or if it's constantly set up and in use, then it's time to look at the user-friendly Midas 6-station plating system. This equipment is ideal for jewelers who plate smaller workpieces and small batches of jewelry items at a time, but ample if you're ready to hire someone to help in the shop and take on the plating.

"Pedal-to-the-Metal" Jewelry Plating Systems

Both of the Midas six-station plating systems come with one-liter beakers that are large enough for most jewelry pieces and even allow multiple jewelry pieces to be plated at one time. When your business outgrows the one-liter size and you want to expand your production capacity, like plating five cuff bracelets at a time or larger hollowware pieces (and perhaps small sculptures), Rio Grande offers a Midas six station three-liter plating system and a five-liter bath that accommodates multiple jewelry pieces or large items. When your company's needs exceed that size, you should seriously consider outsourcing your plating.

Other Jewelry Plating Options

Closeup of plating process

Subcontracting your Jewelry Plating. What if you have an idea for a custom design and want to add plating to a single piece of jewelry or several pieces, such as an 18-karat accent to a one-of-a-kind ring or a few custom pendants? You can purchase the plating equipment you need, but the equipment involved to plate a single piece of jewelry is extensive and may not be worth the investment. Along with the financial cost, the time to learn the plating process may not be best for short-term use. Instead, consider asking a jeweler friend with plating equipment if you can either use their equipment or get their assistance with plating your jewelry; another option is to use a subcontractor.

A large order of 20,000 pieces may be a huge boon to your business, but if it's expected to be one-time or infrequent, purchasing plating equipment to meet the order's needs wouldn't be the best option for your business. Using contract platers or asking to borrow plating equipment would probably be best in this situation.

Using Pen-Plating in Jewelry Making. If you repeatedly want to add selective areas of plating to jewelry, pen-plating could be the right choice for your business. With these systems, a pen is dipped into the pen-plating solution then rubbed onto the metal, dipped again and rubbed, until it reaches the level and area you want plated.

Choosing a Jewelry Plating Solution

It is important to choose the plating solution(s) that best meet your needs. Whether plating base metal, silver or gold, the choices for plating are numerous. Rio Grande carries a comprehensive line of plating and preplating solutions.

Jewelers have many reasons to plate jewelry, such as achieving two-tone designs, producing model masters, adding scratch and tarnish resistance, and creating sample pieces for your customers. Yellow gold plating solutions are available in a variety of karat colors; as the karat color rises from 14- to 24-karat, the color deepens and becomes richer. Karat color of gold plating solutions does not equal the karat value of the plating solution. In addition to yellow gold plating solutions, rose gold, green gold, rhodium, black rhodium, and black ruthenium plating solutions are also available.

Plating thickness is the next decision when choosing a solution. The type of piece—ring, pendant, bracelet, etc.—sets the wear and determines the minimum thickness of plating you'll need. Be aware that quick flash plating does add color but leaves a thin coating that will wear off many pieces. If the jewelry piece is a hard-wear item like a ring, you may want to think about a heavy deposition solution; for earrings and jewelry that does not see a lot of wear, a regular submicron plating should be fine.

IMPORTANT: Plating solutions and some other products used in plating are considered hazardous materials. Rio Grande has a permit to ship those hazardous materials, but they are non-returnable. If the correct choice of system in unclear, Rio Grande's Jewelry Tech Team is happy to help you choose the best plating system and plating solutions for your needs.

Anodes. The standard advice is to have a dedicated anode for each plating solution to help prevent cross-contamination. Label each anode and keep it near its bottle of solution.

Basic Steps for Professional Jewelry Plating

Plating steps are similar but not exactly the same for all metals. Base metals in particular have additional steps and usually need to be preplated before a final plating with precious metal. Generally you will:

  1. Finish the piece to remove imperfections that may be amplified when plated. No matter the reason for using plating, proper preparation is the key to professional-quality results. Buff and polish the piece before plating. A layer of shiny gold points out flaws, and you'll find yourself needing to remove the finish you just applied and starting over. Plating does not fill in pits or scratches in your jewelry.
  2. Clean in an ultrasonic cleaner to remove grease, polishing compounds, etc. Rinse in distilled water.
  3. Clean in an electrocleaner solution heated to 150° F using a stainless steel anode; clean at six to twelve volts. Rinse in distilled water.
  4. Dip in an acid bath. Rinse in distilled water.

Jewelry Plating Best Practices

When you switch from one plating solution to another, put the first solution back in its original bottle; the bottle should be labeled with the solution, plating instructions, and warnings. Rinse the beaker with tap water.

Change the rinse water frequently. Once a newly plated piece of jewelry is rinsed, small amounts of the plating solution, known as drag-out, will be in the water. That contaminated solution could change the finish of the next piece of jewelry when it's rinsed.

Troubleshooting for Jewelry Plating

Poor or unexpected plating is either a process or an equipment issue. If the answer isn't clear, Rio Grande's Jewelry Tech Team is available. The team will walk you through the process you took to figure out when and how you or your equipment deviated from the standard process. Here are a few possible issues you may run into when plating:

  • If the plating solution has been used many times, the simple answer may be that all the metal in the solution has been been depleted from it.
  • If you go from one brand to another with plating solution, the voltage and timing will probably be different, so the same time and voltage may not work.
  • If you've been using older equipment with inconsistent or poor results, typical reasons are:
    • The power supply is old or aging.
    • An old analog rectifier may no longer be accurate. Just because you've dialed it in at three volts doesn't mean it's outputting three volts.
    • The equipment rectifier may be malfunctioning.
    • The anode could be dirty or worn and not be conducting.

Are You Ready to Add Jewelry Plating to Your Studio?

Plating can be a game-changer for your jewelry business. Adding a layer of precious metal or a dash of color, preventing tarnish, and giving a seamless finish to your jewelry are all easily accessible with the right plating system and plating solutions. Midas plating kits and Legor® plating solutions from Rio Grande are your perfect team.

If you're ready to add jewelry plating to your studio, get all the equipment and plating solutions at Rio Grande or check out our Resource Center for more plating information.