Every Difference Between Gold-Filled vs. Gold-Plated Jewelry

gold plated vs. gold filled jewelryGold-plated and gold-filled are types of gold jewelry that incorporate gold but aren’t entirely composed of solid gold. The main differences between gold-plated vs. gold-filled jewelry is the amount of gold in each, the technique used to make them, their prices, and their durability. 

When you’re shopping for gold jewelry, you’ll see a lot of varieties — from colors like rose gold to purity markers like 18K or 14K. You’ll also see different techniques of incorporating gold into the jewelry like gold-plated or gold-filled. 

If you’re wondering what “gold-filled” and “gold-plated” even mean, don’t worry — we’ll break down what defines each type of gold jewelry. 

By the end, you’ll be equipped with all the pros and cons of gold-filled vs. gold-plated jewelry that you’ll need to shop confidently and choose the jewelry that’s right for you. 

gold-plated vs gold-filled jewelry guide

What Does Gold-Plated Mean?

Gold-plated jewelry has a base metal coated and bonded (“plated”) to a thin layer of gold alloy. The base metal is a more affordable metal like brass, steel, copper, silver, or nickel. 

Using a more affordable base metal allows the piece to resemble finer gold jewelry at a much lower price. This makes gold-plated jewelry a more accessible gold jewelry option for anyone on a tighter budget. 

The process for making gold-plated (or “electroplated”) jewelry involves submerging the base metal into a special plating solution, then running an electrical charge through the solution. Longer submersion times can result in thicker layers.

Some gold-plated pieces have additional metal layers (like nickel) plated onto the base metal before the gold is plated on.

How much gold is used in gold-plated jewelry? A very small amount — less than 0.05 percent of the total weight in most cases. 

That said, gold-plated jewelry comes in different levels of quality. 

gold-plated pendant necklace

Quality Factors in Gold-Plated Jewelry

The lowest-quality type of gold-plating is flash-plated jewelry, which has a layer of gold under 0.175 microns (1 micron = one millionth of a meter) thick and often a cheap base metal like brass. 

Many companies require the gold layer to be at least 0.5 microns thick for it to officially be considered “gold-plated,” and this is the thickness seen in most cases. 

One higher-quality type of gold-plated is gold vermeil, or “heavy gold-plating.”

Gold vermeil has a sterling silver base and thicker layer of gold. The layer must be 2.5 microns or thicker to qualify, based on U.S. regulations, or at least 1.0 micron thick, based on Canadian regulations. 

The karatage (or purity) of the gold used can also change the jewelry’s value. For instance, 18K gold-plated jewelry will carry a higher price than 14K gold-plated jewelry, since 18K gold contains more pure gold than 14K gold.

Whether the small amount of gold in the piece is a pro or con depends on your perspective. On one hand, it probably won’t be as valuable as an heirloom or investment piece. But there are certainly some pros to gold-plated jewelry as well. 

gold-plated ring with opals and cubic zirconia

Pros of Gold-Plated Jewelry

The main pro of gold-plated jewelry is the affordable price.  If you love the look of gold jewelry but don’t have hundreds of dollars to shell out, gold-plated jewelry is a great option.

Adding to that, gold-plated jewelry is virtually indistinguishable from solid gold jewelry of the same style and gold karatage. No untrained eye will be able to look at your bling and say it’s gold-plated with any condescension — they won’t be able to tell!

You can find gold-plated jewelry all over, from independent sellers to big-name department stores. 

Beyond comparisons to other gold jewelry, gold-plating can bring a pop of color and shine to duller metal jewelry. Plus, it may increase the piece’s wearability

If you love keeping up with trends, gold-plated jewelry is a great way to do so without breaking the bank. The styles of gold-plated jewelry are virtually endless. 

Lastly, a big benefit of gold-plated jewelry over solid gold jewelry is higher durability. Gold is a soft metal, so having harder metals layered underneath makes the piece stronger. 

So, how long does gold-plated jewelry last? Unfortunately, not long. 

Cons of Gold-Plated Jewelry

Will gold-plated jewelry tarnish? Yes. One of the biggest cons of gold-plated jewelry is longevity

While solid gold jewelry won’t tarnish, gold-plated jewelry will tarnish, even quicker with thinner gold layers, because the base metals start to get into the gold at a molecular level. It will also eventually fade, which you can only restore by getting it replated. 

The best-case scenario for how long gold-plated jewelry will last is around 2 years if it’s maintained very well. Most pieces only last 1 year. 

On top of fading and tarnishing, gold-plated jewelry often quickly becomes damaged with chips, flaking, or scratches. 

Another downside is that many everyday items can quickly harm gold-plated jewelry, including cosmetics, perfumes, acidic foods, and even strong soaps. Plated jewelry can quickly become damaged by anything that isn’t pH-neutral, including some people’s sweat. 

What about water? It depends on the type of water — most types will cause damage, but some quicker than others. Showering regularly with your gold-plated jewelry will eventually cause damage, while saltwater and pool water (with chlorine) will more quickly cause the plating to break down. 

