Editor’s Note: We received a question from one of our readers: Is it possible to electroplate gold over pewter? We went to our gold-plating expert and occasional guest writer, Calla Gold, and asked her about pewter. Here’s her answer:
Can you Gold Plate over Pewter?
By Calla Gold
Before we answer the question of whether or not it’s possible to electroplate gold over pewter, let’s get to know pewter a bit. The U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior describes pewter as a metal made of a variety of alloys. “Modern pewter is 93% tin, 6% antimony, and 1% copper. Other metals that have been used in pewter include lead, bismuth, and zinc.” Make sure you note that ‘lead’ is one of the metals used in old pewter pieces. We will discuss that in a minute.
The Pewter Society of Great Britain reports that pewter has been around since Roman times. In the earlier centuries, it was used for chalices and spoons, later for standard household goods, like jugs, plates, buttons, tankards, wine cups, inkwells, and candlesticks. According to the Society, pewter does not tarnish like silver, so a periodic clean with an all-purpose metal (not silver) polish will keep it looking bright.
I happen to own some pewter pieces so this question reminded me of an interesting conversation I had with a historian friend of mine who went to Renaissance Faires with our family. At one faire, we had proudly bought pewter mugs used to drink ale or wine. Our friend warned us that wine and beer could interact with any lead content in a lead-based pewter tankard and be harmful. She recommended we stick to drinking water out of our pewter tankards.
We went back to the purveyor of the pewter tankards and he informed us that lead has been illegal in drinkware in the US and at least western Europe for decades. He assured us that he got his pewter tankards were made in the US. His wife recommended against getting older tankards or pewter made outside the US.
The FDA regulations say that pewter alloys containing lead in excess of 0.05% may not be used as a food contact surface (which includes drinkware). However, there are plenty of pewter plates and tankards made before the lead laws came into effect, that are still on the market.
Since the law against lead in pewter drinkware is just for drinkware, decorative pewter pieces could possibly contain lead. And lead, as an ingredient, isn’t something a plater wants to be exposed to. The US EPA describes lead as “a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals, causing health effects.”
XRF (X-ray fluorescence) technology is a non-destructive analytical technique used to determine the elemental composition of materials. There are portable XRF analyzers that are trusted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the European Union’s Product Safety Enforcement Forum (PROSAFE), and other regulatory agencies to screen consumer products for lead and other regulated elements including barium, antimony, selenium, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and hexavalent chromium.
So, to get back to the question: Is it possible to electroplate gold over pewter? The answer: yes, non-lead pewter can indeed be gold plated. One would follow the same process as gold plating, which we described in an earlier article: How Gold Plating is Done, Step by Step
The end of the story is that we did indeed drink wine from our tankards and a good time was had by all.
Calla Gold is a Santa Barbara Jeweler specializing in custom jewelry design and jewelry repair, and the author of Design Your Dream Wedding Rings From Engagement to Eternity.
Post Author: Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane.