Did you know that the gold medals awarded in all Olympic Games are actually not gold? They are made of silver, and they have been ever since back in 1912 when this tradition started.
Did you know that many royal crown jewels are also not gold? Right again, silver they are.
Actually, many of the large objects made in goldsmithing that appear to be gold are, in truth, not. By now you’ve probably heard about the term gold gilding, but do you know what is silver gilding?
The meaning here is that these objects like the gold medals or crown jewels have a silver core. The only gold thing about them is the thin layer of gold foil with which the silver core is coated. The coating is supposed to give the impression of a gold object. This is the process of silver gilding, sometimes also known by the French term vermeil or silver gilt.
What Is Silver Gilding?
Silver gilding refers to the process of applying a thin layer of silver onto a surface for decorative or protective purposes.
Gilding, in general, involves the application of a thin layer of precious metal, such as gold or silver, onto various objects or surfaces. Silver gilding specifically uses silver leaf or silver powder to achieve the desired effect.
The practice of silver gilding or vermeil has been around since ancient times across Euroaisa. So, this practice brings a whole lot of history in terms of purpose, variety of gilding techniques, and consideration of use.
It is not an easy task to determine the exact origin of the process. However, today we can talk of a few gilding techniques that have been developed over time by different cultures.
How It Is Made – History of Silver Gilding
The Inkas in Pre-Columbian South America developed a characteristic depletion gilding technique. Unlike most gilding methods that are additive, depletion gilding is a subtractive process. With this method, they actually remove the material in order to raise gold purity already present on the surface of an object.
A Korean gilding technique, known by the name of Keum-boo is another depletion gilding technique. The ancient Koreans would start the process by first depleting a surface of sterling silver. They did this so that a thin layer of fine silver would come up. This would be followed by applying a 24 karat gold foil, using heat and pressure.
Fire gilding with mercury is probably the most common method used to get gilded silver. It dates back to the 4th century BC and continues at least till the Early Modern Period. Even though this was a technique that we now know was wildly used, it is surprising since it involved great dangers for the gilders. Most of them were going blind or didn’t live past the age of 40. This was due to the poisonous fumes the mercury released when exposed to extremely high temperatures. Fire gilding involved a solution of mercuric nitrate applied to the silver, followed by a mixture of gold and mercury. The process would end by exposing this item to excessively high temperatures. This would cause the mercury to vaporize, leaving the silver item with just the thin layer of gold stuck to it.
Modern Day Silver Gilding
The modern method we use today for creating silver gilt is known as “electroplating“. This is a process that involves passing an electric current through a solution called an electrolyte. The silver item and the gold bar go into the electrolytic solution. After the electric current passes through them, the gold ions are deposited on the silver item.
This results in a thin layer of gold settling on the surface of the silver object.
Benefits of Silver Gilt
Now that we have answered the question of what is silver gilt, we are moving on to the benefits of using this procedure.
We can find the usefulness of making a predominately silver object appear as gold in several different categories, such as cost, weight, longevity, risk of damage, as well as aesthetics.
- Silver is a considerably less expensive option for people who still would like to enjoy the gold aesthetic.
- It is also much lighter, which makes it a suitable option for building and transporting statues.
- At the same time, the thin layer of gold over the silver object protects the object from oxidation. Gold does not oxidize at all, whereas silver does.
- And, finally, if you’ve ever wondered where did the practice of biting a gold coin to check its authenticity came from, here it is. Silver is much stronger than gold, so it made sense that people used to use this little trick to make sure if the object is pure gold.
Edible Silver Leaf
Here we are. Silver is not only used to pose as gold in certain objects or to compliment your outfits as jewelry. Actually, one of the most wondrous uses that silver has, can be found in the kitchen.
More to the point, on your plate or even in your drink. The process of decorating both sweet and savory dishes with silver is known as silver leafing.
Silver leaf sheets were primarily used in the South-Asian cuisine, but recently they are making an appearance and are gathering attention on a more global level. Now, you can enjoy your silver on top of sushi, baked goods, desserts, and cocktails.
Choose the edible silver leaf you need for your gilding process
What is important to note here, especially if you are just now starting your journey to the practice of eating pretty metals – is that silver is safe for consumption. The pure edible silver leaf got the “go ahead” to present itself on your dinner table by the European food-safety certification agency, TÜV Rheinland.
Still, keep in mind that only pure silver is considered safe to eat. Before you indulge, make sure that your fancy topping doesn’t include any copper, aluminum, lead, nickel, and other non-approved metals.
When it comes to taste, well, it has none. There is no nutritional value that silver brings to your diet, it will not interfere with any of your favorite flavors, in fact, you will barely notice it in your mouth.
The main worth silver has when combined with your food – is the aesthetic one. And, the aesthetic one is very well worth it!
However, having said that – Ayurvedic medicine has been using metals for centuries, believing that drinking from silver glasses or eating with silver cutlery can actually benefit your digestive system.
So, if you are planning on purchasing or already have it at home, you might wonder – how to apply imitation silver leaf? The application is fairly easy – you can use a large brush or a paper towel piece to wet the surface where you plan to apply the edible silver leaf. Just brush a thin layer of water (see water gilding) so that the leaf would stick and try to work on one small surface at a time.
The process of coating silver-cored objects with a thin layer of gold foil is called silver gilding or vermeil. The purpose of this so-called ‘silver gilt’ technique is to make these objects look like they are made out of gold. Silver gilding is a technique that has been implemented to achieve this gold effect on jewels and ornaments.
Yes, eating pure silver is safe. However, you need to make sure that what you are eating is in fact pure silver. If it contains copper, aluminum, lead, nickel, and other non-approved metals it is not safe for consumption.
Silver leaf provides an aesthetic value to the food and has no taste at all. Most chefs use the edible silver leaf as a decoration of both sweet and savory dishes and it is usually added in sushi, desserts, cocktails, or other baked goods.