The terms “fade-free”, “tarnish-free” and “waterproof” have been bandied around by a growing number of jewellery brands in recent months. In fact, it’s been hard to go onto any of our social media platforms without seeing a highly aesthetic advert pop up with a number of these words emblazoned across the front. But is it too good to be true?
While gold jewellery is growing in popularity, with rings, earrings and bracelets topping many a wishlist, a fair few of us will know the disappointment that comes from buying a shiny new necklace that turns dull and drab within a couple of weeks. And those lacklustre-looking dark spots are all a result of tarnishing.
Jewellery expert Caroline Chalmer, CEO of fine jewellery platform Finematter, said, “Only solid gold jewellery can be fully tarnish-free, so if you see this term associated with a gold-plated piece of jewellery, it’s too good to be true.
“Gold-plated pieces of jewellery will permanently tarnish eventually, as the base metal reacts to the elements over time.”
But let’s remember that solid gold jewellery can be rather costly, and our £100 – and often much lower – price limit can create quite a challenge. So, we wanted to find gold-plated jewellery that didn’t cost a fortune and, with a lifespan of around one to three years, actually stood the test of time.
How we tested
Piling on countless bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings, our tester spent two months putting gold jewellery through its paces. From swimming in the sea, scrubbing dishes and soaking in the tub, to the everyday rigmaroles of everyday life, they tried to keep as many pieces on as possible.
Noting the shine and colour of each piece brand new, and taking regular inspections each week, they were able to spot which pieces began to tarnish at what rate, separating the cream from the crop below.
- Pieces tested: Nassau gold bracelet (£35, Heyharpershop.com)
- Price range: £36 - £108
- Jewellery style: Layering everyday pieces
- How to order: Online
- Warranty: Lifetime
- Added perks: Seasonal charity donation campaigns, free ring sizer, regular offers across the site
Hey Harper has been popping up on our Instagram feeds for weeks now, and with close to 200,000 followers, it’s certainly savvy when it comes to social media. Claiming to be “the original waterproof jewellery brand”, we initially had our doubts as Caroline explained only solid gold is truly waterproof. But, having worn the Nassau gold bracelet (£35, Heyharpershop.com) day-in-day out for eight weeks now without ever taking it off – for bathing, swimming, showering, you name it – we’re pleased to say it lives up to those claims. Our bracelet is just as shiny now as when it was brand new. There’s not one hint of dark spots, colour fading or tarnishing can be seen, and the clasp is still perfect too.
Each piece is made from durable stainless steel, but instead of being regularly gold plated, the brand used a technique called PVD, which, in short, sprays a thin layer of gold particles onto the base material, giving it a look of solid gold while being more durable than gold plating. And the brand is so confident in its design process that it actually provides a lifetime warranty, meaning one simple email to customer service with images of your faded pieces will be immediately dealt with. Of course, a longer test of around a couple of years would have to be carried out for us to categorically confirm it is tarnish-free, but from what we’ve seen so far, and with almost every piece falling under £100, we can’t complain.
Best: Well-known brand
- Pieces tested: Polished wishbone ring: £40, Pandora.net
- Price range: £20 - £1,290
- Jewellery style: Varied but popular for charm bracelets
- How to order: Online and in-store
- Warranty: One year
- Added perks: Regular discounts and offers, loyalty programme, many stores for in-person try-ons, certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council
We can safely say that Pandora is one of the best-loved brands on the high street. But while doesn’t claim to be tarnish-free – and clearly states on its website that all jewellery will tarnish over time, and should be cared for with polish cloths and cleaning solutions to keep it looking spick and span – it does stock both solid 14k gold and gold-plated pieces. And it was the polished wishbone ring (£40, Pandora.net) that caught our eye thanks to its delicate design that can be easily stacked with other styles.
