Jewellery platers coat (or ‘plate’) pieces of jewellery with a thin coating of metal. Plating can be applied to newly-created pieces of jewellery or reapplied to older pieces where the plating has become dull or worn.
What do jewellery platers do?
Most plating is done by a chemical process known as electroplating. The item of jewellery is placed in a tank containing a chemical solution and a block of the plating metal. By passing an electric current through the solution, a specific amount of the metal is transferred onto the jewellery.
Other, less widely used, ways of applying plating to metal are:
- brush plating, where electroplating is applied with a brush
- gilding with thin sheets of gold, known as gold leaf.
Most jewellery plating is either silver or gold. Gold plating can be done using 18 or 24 carat gold. Pure (24 carat) gold is soft, so alloys can be added to harden it (which slightly reduce the purity).
White gold is an alloy of gold and another white metal. It can look grey, so it is often plated in rhodium to give it a bright white look. Plating can also be done in other gold, such as pink or rose.
Plating can also be done with other metal, including platinum, palladium, nickel, copper and brass. The choice of plating metal depends on the item and on the effect required. Platinum, for example, is very hard and scratch-resistant. Palladium is resistant to tarnishing.
Plating can be carried out to different thicknesses, depending on the piece and the customer’s requirements. The plating can then be finished to give different effects.
It is also possible to plate other materials. Most plastics and ceramics can be plated in gold or silver. Other things, such as shells, can also be plated.
Plating non-metal surfaces is more complicated. First conductive paint is applied to the object, and then copper plating, before the precious metal plating can be done.
Electroforming is similar to electroplating, but deposits a thicker layer of plate onto the object. Unlike electroplating, it can be applied direct to non-metal objects. It can be used to make delicate objects rigid - leaves, for example.
What is the job like?
Most plating companies apply plate to jewellery that has been made elsewhere. They may take work from jewellery manufacturers, jewellery makers and from the public. Companies may also plate non-jewellery items such as medals, nautical hardware, taps, firearms and cutlery.
You need to be interested in metal and metal processes.
Most jewellery plating is done by specialist companies. They may also repair, finish or engrave jewellery. As well as plating jewellery, they may work on other plating jobs for industry.
Jewellery platers work with chemicals, so they wear protective clothing. The plating is done in sealed tanks, and the process can be computer-controlled.
Some jewellery makers do their own plating work. They may be working on a self-employed basis in their own studio. It's possible to become a self-employed electroplater.
How do I get into jewellery plating?
To work in jewellery plating, you need to:
- be interested in metal and metal processes
- have an interest in science and the ability to understand the chemistry and physics of electroplating
- be able to work to high standards of quality and health and safety
An employer may expect you be prepared and able to maintain the electroplating machinery.
What qualifications and training do I need?
There is no set entry route into jewellery plating. Some people come into the work through jewellery making, goldsmithing or silversmithing. Others start working for a company which does plating for non-jewellery items.
There are jewellery (and other) plating companies around the UK. If you are keen to get into jewellery plating, you may want to approach a local company for part-time or work experience opportunities.
Check carefully before you apply that the course will give you the training you are looking for.
The Institute of Metal Finishing (IMF) offers courses at foundation, technician and advanced level which include electroplating along with other topics. It is possible to study electroplating in a standalone course.
These courses are not specific to jewellery plating. The courses have no specific entry requirements, but maths and science subjects would be relevant. Business studies or enterprise are also useful if you want to run your own business.
There are companies which offer short courses in electroplating, electroforming and brush plating. These courses can be expensive and do not lead to recognised qualifications. You need to check carefully before you apply that the course will give you the training you are looking for.
What can I earn?
As an electroplater working in a company, you may earn up to £25,000.