The Evolution of Electroplating

We are surrounded by electroplated items, including jewelry, bathroom faucets, car parts, kitchen gas burners, and wheel rims. Electroplating is also at work in ways we can’t see. The electronics industry depends heavily on electroplating. Electroplated components fuel the devices we depend on. They improve corrosion resistance, lengthen a product’s life span, enhance electrical conductivity, and increase the ability of the substrate to be soldered.

Evolution of Electroplating

(Pixabay / Republica)

But for as much as our modern lives depend on electroplating, few of us know the history of the process. In England, John Wright and Henry and George Elkington got the first patent for gold and silver electroplating in 1840. The underpinnings of the process were engineered several decades earlier by a chemist from Italy named Luigi Brugnatelli. He was a good buddy of Alessandro Volta, for whom the volt is named. Volta was an Italian physicist whose work led to the first electric battery and the advent of continuous current. Brugnatelli worked with voltaic electricity, experimenting with metal plating solutions. He was ultimately able to plate silver components with a gold solution. We might have heard more about Brugnatelli if he hadn’t run afoul of the French Academy of Sciences. The prominent Academy blackballed Brugnatelli and made sure that none of his research made it to publication. As a result, his brilliant findings fell into obscurity.

With Brugnatelli’s research sidelined, people limped along with less effective coating methods. One of the processes, known as fire gilding, used a mercury mixture and gold leaf to coat metal objects, but it proved to be very dangerous to execute.

By the late 1830s, scientists in Great Britain conducted research that got them to where Brugnatelli had left off. As a result, they were able to coat printing press plates in copper. In Russia, another scientist was independently discovering a similar process. Wright and the Elkington cousins improved upon these findings and were able to roll out their silver and gold electroplating for a patent.

The process caught on in high society, and it became a trend to electroplate silverware, serving pieces, and home décor items. Russians used the process to gold plate cathedral domes and religious statues.

Understanding of chemistry expanded, and the electroplating process extended to a variety of metals including zinc, brass, tin, and nickel. The forward march of industry made electroplating a key player in manufacturing processes, but it was the electronics industry that truly elevated electroplating beginning in the 1970s.

As we have come to understand more about electrochemistry, we have learned to refine the electroplating process. We can now exact great control over the thickness of the plating, the performance of different finishes, and the function of various types of electroplating. We can also draw on exotic elements such as platinum and ruthenium, which enable new capabilities for electronics. Environmental contamination has been a significant issue with the increase of electroplating, but wastewater recycling is helping to reduce the effect of harmful chemicals.

New technologies continue to increase the functionality and relevance of electroplating for electronics, medicine, telecommunication, and art. The future is bright with limitless applications for the evolving process.



You might have the desire to keep the things you possess such as watch, manacle, chain and the like because it plays significant value in your life. It may be a gift from your parents, siblings or partners and you can’t afford to see it unfixed. There is a way how to repair and keep such precious gift—that is through the use of electroplating.

The History and Evolution of Electroplating [infographic]

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