In the name of gold
As my collection matures and I start to gain ownership of nicer vintages, I've grown to like the shade of gold. While stainless steel grants a watch a certain utilitarianism, nothing to me beats the warm glow of a yellow gold watch on your wrist.
I've not been fortunate enough to land rose or pink gold, so I'm only going to touch on YG for now, though the basic premises apply for the two former types of gold.
Coming in various shades of varying warmth (the higher the number the warmer the hue), the right gold paired with the right strap can actually be quite versatile. But not all gold is made the same! This is a simple guide to help you difference the various types of gold that can come on watches - gold-plated / gold-filled, gold-capped / rolled-gold, and solid gold.
Identifying a gold-plated watch
Sometimes also called gold-filled, the surface of watch case (usually made of stainless steel but sometimes of other metals like brass or chrome) has gold electroplated onto it to achieve a thorough coat that's thin but also as glorious.
Vintage plating techniques were usually produced in 20 or 10 microns (that's the thickness of the gold coat), but there were awesome cases where the gold was given a 40 microns layering, resulting in a very rich and longer lasting application. Some established brands like Hamilton, Longines or Bulova would also have indicated on the case back that the watch was gold-filled.
Because of the impermanence, you can tell that a watch is gold-plated by the lack of richness in its coat. Over time, the plating fades as the gold falls, is scratched or is polished off by excessive rubbing by cloth.
Watches that are gold-plated would also at times have stainless steel case backs, as the whole point of the plating was to save cost, and since the case back wasn't visible to anyone other than the owner.
What is a gold-capped or rolled-gold watch?
Just as the name describes, a gold-capped, or rolled-gold watch has a thin layer of solid gold placed over the stainless steel case, Providing a permanent shine and layer of precious metal to the watch.
The second in the line of gold application on watches is probably the most value for money for the budget-conscious collector - the richness of the precious metal comes through completely, while the lack of density in the metal results in a very affordable alternative.
Gold-capped watches usually present themselves with a solid gold bezel, with the thin layer of gold capping around the lugs for a good permanent fit. Done well, the gold-stainless steel contrast can be very appealing.
There is usually no indication that a particular watch is gold-capped, but you can often tell that a watch is gold-capped from the side view of the watch, or from inside between the lugs.
There will be an obvious distinction of gold, usually in a layer over the stainless steel. In the case below, you can see a thin layer of gold around the bezel, the solid gold bezel in the background.
How can I tell if a solid gold watch is genuine?
Plated is cool and affordable, capped has its own class and prestige, but having a solid gold watch on your hand is an experience every watch collector has to try at lease once in their lives.
Apart from the obvious increase in weight, the mass of precious metal on your wrist has a certain warmth to the touch - gold being an inert metal that's not going to irritate your skin.
To a seasoned eye, solid gold appears to have a certain depth to it, the surface revealing a sea of substance, unlike its previous two cousins where the precious metal is interrupted by a chunk of stainless steel.
Now that you know the above fact, take a look at the first photo in this blog and try to differentiate the three types of treatment for gold. Can you tell them apart?
Plated gold has a dull, flat feel, while rolled gold contains the warmth of solid gold in a thin layer and lacks the richness in substance, and a true solid gold watch has a certain glow to it.
All solid gold watches will have a hallmark stamp on each piece - the case back as well as the case. Bring a loupe and pay close attention to the how crisp and clean the hallmark stamps are.
I'm often amazed by how defined the stamping on these marks can be, when looked through a loupe. Replicated on the case back (usually on the inside) are the same hallmarks with more information on the watch like the marque, model number and the purity of the metal.
And with that I conclude the short tutorial on the types of gold treatment you can find on watches. I hope that this has been educational, and that it widens your interest in owning and wearing a gold watch.
I've become a convert, and I'm sure a lot of you will see the precious metal in new light in time to come.