How can I make sure jewelry contains NO nickel?
August 25, 2022 3:52 AM   Subscribe

My skin reacts strongly to nickel. While in my hometown recently, I bought a gold vermeil chain necklace from a boutique. Since vermeil is gold over sterling silver, I didn’t think to ask if the necklace contained any nickel. After a few wears I’ve developed a big rash, which I assume is from nickel in the gold plating. Ugh.

I’d like to buy a similar chain I can wear comfortably. I’m fine with buying a more expensive necklace in 14k gold; the local jeweller says there’s “a mix of metals” used in gold alloys and can’t guarantee anything is absolutely nickel free.

1. Does vermeil typically contain nickel? I can’t find a clear answer online. Did the salesperson mislead me and actually sell me a gold-plated chain?

2. Where can I get something that absolutely, positively won’t break me out in a bumpy, painful rash? I wear other 14k jewelry with no problems, has this just been good luck?
posted by third word on a random page to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This article in the NY Mag might offer some answers! Where Can I Find Some Actually Cool Hypoallergenic Jewelry?
posted by plant or animal at 6:03 AM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

They make testing kits for jewelry that are just a few drops of liquid and you see if it reacts - I know they make them for nickel and would expect there are various versions for various other metals. I did a quick search and they seem to be reasonably affordable - $20-30 for about 200 tests.
posted by _DB_ at 7:03 AM on August 25, 2022

My son has a nickel allergy, discovered because of a nasty rash just above his waist as a teen - it was from a large decorative belt buckle when he wore shirts untucked. He bought a smaller buckle.

He has worn an 18 karat gold necklace daily for several years, which I bought in Italy decades ago, and has never had any sign of a rash. Maybe something in the 18 k range would work. Or maybe European jewelry is just made more often without nickle?
posted by citygirl at 7:47 AM on August 25, 2022

Best answer: Most jewelry made of gold a will contain nickel as it provides strength - it's just a question of what ratio. Your new piece of silver-gilt clearly contains too much nickel- while your other 14k pieces don't. This implies two things, first that your threshold is relatively high, as 14k is often 10% nickel, and that your new chain is likely not very good vermeil, and possibly not vermeil at all. There are supposed to be rules around this but obviously those are easily skirted, and those rules are different from even the US (better) to Canada (cheaper).

I would suggest 18k gold as a safe threshold, as it contains relatively more gold and much less nickel, below the threshold that irritates citygirls' kid and likely yours. Sterling silver also generally contains a lower portion of nickel, and often isn't enough to trigger a reaction. But with the price of copper high I would expect more nickel in more silver jewelry, so be mindful of that possibility, especially in cheaper pieces. It is also common for white gold jewelry to be plated or have an epoxied coating - once that wears off it can cause.a reaction. Even stainless steel will contain a little nickel - but that is generally considered well below the level that might cause an issue for most people.

Palladium and three common jewelry grades of titanium (Ti-CP, Ti-6/4, and Ti-6/6/2 ) are two alternatives that will be nickel free.
posted by zenon at 8:26 AM on August 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

I looked up what vermeil is supposed to be in the US:
  1. Sterling silver is the base material. Sterling silver is an alloy made of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals (typically mostly copper)
  2. Be plated in gold that is at least 10k, which means the alloy is least 41.7% gold content, and the rest can be a mix of silver, copper, nickel, and zinc. (and usually in that order)
  3. Have gold plating that is at least 2.5 microns thick - most places it's much thinner than this and typically where folks get ripped off

posted by zenon at 8:33 AM on August 25, 2022

For jewelry I intend to wear continuously I personally wouldn’t opt for sterling silver because there’s always more nickel than I can tolerate.

Gold is fine if it’s greater than 14k or higher in my case, but others need 18k or higher.

As zenon said, stainless steel can be dodgy but titanium is fine.
posted by limbicdigest at 7:47 PM on August 25, 2022

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