We all know about other plating processes like silver plated or gold plated jewellery but the new kid on the block, and a very advanced one at that, is a process called ion plating jewellery, which is often carried out on stainless steel or tungsten.
Ion vapor deposition was only developed in 201 by NASA in order to replace chrome plating which is not as durable as ion plated items. If knocked chrome plating can chip and scratch.
But what is ion plating jewellery and why is it used?
What is Ion Plated Jewellery?
Ion plating (IP) is a coating process where by vapourised metallic atomic sized particles, like titanium nitride, are bonded to the surface of another material, often stainless steel or tungsten.
This chemical process is called ion plating or IP plating (notice the double ‘plating’ in that abbreviation!). This vaporisation procedure is also called PVD ( or it is also called ion assisted deposition or physical vapour deposition process).
The result is very hard-wearing and long-lasting, despite being a very thin layer. In fact, it is estimated to be approximately 5 or 8 times more hard-wearing than traditional gold plating methods.
As precious metals in jewelry have become more expensive, especially gold, ion plating has become a fabulous way of creating the look of gold (or other colours) but in a much more cost-effective way than purchasing the real thing they are trying to create the look of as the gold layer is thinner than in traditional plating methods.
Therefore, in the jewellery industry ip plated surfaces are hugely popular. More traditional plating methods are slower, more costly and are not as durabel as physical vapor deposition.
Ion plated items are replacing traditional gold plating and even chrome plating on other items.
How is Ion Plating Applied?
After the item being plated is throughly cleaned – a process called sputtering – titanium nitride is heated and vaporised, the atomic sized energetic particles are bombarded against the piece of stainless steel jewellery (or any other metal surface) that is being plated – hence the process is known as the physical vapour deposition.
All this is done in a vacuum environment so that an electrical charge can be created, which acts as a magnet to the item being coated, thereby acting as a bonding agent as the electric ions are attracted to the other metal.
The whole process, therefore, is done quickly without friction in the vacuum environment and the ions are attracted to the item to be coated, plus no impurities can be picked up.
The titanium nitride layer then are embedded in the surface layer of the jewellery being plated – hence it being very durable and long-lasting.
Why only stainless steel jewelry?
The ion plating process can be carried out on just about any metal, even base metal, but it is mostly used on tungsten carbide or stainless steel jewelry.
As most watch cases and bracelets are made from stainless steel rather than other metals, maybe this is why the process is thought of as being used on stainless steel.
IP plating is carried out because of the wonderful colours that can be created, the hard-wearing finish and the tactile finish – all perfect in the jewelry industry.
The Difference between Ion Plated vs Traditional Plating
As we talked about in our article on traditional gold plating here, plating metal involves adding a layer of the material you are using to plate, for instance, rose gold, onto another base metal, like silver, brass, copper or other metals.
This is done by a process called electro plating.
The result is a piece of jewellery that looks and feels like real, solid gold, only it is cheaper.
But, whilst plating jewellery has come a long way and is much better than it was decades ago, the finish is not that durable – within a few years the plating will wear off (if you look after the piece of jewellery so that it doesn’t “wear” as much, it will last longer).
Gold vermeil is another method of plating which is thicker and longer lasting than gold plating.
The thickness of the layer of gold used in plating is measured in microns. One micron is a millionth of a meter or a thousandth of a millimetre. To give you a visual reference, a human hair is between 50 and 70 microns thick! A micron’s scientific symbol is µm.
A gold plating less than 0.5 microns thick is classed as “Gold Flashed” and will wear quickly.
Gold plating is more than 0.5 microns thick.
Gold vermeil is a minimum of 2.5 microns thick and plated on sterling silver.
Ion plating is often no more than 0.3 to 2 microns thick, yet the plating is much longer lasting because of this superior process used to plate the metal.
The gold layer in ion. plating is often no more than 0.3 microns thick, yet it is incredibly hard-wearing and durable. Compared to traditional plating methods, far less gold is used as well as it being more chemically stable and can be classed as “permanent”.
Golf clubs, many tools used in industry as well as watches and jewellery are ion plated to not only be more appealing to the eye but it will prolong the life of the product by protecting the metal underneath.
What are the Benefits of Ion Plated Jewelry?
The benefits of ion-plating on stainless steel or tungsten jewellery is that a very thin layer of plating can be used with excellent coverage and staying power. This helps with costs as less material is used and it becomes an affordable alternative to wearing solid precious metals like sterling silver or real gold.
A whole variety of colours can be applied hence many watches, which are normally made of stainless steel can be ion plated with yellow or rose gold, brown, blue, purple, graphite grey or black giving a really cool look.
The finish can be in a highly polished look or a matte finish. A highly polished PVD in black can look just like black ceramic but comes in at a much more reasonable price.
Being able to use a dark coloured IP finish has revolutionised the watch industry as darker coloured watches such as black, blue and brown are appealing to a lot of men who don’t want a more “showy” stainless steel silver-coloured finish.
The modern bonding process of ion plating is perfect for heavy-wear items such as watches and rings, bracelets and neck chains and this works even on base metal.
The resulting finish is hard-wearing and long-lasting and less prone to erosion from regular wearing.
The resulting surface is hypoallergenic compared to a thin plating which will wear over time exposing your skin to what could be a base metal rather than stainless steel (which is also hypoallergenic).
The layer of plating in the IP plating or PVD plating is thought to be approximately ten times thicker than normal gold-plating. This is scratch resistant and can wear better than real gold and is much more durable.
Varied Colours and Finishes Can Be Use
A good variety of ion plating colours are available including black, blue, brown, gold – both yellow and rose. Black has been extremely well-received in watches.
Black ion plating is particularly popular and very on trend. The black coating, which can be polished or have a matte finsh, looks great on watches.
A gold ion-plated band ring in heavy-duty tungsten or stainless steel can be massively cheaper than buying a solid gold wedding band.
The finish can be high gloss, or a matt finish, or even a sand-blasted effect looks really good.
Coupled with the hard-wearing, tough materials of stainless steel or tungsten jewellery, ion-plating on top leads to a on-trend look with lasting qualities – a perfect combination.
Caring for Ion Plated Jewelry
Whilst ion plated jewlery is hard-wearing you still need to take good care of it. Wipe with a soft cloth to keep it clean. You can wipe over with a mild detergent in water but ensure you don’t scrub the surface and dry thoroughly after cleaning.
Storing your jewellery or watches well, so that they aren’t against other metals or sharp corners or edges, will keep your jewellery or watch years beyond what it would if you don’t take good care of it.
Ion plating is a fabulous advance in plating popular metal jewellery – such as stainless steel watches, rings, necklaces and bracelets.
Last Words on IP Plating
It is incredibly hard-wearing, long lasting, as it plates jewelry using vapor form using a very small amount of metals on the surface therefore keeping costs down. As it’s hypoallergenic it is beneficial for those who are prone to allergic reactions