What is Gold-Filled Jewelry? How Is It Different from Gold-Plated Jewelry?
All that glitters is not gold.
Gold exists in different shapes and sizes and comes with various constituents. Solid gold or 24-karat gold is one of those forms. And then there is rose and white gold—the two popular types of colored gold alloys.
The colored gold (pink or white) is not pure yellow gold but is gold nonetheless, as it meets the minimum gold quantity requirements a piece of gold jewelry or article must have to qualify as gold jewelry. Click here to learn more about gold purity and the karat system.
Some pieces of gold jewelry, on the other hand, may look like gold but may not be so. They may not have enough gold to be considered solid gold jewelry. There are quite a few faux gold variations, with gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry being the most common.
In this article, we’ll learn in detail about the two and how they are different from each other. We’ll cover the following topics:
- What is gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry
- The differences between the two types
- Answers to some common questions and more
If you’re looking to buy gold-plated jewelry because pure gold is not within your reach, you may want to learn more about gold-filled items. It may influence your buying decision.
Table of Contents
What is Gold-Filled?
Gold-filled jewelry comprises a solid layer of gold mechanically melded to a base metal, like sterling silver. The metals are pressure-bonded using intense heat. Based on the gold’s purity levels, the amount of gold needed to constitute a gold-filled item would vary.
Unlike gold plating, gold-filled jewelry has multiple solid gold sheets instead of a single outer layer. The makeup is usually a sandwich-like structure comprising a bottom gold layer, sterling silver or brass sheet in the middle, and a gold alloy layer at the top.
Read more: Sterling Silver vs. White Gold
As per the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), if the gold used in gold-filled jewelry has a fineness of 10, 12, or 14k, the gold must make up at least 5% of the jewelry’s total weight. If the amount of gold is less than 5%, it’s technically not gold-filled.
On the other side of the spectrum, it’s not uncommon to see gold-filled pieces having more gold than the mandatory 5%. For instance, if the gold is of 10k fineness, a given piece of gold filling must have at least 10% gold. In some cases, gold-filled jewelry could have 12.5% 14k gold.
What is Gold Plating?
Gold-plated jewelry is jewelry with a minuscule layer of gold plated onto another metal, usually silver or copper. Other metals such as jeweler’s brass or steel may also be used as the base metal. Besides gold, silver, rhodium, chrome, zinc, etc., could also cover the base metals.
If the base metal is copper, gold is not placed on the metal directly because the copper atoms could spread and intersperse with the gold, resulting in a tarnished surface and a sulfide/oxide layer formation. To mitigate the issue, a layer of barrier metal, such as nickel, is placed between the two layers to prevent diffusion.
The gold piece and base metal are immersed in an electroplating solution. An electric current then sends a positive charge to the gold pieces and the liquid mix and a negative current to the primary metal. The positively charged gold and negatively charged base metal bond, creating a thin layer of gold around the primary metal.
There’s also gilding, a combination of various manufacturing processes. The solid surface coated with gold could be wood, stone, or porcelain and not just metal. Specific advanced plating methods help plate more unique materials such as sapphires, carbon fiber, and plastics.
Gold plating does not apply to jewelry alone, but there are other uses too, which include:
- for decorating objects
- corrosion resistance (printed circuit boards and electrical connectors)
- to improve solderability and wearability
- to reduce friction and enhance paint adhesion
- for radiation shielding and improved IR reflectivity, etc.
On the other hand, a gold filling is usually set aside for only jewelry-making purposes.
What is the Difference Between Gold-Plated and Gold-Filled Jewelry?
Gold-plated jewelry is usually produced in hordes in factories. Gold-filled items, on the contrary, are made in fewer numbers due to the more complex production process, and also, the more significant amount of gold presence means increased care and effort to get the designs right. Besides that main difference, a few other key differences set the two apart:
Gold-filled jewelry has at least five to 10 times more gold than a gold-plated piece. Generally, the gold content in a gold-filled piece is close to a hundred times more than in gold-plated parts. The amount of gold in your average gold-plated jewelry usually constitutes 0.05% (or lesser) of the jewelry’s total weight.
