In the present study, nanocomposite coatings of Au clusters embedded in two different oxides, TiO2 and Al2O3, were synthesized using pulsed DC magnetron sputtering. The depositions were carried out in three steps, by depositing the oxide, the Au clusters, and again the oxide. The deposition time of the Au clusters was varied in order to achieve different cluster sizes, morphologies, and nanocomposite topographies. The structure, microstructure, morphology, and the optical properties of the coatings were studied. With the increase in Au content, red-shifted surface plasmon resonance (SPR) peaks with higher intensity and increased widths were observed due to changes in the metal clusters sizes and morphology and due to interparticle effects. In order to relate the peculiar SPR extinction bands with the different clusters shapes and distributions, a simulation of the optical properties of the nanocomposites was performed making use of the Renormalized Maxwell-Garnett approach. A theoretical study concerning the refractive index sensitivity was made in order to predict the optimal coatings parameters for sensing experiments. The increased surface area and the strong SPR extinction bands make these coatings suitable for gas sensing and also catalysis, albeit many other application fields can be envisaged.

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