It’s well worth noting that while necklaces, bracelets and earrings are easier to keep on day-in-day out, rings are best to be removed when washing or swimming in case they slip off into the water. They also get more of a beating when battered against different surfaces, rubbed against bag handles and arguably sitting against a little bit more sweat. Still, after two months of daily wear – trying as best we could to keep it on while bathing, swimming and showering despite instructions – it wasn’t quite as shiny as when brand new.
That said, the fading was minuscule and without a very critical beady eye the effects would probably go unnoticed. So, be aware Pandora’s pieces may not remain glistening gold forever, but with the proper care and cleaning routine, we’d expect them to stay with you for a good few years.
Best: For seasonal collections
Also claiming to be “waterproof”, D. Louise’s USP is that you never have to take it off, as the products have been designed to be worn every day without tarnishing or going green. Using the same design process as Hey Harper, stainless steel is the base metal of each piece, while a PVD coating process said to be ten times thicker than standard gold plating creates the glistening gold colour.
Testing the pleated ring (£50, Dlouise.co.uk) and paperclip bracelet (£40, Dlouise.co.uk), our tester fell in love with the look of each design. And so far, after daily wear for two months, they’re still looking spick and span. Due to wear and tear, the ring is scratched, so there are little marks across it but there are no black spots or signs of tarnishing and the bracelet still looks brand new. While the ring was more difficult to wear in the bath and while swimming – for fear of it falling off – the bracelet was never removed, and we certainly saw no green tinge on our skin, so have to confirm, so far, that the D.Louise mission is accomplished.
Similarly to Hey Harper, the brand is so confident in its claim it also offers a lifetime guarantee, though we certainly don’t need to be cashing in on that just yet.
Seol and Gold
Best: Colourful gold jewellery
- Pieces tested: 9k solid gold thin plain band ring (£55, Seolgold.com) and twisted knot ring in 18k yellow gold plating (£35, Seolgold.com)
- Price range: £8 - £249
- Jewellery style: Large variety with a lot of colourful accents
- How to order: Online and in-store
- Warranty: Free re-plating
- Added perks: Free re-plating service, student discount, regular offers, free shipping over £30
Seol and Gold is one of the most affordable jewellery brands around, selling both 9k solid gold pieces and gold-plated pieces from prices as low as £8. However, unlike some of the other retailers included in this round-up, the brand doesn’t push any claims of being tarnish-free, waterproof or fade-proof – apart from with its solid gold pieces that is. In fact, it actually recommends removing jewellery when showering, applying lotion, exercising and any other activities which could speed up the rate of tarnishing. But it does offer a free re-plating service which is pretty incredible.
We fell in love with the designs of the 9k solid gold thin plain band ring (£26, Seolgold.com) and twisted knot ring in 18k yellow gold plating (£39, Seolgold.com). Although, after around one month of daily wear, swimming, lotioning and all the things we were told not to do with it on, the gold-plated ring did, predictably, start to fade.
A further two month on though and there’s still no dark spots on the ring, and the fading isn’t too noticeable. With heavy scrutiny, it is a little lacklustre compared to brand new but, considering the free-replating service, this shouldn’t be an issue for long. We predict you’d want to send it off for a refresh after around six months to a year which is still impressive considering we broke the rules.
Best: Dainty tarnish-free gold jewellery
- Pieces tested: Sofia chain necklace (£62, Wanderlust.co.uk) and solstice petite hoop earrings (£42, Wanderlustlife.co.uk)
- Price range: £20 - £128
- Jewellery style: Delicate dainty jewellery
- How to order: Online
- Warranty: Six months on gold-plated silver
- Added perks: Regular discounts, personalisation, loyalty scheme, free shipping over £30
Stocking a range of 14k gold-plated silver and gold fill pieces – similar to PVD and claims to last a lifetime at a lower price than solid gold – Wanderlust is the place to go for those who love dainty, delicate pieces. Testing the Sofia chain necklace (£62, Wanderlust.co.uk) and solstice petite hoop earrings (£42, Wanderlustlife.co.uk), our tester wore both pieces solidly for two months, rarely taking them off. And despite putting these pieces though their paces, we’re yet to spot any signs of tarnishing.
