Ion plating is an exciting and new modern technique used for a variety of applications. Within the jewelry and watch trade, this process is used to apply a hardwearing and durable finish to products. Primarily, it is used to complete accessories crafted from stainless steel. Read on and gain a new understanding of this fascinating technique.

Close up of a stainless steel bracelet ion plated with yellow gold.

The ion plating process creates a durable and genuine gold finish.

What is Ion Plating and What are the Benefits of Ion Plated Jewelry?

• Five to eight times more durable than traditional methods.
• Less material is required for coating, lowering prices.
• Available in many attractive colors such as black, rose gold and yellow gold.
• The finish can be highly polished or matte, and options in-between.
• Stainless steel offers a hardwearing, reliable base.

This process has quickly gained a strong following, and with reason! Ion plating is very durable compared to traditional techniques. Experimentation has shown that this new method can be five to eight times more durable. This makes ion plated jewelry and accessories a rugged option for daily wear.

The coating material is applied in a very thin layer. Thanks to the bonding process that is utilized, less material is needed to coat the item. This can drastically reduce costs when manufacturing products in bulk. And, of course, this ultimately drives down prices for consumers.

Thanks to the versatility of this process, many color varieties are available. The most popular choices include yellow gold, rose gold and a black coating. Finishes can either be a glossy polish or matte finish.

Such a rugged finished needs an equally strong base. Stainless steel is, therefore, an ideal material. Stainless steel has long been a popular metal for use in watches, and in recent years has soared in popularity for jewelry use. When ion plating is combined with stainless steel, the result is a heavy-duty item that withstands the rigors of daily use.

Two tone gold ion plated ring.

This ring is ion plated with yellow and rose gold.

How is Ion Plating Applied?

• The surface material, or substrate, is cleaned of any impurities through a process known as sputtering.
• A coating material is prepared with a bonding agent, such as titanium nitride.
• The coating and bonding agent are vaporized by an electrical charge.
• The vapor is propelled onto the bonding material.
• An opposite electrical charge is introduced to force the coating and substrate to bond.

The ion plating process may also be known as physical vapor deposition (PVD), its technical term that applies to several methods. Besides that name, the process is called ion assisted deposition (IAD) or ion vapor deposition (IVD). Occasionally, this process may be referred to as ‘IP plating.’ However, this the same as stating ‘ion plating plating!’ Just know that all of these terms refer to ion plating.

To begin, the material that will be plated, otherwise known as the substrate, must be cleaned. Foreign materials must be removed at this stage to prevent any spoiling of the finish. The cleaning is done in a closed environment where the plating will also be applied. The chamber is introduced to a low vacuum. This aids the process, by making the next steps easier to perform. The cleaning process is typically known as sputtering. This is achieved by subjecting the substrate to ions of another material, such as argon gas. This strips away these impurities instead of bonding to the surface.

Now that the substrate is prepared, the coating process can begin. A bonding agent, such as titanium nitride, is applied to the surface of the material. This will assist the surface in achieving a strong bond when applied. Introducing an electrical arc current then vaporizes the coating and bonding material. This vapor is then directed to the substrate material. An opposing electrical charge is introduced into the substrate material to help attract the ionized gas. This also aids in securing a strong bond between coating and substrate.

Several coats can be applied as necessary to achieve the desired finish. What is also rather amazing is that slight alterations to the process can produce different results. Multiple coatings of the various types can be applied; providing graduated grades of different colors. Alternately, the coating can be tailored to fit the desired finish, such as gloss or matte. As these layers are extremely thin, no loss of detail is incurred on the substrate material.

Lapis lazuli ring with yellow gold ion plated accents.

Ion plating allows the creation of precise detail.

Caring for Ion Plated Jewelry

• Most normal care routines apply.
• Store in clean, dry, soft container, such as a jewelry box.
• Durable and long-lasting, proper care ensures jewelry’s longevity.

Caring for jewelry and watches treated through this method has never been easier! Thanks to the robust nature of this process, most standard care routines that you already follow work just fine.

Metals can be cared for by wiping clean with a dry, soft cloth after wear. If needed, the metallic areas can be cleaned with a solution of mild liquid dishwashing soap and lukewarm water. Surfaces can be scrubbed with a soft brush before rinsing and drying.

As with all jewelry, proper storage greatly aids in its care. It’s always suggested to store jewelry in a closed container after wear. Jewelry boxes are an ideal solution, as they are often lined with soft cloth or padded to cradle items. Keeping them in a cool, dry place is also a common sense choice. This helps prevent precious things from being subjected to unnecessary variations and extremes of temperature, humidity and so forth.

Ion plating is resilient and sustainable. With proper care, these are jewelry pieces and watches that can be treasured for years. Enjoy the potential offered by the ion plating process as you follow these basic guidelines!

The Future of Ion Plating

As ion plating has secured a strong foothold in the jewelry industry, the process is expected to gain even more traction over time. New methods are always being experimented with to innovate further and improve on existing techniques. Continue to look for new styles, finishes, and colors.

Also, as the costs of precious metals continue to rise, it’s expected to see ion plating used with precious jewelry. Only time will tell how this high-tech method will be adopted on the road ahead.

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