If the gold piece has heavy gold plating, somewhere to the tune of 2.5 microns of thickness, you’re looking at gold vermeil (pronounced “ver may”). The thicker layer of gold used in a vermeil piece must be at least 10 karats pure. Gold vermeil is gold-plated jewelry made to a higher quality standard.
Lifespan & Durability
Gold-filled jewelry tends to withstand scratches and damage better than gold-plated jewelry due to its high gold content and advanced manufacturing technique. You can pass on a gold-filled piece to the next generation. Gold-plated jewelry barely lasts a season.
Gold-plated items give in to everyday wear and tear pretty quickly. Perfume, sweat, saltwater, chlorine, hair products, UV rays, etc., can make a gold-plated piece darker or assume odd colors. The thin gold layer would rub off significantly with continuous exposure to the elements to reveal the underlying base metal layer.
For increased life, take proper care. Take off gold-plated items before showering, swimming, washing, or exercising. Some gold-plated jewelry pieces may come with an extra layer to withstand scratches and damage. With that said, you can always redo the plating once the jewelry loses its sheen.
Gold-filled jewelry usually doesn’t require a maintenance routine. But it’s not waterproof or immune to externalities. It can assume a blackened look with exposure to chemicals, fire, and pollution. The chances of that happening, however, are rare.
Gold-filled jewelry has more gold and is made to a higher standard than gold-plated jewelry. It is, therefore, on the premium side. It’s usually not that easy to visually discern a gold-filled item from a work of gold plating. The price usually gives away the information. If the gold-filled jewelry you’re looking at is relatively inexpensive, it may be gold-plated.
Design and Use Cases
Since gold-plated jewelry is more affordable and doesn’t last too long, its presence is more in the fashion jewelry space. Gold-plated jewelry is usually seen as costume jewelry that mimics a more expensive piece.
Gold-filled jewelry items, on the other hand, are usually classic pieces with evergreen designs and suited more for special occasions. You’d rarely find them sold by the racks. Local jewelry designer shops or stores that support jewelry artists are likely to have more gold-filled jewelry than plated pieces.
If differentiating gold-filled jewelry from a gold-plated one seems like a task, look for the “GF” inscription with the karat number on the item—for instance, “1/20 12K Gf.” If there’s no GF stamp and only the karat information, it’s likely solid gold.
Gold-plated jewelry usually has plating quality-indicating stamps, such as “GP” or “GEP”. Gold-plated jewelry of the vermeil kind usually has a symbol with the number “925”.
P.S. An inscription doesn’t guarantee the gold jewelry type. But if you’re buying the piece at a decent place, it’s likely authentic.
Read more: Is Gold Jewelry a Good Investment
To conclude, gold-filled jewelry is an affordable alternative to the pure form of gold but doesn’t fall in the same tier as gold-plated jewelry. It’s much higher quality.
Gold-plated jewelry cannot replace pure gold or solid gold jewelry—neither can gold-filled pieces. But the latter can come closer in terms of durability. And it’s, therefore, pricier than gold-plated stuff.
If pure gold jewelry is not within budget, gold-filled pieces are solid options. If gold-filled jewelry also seems not within means, try gold vermeil. Gold-plated jewelry is not recommended if you’re looking for something to wear daily.
Moreover, if you have sensitive skin and tend to develop an allergic reaction when wearing metals that aren’t gold, those skin-related issues are likely to pop up the most with gold-plated pieces.
To learn more about the different types of alloyed or bonded gold, check out our piece discussing all types of gold.
Is gold-filled jewelry a gold alloy?
Gold-filled pieces aren’t gold alloys. The gold in gold-filled jewelry is incorporated as layers and does not entirely merge with the other metal, unlike the complete fusion between two metals in an alloy.