Although claiming gold fill pieces will last a lifetime, there’s no claim of being tarnish-free or waterproof on the site, and similar to Pandora, the brand has provided care instructions too. Care services are also available for a fee – rings can be re-plated for £15, for example, to keep your jewellery looking spick and span. But, from what we’ve seen so far, you should get a good amount of wear before having to go down that route.
Beaches and cream
Best: Costume jewellery
Gold tone jewellery isn’t all dainty and delicate, so of course we had to include something for those looking to make a real statement, and Beaches and Cream does just that. Testing the Bosphorus fish earrings (£35, Beachescream.co.uk) and olive branch earrings (£45, Beachescream.com), our tester had great fun playing dress up in these pieces, but obviously we couldn’t test them quite as thoroughly as their less colourful counterparts.
You won’t be surprised to know we didn’t sleep in these earrings, nor did we shower, swim or go to the gym in them, as although our testers take every step to trial each product, that may have been a step too far. What we can say though, is that through wearing these earrings to various dinners and even whole days at a time, we fell in love with them. And they sure did glisten in their gold tone.
Gold plated, they don’t have any of the fancy design features such as gold fill of VPD, nor do they claim to be tarnish-free. But, by the nature of the product, the fact you’re unlikely to wear them every day, we’d be very surprised to see these start to fade. Just be cautious with hairspray and perfume, two key culprits for speeding up the tarnishing process.
Best: Chunky gold jewellery
- Pieces tested: Speira large band ring (£87.57, Galleria-armadoro.com) and small catena gold plated bracelet (£49.79, Galleria-armadoro.com)
- Price range: £10.59 - £389.73
- Jewellery style: Chunky gold and silver jewellery
- How to order: Online and in-store
- Warranty: Lifetime
- Added perks: Regular discounts, outlet site, personalisation availble on some pieces, free shipping, carbon neutral deliveries
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, rings are notoriously difficult to look after. By nature, they’re prone to be scratched, nicked and bent more than any other piece of jewellery, so the brands which we only tested rings for really did have a harder task. Sitting somewhere in between dainty and delicate and chunky costume jewellery, Galleria Armadōrō is the brand to go to for those wanting to make more of a statement with their everyday jewellery.
Although, Galleria Armadōrō doesn’t make any claims of being tarnish-free and clearly states on the website that “pieces will eventually fade with time”. So, it’s nice to see the brand be open and honest. And as the most expensive pieces in the round-up, we had high hopes for the beautiful speira large band ring (£87.57, Galleria-armadoro.com) and small catena gold plated bracelet (£49.79, Galleria-armadoro.com).
Wearing the bracelet daily and the ring as much as possible, the ring took more of the wear and tear but scratched more than it tarnished – which it hasn’t yet – and the bracelet is yet to show any signs of tarnishing, although we expect it will happen eventually.
Astrid and Miyu
Best: All-round gold jewellery brand
- Pieces tested: Cubic zirconia huggie hinge hoop earrings in gold/ruby (£55, Johnlewis.com) and elemental ring (£65, Astridandmiyu.com)
- Price range: £35 - £195
- Jewellery style: Delicate everyday pieces
- How to order: Online and in-store
- Warranty: Eight months depending on piece
- Added perks: Regular dicsounts, recycling programme, charity donations, mentorship programme
Launching to fame back in 2012, Astrid and Miyu is best known for its piercing bars, welded bracelets and affordable jewellery, which is loved by thousands across the country. The brand makes no claims about being tarnish-free and clearly states on the website that all pieces need to be kept away from water, sweat and cosmetics, noting that 18k gold pieces need to be looked after in order to last.
Although the brand stocks a whole range of pieces, it was the cubic zirconia huggie hinge hoop earrings in gold/ruby (£55, Johnlewis.com) and the elemental ring (£65, Astridandmiyu.com) that grabbed our attention. While the earrings show no tarnishing after two months of wear, the ring – which we admittedly rarely took off to give it a real thorough testing – does have visible dark spots and tarnishing after being worn in the sea, shower and with multiple lotions and potions.
