Last updated
The Burghley Nef, silver-gilt (with sections ungilded), and nautilus shell, 1527-1528, France, V&A Museum. Burghley nef.jpg
The Burghley Nef, silver-gilt (with sections ungilded), and nautilus shell, 1527-1528, France, V&A Museum.

Silver-gilt or gilded/gilt silver, sometimes known in American English by the French term vermeil, is silver (either pure or sterling) which has been gilded with gold. Most large objects made in goldsmithing that appear to be gold are actually silver-gilt; for example most sporting trophies (including medals such as the gold medals awarded in all Olympic Games after 1912 [1] ) and many crown jewels are silver-gilt objects.


Apart from the raw materials being much less expensive to acquire than solid gold of any karat, large silver-gilt objects are also noticeably lighter if lifted, as well as more durable (gold is much heavier than even lead and is easily scratched and bent). For objects that have intricate detail like monstrances, gilding greatly reduces the need for cleaning and polishing, and so reduces the risk of damage. Ungilded silver would suffer oxidation and need frequent polishing; gold does not oxidize at all. The "gold" threads used in embroidered goldwork are normally also silver-gilt.


Silver gilt toilet service by Johann Jacob Kirstein, 1786 Johann Jacob Kirstein 001.JPG
Silver gilt toilet service by Johann Jacob Kirstein, 1786

Silver-gilt objects have been made since ancient times across Eurasia, using a variety of gilding techniques, and a distinctive depletion gilding technique was developed by the Incas in Pre-Columbian South America. "Overlaying" or folding or hammering on gold foil or gold leaf is mentioned in Homer's Odyssey (Bk vi, 232), [2] and fire-gilding with mercury dates to at least the 4th century BC, and was the most common method until the Early Modern period at least, though dangerous for the workers [3] and often caused blindness among French artisans who refined the technique in the 18th century.[ citation needed ] Today electroplating is the most commonly used method: it involves no mercury and is therefore much safer. Keum-boo is a special Korean technique of silver-gilding, using depletion gilding. In China gilt-bronze, also known as ormolu, was more common.


A vermeil wine cooler manufactured in 1810 by Paul Storr is located in the Vermeil Room of the White House. StorrVermeil1810.jpg
A vermeil wine cooler manufactured in 1810 by Paul Storr is located in the Vermeil Room of the White House.

Vermeil ( /ˈvɜːrmɪl/ or /vərˈm/ ; French:  [vɛʁˈmɛj] ) is an alternative for the usual term silver-gilt. It is a French word which came into use in the English language, mostly in America, in the 19th century, and is rare in British English. [4] [5] [6] "Vermeil" can also refer to gilt bronze, an even less costly alternative construction material than silver. [7]

The US Code of Federal Regulations 16, Part 23.5 defines vermeil thus: "An industry product may be described or marked as 'vermeil' if it consists of a base of sterling silver coated or plated on all significant surfaces with gold or gold alloy of not less than 10-karat fineness, that is of substantial thickness and a minimum thickness throughout equivalent to two and one half (2 12) microns (or approximately 110000 of an inch) of fine gold." [8]

Considerations in use

Sassanid silver-gilt shield-boss, 7th century Sassanid shield-boss by Nickmard Khoey.jpg
Sassanid silver-gilt shield-boss, 7th century

Silver objects could be gilded at any point, not just when first made, and items regularly handled, such as toilet service sets for dressing-tables or tableware, often needed regilding after a few years, as the gold began to wear off. In 18th century London two different silversmiths charged 3 shillings per ounce of silver for an initial gilding, and 1 shilling and 9 pence per ounce for regilding. [9] Often only the interior of cups was gilded, perhaps from concern at the chemical compounds used to clean tarnish from silver. This is called parcel-gilt.

