What is PVD Gold Sputtering?

PVD Gold SputteringGold is one of the most beautifully luminescent and valuable metals on Earth because of its ability to throw light, reflect energy and resist tarnishing. PVD or Physical Vapor Deposition Gold Sputtering is commonly used in the watch and jewelry industry to produce coatings that are hard and durable and won’t rub off with constant contact with the skin or clothes and lose it sheen.

PVD Gold Sputtering is also used for coating circuit panels and electronic components due to its excellent conductivity, for coating optical fibers, batteries and high end faucets and fixtures. Gold Sputtering processes are invaluable for biomedical implants that serve as radiopaque coatings that are visible in x-rays and lifesaving procedures like coating tissue samples to make them visible for scanning under electron microscopes.

Gold Sputtering coatings are a thin film deposition process where gold or a gold alloy is bombarded with high energy ions in a vacuum chamber resulting in the gold atoms or molecules being “Sputtered” into the vapor and condensing on the substrate to be coated such as jewelry, circuit boards or medical implants.

PVD Gold Sputtering is frequently conducted as a DC Sputtering process which is among the simplest and least expensive types of sputtering equipment. Gold is also commonly applied as a thin film PVD process via Thermal Evaporation Deposition where it is evaporated in a low pressure environment with an electrical resistive heating element, or as Electron-beam Vapor Deposition where the gold is heated with an electron-beam in a high vacuum which then condenses on the substrate to be coated.

What is the Difference Between Jewelry that is PVD Gold Sputter Coated, Gold Plating or Gold Filled?

All gold coating applications for jewelry try to gain the advantage of having a gold look and sheen, but with a thin layer of gold applied to a harder base metal such as steel or titanium nitride for durability. Pure solid gold is relatively soft, and of course – expensive!

PVD Gold Sputter Coating is applied in the high energy plasma “Fourth state of nature” environment and is able to apply coatings on a single atom layer with extreme purity. It usually makes for the hardest and strongest bonding to the surface to be coated where durability is key. It is the easiest to control the color of the gold coating with the PVD process.

Gold Plating usually refers to the electroplating application of a gold coating which is applied in a chemical bath where an electrical charge is applied to the material to be coated attracting and bonding the gold. It is an inexpensive and easy to apply process. However, it produces a relatively soft, less wear resistant coating with a chemical process that is bad for the environment. This is usually what people think of when they think of “Cheap foreign jewelry” that doesn’t last!

Gold Filling is the mechanical bonding of gold to metal under high temperature and pressure. It produces a thicker coating than PVD Gold Sputtering or Gold Plating and so is usually a more expensive process involving a greater quantity of gold that is coated.

Diagram of the DC Sputtering Process

Diagram of the
DC Sputtering Process

Particularly in the watch and jewelry industry where durability from abrasion with skin and clothing which gives jewelry that is electroplated a shorter life span, PVD Gold Sputtering usually produces a harder and longer lasting coating than electrolytic Gold Plating or Gold Filling.

When comparing Gold Plating processes for your specific needs however, remember there can be bad PVD Gold Sputtering processes and excellent Gold Plating techniques where one may trump the other cost-wise for your specific application. PVD Coating equipment is more expensive with a longer ROI or Return on Investment that must be considered for an accurate assessment comparing any gold plating process.

Never forget its gold’s beauty and ability to throw light which has made it so valued throughout the ages as an adornment for its lustrous sheen. The primary advantages of PVD Gold Sputtering coating over other types of gold coating is its durability retaining that sheen, corrosion resistance to contact with the skin and wear which translates to longer lasting lifetime for your jewelry – particularly higher end jewelry.

For truly dazzling jewelry pieces that convey the greatest brilliance it can be much easier to control the colors and shades of gold with PVD Coatings on an atomic level such as Rose Gold – which is a combination of gold and copper with a particular and specific oxidation of the free copper atoms in the PVD process – that gives Rose Gold such a heartwarming feeling of love!

Not only can PVD Gold Sputtering deliver on an atomic level the exact color and luminosity which evoke such universal feelings of love and attraction with jewelry that is what gives it such value, but it also has the benefits of a much more environmentally friendly, longer lasting process than Gold Plating or Gold Filling for producing a gold coating.

A very dense metal with a specific density of 19.3 g/cc, gold has a melting point of 1,064°C and an evaporation temperature of approximately 1,400°C. A 100-1000Å thick gold thin film is deposited on substrates for most applications.

Much of gold’s brilliance is the result of it easily forming what are known as self-assembled monolayers that are highly resistance to oxidation, are inert with extremely smooth surfaces which gives gold its sheen and also makes it highly suitable for medical implants.

Gold’s unique ability to throw light on the subatomic level is used for preparing medical and biological samples for inspection under electron microscopes. It is used in optical coating applications ranging from the coating of optical fibers to it being used to carefully define the reflectivity of architectural glass and sunglasses.

So gold’s value and allure applies far beyond visual adornment such as jewelry or watches or its face value in gold coins, enjoying a wide range of applications at the heart of much of today’s electronics and silicon wafer industry for its excellent electrical conductivity.

Semicore’s CAPOS all-in-one PVD Sputtering or Thermal Evaporation System

CAPOS CT Multi-Chamber PVD Coating System

CAPOS-CT Multi-Chamber PVD Coating System Video

Semicore’s breakthrough CAPOS thin film deposition system is the PVD Industry’s first cost effective “Open-platform” design, that is ideal for both precision R&D and batch production.

Flexible enough that it can be used for either sputtering or evaporation coatings, this platform is also used for Semicore’s CAPOS-CT series, as a highly versatile “Cluster Tool” platform that can be configured with multiple Process Modules (PM) and cassette-to-cassette operation that speeds production cycles. Read more…

For more detailed information on these units’ specifications please download the PDF.

Matt Hughes is President of Semicore Equipment Inc, a leading worldwide supplier of sputtering equipment for the electronics, optical, solar energy, medical and related high tech industries. Please let our helpful support staff answer any questions you have regarding “What is PVD Gold Sputtering?” and how to implement the best technology and processes for your specific PVD Gold Sputtering Equipment needs by contacting us at sales@semicore.com or by calling 925-373-8201.


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