Tada and Toy
Best: Tarnish-free gold ear cuff
- Pieces tested: Emerald ombré ear cuff (£70, Tadaandtoy.com)
- Price range: £37 - £1,095
- Jewellery style: Large variety
- How to order: Online and in-store
- Warranty: None, but you can raise issues with the customer service team
- Added perks: Charity donations, made in Responsible Jewellery Council certified factories, recyclable packaging, use of recycled materials in most pieces
Ear cuffs aren’t for everyone, granted, but Tada and Toy do them exceptionally well. Donning the emerald ombré ear cuff (£70, Tadaandtoy.com) for as long as possible, our tester was instantly sold on this subtle yet standout design.
Although you have to be careful when wearing the cuff, as it can easily fall off – note that means no showering, swimming or even sleeping in it if you want to keep it on your ear. So, taking that into consideration, we couldn’t quite test this piece as vigorously as we did the rest. Unsurprisingly then, we spotted no signs of tarnishing, and we’d be surprised to find out any ear cuff tarnishes unless you’ve worked out how to miraculously make yours stay on permanently.
But the brand offers no promise of being tarnish-free, stating that the gold vermeil is thick and long-lasting, hopefully for around five years, rather than fade-free or any other grand claim. So, best to proceed with caution and look after each piece as best you can.
Best: Affordable tarnish-free gold jewellery
- Pieces tested: Perguia snake chain pendant necklace (£18, Nevaeh-store.com)
- Price range: £18 - £45
- Jewellery style: Large varitey
- How to order: Online
- Warranty: Lifetime guarantee
- Added perks: Regular discounts, subscription service, buy and save programmes, free shipping over £30
For those who like a lot of choice, Nevaeh stocks a huge range of styles, from delicate and dainty pieces to chunkier, more statement styles, and all for under £45. Given that the brand’s name is heaven spelt backwards, we had quite high expectations going in and those were only hightened further when we read that its jewellery claims to be waterproof, heatproof, and sweat-proof.
We have the Perguia snake chain pendant necklace (£18, Nevaeh-store.com) a thorough testing. It is incredibly lightweight and our tester was impressed with its high shine – it looks like a vintage piece, from far away and could pass as much more expensive than it actually is. But best of all, it didn’t dull over the two-month testing period, and considering we wore it in the shower, bath and swimming pool that’s no mean feat.
Made from 18k gold-plated stainless steel, we are doubtful of how long this tarnish-free trait will last though. So while we have no signs of dulling just yet, the fact it is only made of regular gold-plating does make us raise our eyebrows. Still, with a lifetime guarantee and a promise to replace any faded items for free, you can rest easy knowing should your favourite piece start lose its sparkle.
Best: Solid-gold tarnish-free jewellery
- Pieces tested: 18k yellow gold piercing ring: £40, Weareumara.com
- Price range: £40 - £1,350
- Jewellery style: Fine jewellery
- How to order: Online
- Warranty: Two-years
- Added perks: Solid gold pieces, charity donations, small independent business
Umara comes in at a high price point, as all pieces are solid gold rather than PVD or plated, so this may be the brand for those wanting to splash the cash. But don’t go thinking everything is highly-priced, as the 18k yellow gold piercing ring is only £40 (£40, Weareumara.com). Of course, being solid gold, there’s no risk of tarnishing, fading or dark spots forming either, so it passed the tarnish-free test with flying colours.
It was incredibly dainty and delicate, which did make it a little bit fiddly to put on, but once it was in, our tester never took it off. In fact, they’re hoping they never have to, as they loved the design so much. For a real forever piece without the fear of fading, we’d confidently count solid gold as the only option, despite how much these other brands have impressed us. So, when looking for a forever piece, best to take this into consideration.
Tarnish-free jewellery FAQ’s
We asked jewellery expert Caroline Chalmer, CEO of fine jewellery platform Finematter, to answer some key questions:
What exactly do "tarnish-free" and "waterproof jewellery" claims mean?