Fully silver-gilt items are visually indistinguishable from gold, and were no doubt often thought to be solid gold. When the English Commonwealth sold the Crown Jewels of England after the execution of Charles I they were disappointed in the medieval "Queen Edith's Crowne, formerly thought to be of massy gold, but upon trial found to be of silver gilt", which was valued at only £16, compared to £1,110 for the "imperial crowne". [10] The English Gothic Revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott was concerned by the morality of this. Gilding of the interior only he accepted, but with all-over gilding "we ... reach the actual boundary of truth and falsehood; and I am convinced that if we adopt this custom we overstep it.... why make our gift look more costly than it is? We increase its beauty, but it is at the sacrifice of truth." [11] Indeed, some Early Medieval silver-gilt Celtic brooches had compartments apparently for small lead weights to aid such deception. [12]

See also


  1. German Olympic museum website Archived 2009-05-14 at the Wayback Machine and Beijing 2008 Appendix 8 Archived 2009-06-12 at the Wayback Machine
  2. "And as when a man overlays silver with gold, a cunning workman whom Hephaestus and Pallas Athena have taught all manner of craft, and full of grace is the work he produces, even so the goddess shed grace upon his head and shoulders" from this translation
  3. Strong, 11
  4. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd. Edition (1989)
  5. 16 CFR 23.5 - Misuse of the word "vermeil"
  6. Compare for example the online collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which describes over 800 objects as "silver-gilt" against a handful of pieces of jewellery incorporating "vermeil" Accessed July 30, 2009
  7. Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989
  8. US Code of Federal Regulations, 16CFR23.5, Revised January 1, 2009
  9. Glanville, 187
  10. Inventory
  11. Scott, 249
  12. British Museum, mentioning two examples.

Related Research Articles

Furniture Movable objects intended to support various human activities

Furniture refers to movable objects intended to support various human activities such as seating, eating (tables), and sleeping. Furniture is also used to hold objects at a convenient height for work, or to store things. Furniture can be a product of design and is considered a form of decorative art. In addition to furniture's functional role, it can serve a symbolic or religious purpose. It can be made from many materials, including metal, plastic, and wood. Furniture can be made using a variety of woodworking joints which often reflect the local culture.

Troy weight system of units of mass

Troy weight is a system of units of mass that originated in 15th-century England, and is primarily used today in the precious metals industry. Its units are the grain, pennyweight, troy ounce, and troy pound. The grain is the same grain used in the more common avoirdupois system. By contrast, the troy ounce is heavier than the avoirdupois ounce, while the troy pound is lighter than the avoirdupois pound.

Gilding Covering object with layer of gold

Gilding is a decorative technique for applying a very thin coating of gold to solid surfaces such as metal, wood, porcelain, or stone. A gilded object is also described as "gilt". Where metal is gilded, it was traditionally silver in the West, to make silver-gilt objects, but gilt-bronze is commonly used in China, and also called ormolu if it is Western. Methods of gilding include hand application and gluing, typically of gold leaf, chemical gilding, and electroplating, the last also called gold plating. Parcel-gilt objects are only gilded over part of their surfaces. This may mean that all of the inside, and none of the outside, of a chalice or similar vessel is gilded, or that patterns or images are made up by using a combination of gilt and ungilted areas.

Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom British royal regalia

The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, originally the Crown Jewels of England, are a collection of royal ceremonial objects kept in the Tower of London, which include the regalia and vestments worn at their coronations by British kings and queens.

Eagle (United States coin) United States coin

The eagle was a United States $10 gold coin issued by the United States Mint from 1792 to 1933.

Monstrance vessel used to display religious object in the Christian tradition

A monstrance, also known as an ostensorium, is the vessel used in Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, High Church Lutheran and Anglican churches for the more convenient exhibition of some object of piety, such as the consecrated Eucharistic host during Eucharistic adoration or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It is also used as reliquary for the public display of relics of some saints. The word monstrance comes from the Latin word monstrare, while the word ostensorium came from the Latin word ostendere. Both terms, meaning "to show", are used for vessels intended for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, but ostensorium has only this meaning.

The fineness of a precious metal object represents the weight of fine metal therein, in proportion to the total weight which includes alloying base metals and any impurities. Alloy metals are added to increase hardness and durability of coins and jewelry, alter colors, decrease the cost per weight, or avoid the cost of high-purity refinement. For example, copper is added to the precious metal silver to make a more durable alloy for use in coins, housewares and jewelry. Coin silver, which was used for making silver coins in the past, contains 90% silver and 10% copper, by mass. Sterling silver contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% of other metals, usually copper, by mass.

Tumbaga alloy

Tumbaga is the name for a non-specific alloy of gold and copper given by Spanish Conquistadors to metals composed of these elements found in widespread use in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica in North America and South America.


Ormolu is the gilding technique of applying finely ground, high-carat gold–mercury amalgam to an object of bronze, and for objects finished in this way. The mercury is driven off in a kiln leaving behind a gold coating. The French refer to this technique as "bronze doré"; in English, it is known as "gilt bronze". Around 1830, legislation in France had outlawed the use of mercury for health reasons, though use continued to the 1900s.

Treasure binding Book covering style

A treasure binding or jewelled bookbinding is a luxurious book cover using metalwork in gold or silver, jewels, or ivory, perhaps in addition to more usual bookbinding material for book-covers such as leather, velvet, or other cloth. The actual bookbinding technique is the same as for other medieval books, with the folios, normally of vellum, stitched together and bound to wooden cover boards. The metal furnishings of the treasure binding are then fixed, normally by tacks, onto these boards. Treasure bindings appear to have existed from at least Late Antiquity, though there are no surviving examples from so early, and Early Medieval examples are very rare. They were less used by the end of the Middle Ages, but a few continued to be produced in the West even up to the present day, and many more in areas where Eastern Orthodoxy predominated. The bindings were mainly used on grand illuminated manuscripts, especially gospel books designed for the altar and use in church services, rather than study in the library.

Gold leaf art medium

Gold leaf is gold that has been hammered into thin sheets by goldbeating and is often used for gilding. Gold leaf is available in a wide variety of karats and shades. The most commonly used gold is 22-karat yellow gold.

Vermeil Room room in the White House

The Vermeil Room is located on the ground floor of the White House, the official residence of the President of the United States. The room houses a collection of silver-gilt or vermeil tableware, a 1956 bequest to the White House by Margaret Thompson Biddle. Portraits of American First Ladies hang in the room.

Gold-filled jewelry

Gold-filled jewelry is jewelry composed of a solid layer of gold mechanically bonded to a base of either sterling silver or some base metal. The related terms "rolled gold plate" and "gold overlay" may legally be used in some contexts if the layer of gold constitutes less than 5% of the item's weight.

Depletion gilding is a method for producing a layer of nearly pure gold on an object made of gold alloy by removing the other metals from its surface. It is sometimes referred to as a "surface enrichment" process.

Colored gold various colours of gold obtained by alloying gold with other elements

Pure gold is slightly reddish yellow in color, but colored gold in various other colors can be produced.

Angel gilding

Angel gilding is gilding glass or gold plating by electroless chemical deposition.

White boar

The White Boar was the personal device or badge of the English King Richard III of England, and is an early instance of the use of boars in heraldry.

Gold coin coin made from gold

A gold coin is a coin that is made mostly or entirely of gold. Most gold coins minted since 1800 are 90–92% gold, while most of today's gold bullion coins are pure gold, such as the Britannia, Canadian Maple Leaf, and American Buffalo. Alloyed gold coins, like the American Gold Eagle and South African Krugerrand, are typically 91.7% gold by weight, with the remainder being silver and copper.

John Adamson is a British publisher, translator and writer. He specialises in illustrated books in the fine and decorative arts.

Toilet service

A toilet service is a set of objects for use at the dressing table. The term is usually reserved for large luxury sets from the 17th to 19th centuries, with "toilet set" used for later or simpler sets. Historically, services were made in metal, ceramics, and other materials, for both men and women, though male versions were generally much smaller. The rich had services in gold, silver, or silver-gilt. The contents vary, but typically include a mirror, one or more small ewers and basins, two candlesticks, and an assortment of bowls, boxes, caskets, and other containers. One or more brushes and a pin-cushion, often as a top to a box, are often included. The sets usually came with a custom-made travelling case, and some services were especially designed for travelling.