“Tarnish-free” and “waterproof” are terms increasingly thrown around by new jewellery brands looking to stand out. Often, they’re unsubstantiated claims that aren’t true, so you need to be careful and look at the fine print of what materials your jewellery purchase has.
Tarnish-free means that a piece of gold jewellery will never discolour or develop dark spots. Only solid gold jewellery can be fully tarnish-free, so if you see this term associated with a gold-plated piece of jewellery, it’s too good to be true.
Waterproof is a little harder to pin down. In theory, it means that you can leave your jewellery on while showering, washing your hands or in the sea. While gold-plated jewellery benefits from occasionally being gently washed with water, only solid gold jewellery is ever genuinely waterproof. The base metal in gold-plated jewellery will always react to elements like water and eventually tarnish.
Can non-pure gold jewellery ever be tarnish-free?
Gold is an inert, or non-reactive metal, meaning it doesn’t corrode or tarnish. However, a piece of gold-plated jewellery is not pure gold, far from it, as it consists mainly of a base metal overlaid with a thin layer of gold. These gold-plated pieces of jewellery will permanently tarnish eventually, as the base metal reacts to the elements over time. Only solid gold jewellery will never tarnish. That’s why engagement rings, wedding bands, and jewellery meant to last a lifetime will always be made in solid gold and never plated.
You can, however, find high-quality gold-plated jewellery, which will tarnish slower, and which can be serviced to look fresh again. There are two things to look out for here: what kind of base metal is used and the thickness of the gold plating it is layered with.
We consider sterling silver a quality base metal, and we would never recommend purchasing brass-based or other metal-blend pieces. As for the gold plating, the thinner it is, the faster a piece of jewellery will tarnish. We also recommend buying pieces with a minimum thickness of two microns, as anything less than that will tarnish and fade quickly.
How can you make your gold jewellery last? Especially bits that aren’t 100 per cent real gold
To keep your gold-plated jewellery looking great for a long time, you want to minimise exposure to air, moisture and chemicals. All three things speed up tarnishing and make the jewellery discolour faster. So the best thing you can do is to keep your jewellery stored in an airtight container when you are not using it.
Also, you want to dry your jewellery correctly after washing it to avoid leaving moisture. And last but not least, avoid exposing your jewellery to chemicals; don’t spray perfume directly onto your pieces, avoid using hand creams and lotions, and don’t clean the house wearing your jewellery.
Most guides recommend taking off your gold-plated jewellery before washing your hands or in the shower; we recommend washing your jewellery with water on occasion to remove chemicals and abrasive dirt. As long as you remember to dry it properly afterwards.
Is there any way to reverse signs of tarnishing?
Most people don’t realise it, but it is possible to get rid of tarnishes and extend the life of gold-plated pieces for many years. Suppose your gold-plated jewellery shows signs of tarnish, i.e. black spots or dark discolouration. In that case, you can gently cleanse it with a diluted silver polish solution, which will remove any black stains.
If the gold plating starts looking dull or worn off in places, you can get your jewellery gold-plated again, i.e. have a professional give it a fresh layer of gold like we do at Finematter. Considering the lifespan of gold-plated jewellery is typically 1-3 years, depending on the quality, this is a great option to get more wear out of your favourite pieces.
The verdict: Tarnish-free gold jewellery brands
According to the experts, solid gold jewellery is the only material that will never tarnish, so we’ll follow their advice and say the same. However, the new PVD technology has seriously impressed our tester. The Nassau gold bracelet from Hey Harper is just as shiny as when brand new, despite being put through its paces in the bath, shower and sea. Similarly, D. Louise’s paperclip bracelet is also still sparkling.
We’d also like to give a special mention to Seol and Gold’s re-plating service as it provides an easy solution to any possible tarnishing. While Wanderlust’s delicate and dainty designs really stole our hearts.
Overall, when buying non-solid gold, proceed with caution, but when sticking to affordable options – and those in this round-up – we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
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