A big con of gold-plated jewelry for many people is the minimal amount of gold, which lowers the overall value. 

Another con of gold-plated jewelry is the potential for being conned (no pun intended). Sometimes, shady sellers may try to pass off gold-plated jewelry as solid gold to sell it for more than it’s worth. 

Now that you know all about gold-plated jewelry, let’s see how it stacks up against gold-filled jewelry. 

gold-filled earrings with imitation aquamarine gemstone

What Does Gold-Filled Mean?

Gold-filled jewelry has a thick gold sheet permanently bonded to a base metal, often brass or sterling silver. Rather than one layer of gold, most gold-filled jewelry has 2 to 3 layers. 

How much gold is used in gold-plated jewelry? 

Gold typically makes up 5 percent or more of the jewelry’s total weight, which is 100-times the amount of gold in plated jewelry. If you’re measuring, that translates to a gold layer that’s at least 2 microns thick.

Because of the 5-percent-gold composition, you’ll see gold-filled jewelry marked with the fraction 1/20 (5 percent) followed by the karatage — for example “1/20 18K” or “1/20 18K GF” on a piece that uses 18K gold

In some cases, gold-filled jewelry can be only 2.5 percent gold, marked with 1/40, but this is less common. 

Some other names for gold-filled jewelry include:

  • Rolled gold

  • Rolled gold plate

  • Gold-bonded

The process for creating gold-filled jewelry involves using heat and pressure to bond the gold to the base metal. The base metal is sandwiched between a top and bottom layer of gold alloy. Then, the three layers are rolled under high heat to bond them together. It’s more of a gold envelopment than filling. 

Is gold-filled real gold? Yes and no. Gold-filled jewelry contains real gold, but it’s not completely made up of gold. 

Additionally, the gold used in gold-filled jewelry can vary in purity, which leads to varying quality levels. 

Quality Levels of Gold-Filled Jewelry

A few factors can affect the value and quality of gold-filled jewelry. 

One factor is the karatage of gold used. Pieces with pure gold (24K, or 24 karat) will carry the most value, while those with 10K gold or lower will hold the least value. Most gold-filled pieces use 12K or 14K gold.  

For golds that aren’t 24K, the alloys mixed in (which produce different shades of gold) can affect value as well. In most cases, yellow gold is the most valuable, followed by white gold, then rose gold

Finally, the base metal can also affect the value. Nickel or copper base metals will mean lower value, while sterling silver will mean higher value. 

gold-filled pendant necklace peacock shape

Pros of Gold-Filled Jewelry

One big pro of gold-filled jewelry is that it simply has more gold. While it only holds 5 percent of solid gold’s value, it’s still valuable.

Another benefit of gold-filled jewelry is that, like gold-plated jewelry, it looks virtually indistinguishable from solid gold. Unlike gold-plated jewelry, though, that resemblance will last much longer. 

But how long does gold-filled jewelry last? With proper maintenance, gold-filled jewelry can generally last 10 to 30 years. That time range often even applies to gold-filled jewelry worn daily. Stronger base metals also make the piece more durable.

For those allergic to nickel, gold-filled jewelry is much more hypoallergenic than gold-plated jewelry.

Lastly, gold-filled is more durable than solid gold at a much lower price point

Beyond strength, what about tarnishing or fading?

Cons of Gold-Filled Jewelry

Does gold-filled jewelry tarnish? Unlike solid gold, gold-filled jewelry can tarnish, but it takes rare conditions for this to happen — namely, prolonged and intense exposure to sulfide chemicals, like those used in salons. Luckily, you can usually clean the jewelry to restore it. 

A second con, though this may depend on your perspective, is price

Gold-filled jewelry is significantly more expensive than gold-plated jewelry, so it’s pricier but will sell for more. However, it’s also significantly less expensive than solid gold, making it a great in-between option. 

Lastly, the amount of gold in gold-filled jewelry can be a downside, as it makes the overall piece less valuable than solid gold.

gold-filled earrings with colored cubic zirconia gemstones

Key Differences Between Gold-Plated and Gold-Filled

We laid out a lot of information, so let’s summarize some of the main differences between gold-plated vs. gold-filled jewelry: 

  1. Amount of Gold: Gold-filled is typically 5 percent gold with multiple gold layers, while gold-plated is usually 0.05 percent gold with a single, thinner gold layer. Measurement-wise, gold-filled is 2 microns or more while gold-plated is 0.175 to 0.5 microns.

  2. How It’s Made: Gold-plated is created via electroplating, while gold-filled is made via a combination of rolling, heat, and pressure. 

  3. Value and Price: Gold-filled is greater in value and price than gold-plated, though both are much more affordable than solid gold jewelry. 

  4. Tarnishing Risk: Gold-plated jewelry is much more vulnerable to tarnishing than gold-filled jewelry. Plus, you can usually clean tarnishing from gold-filled jewelry, but you’ll need to have tarnished gold-plated jewelry replated. 

  5. Longevity: With proper maintenance, gold-plated jewelry will typically only last 1 year while gold-filled jewelry can last decades. 

Overall, which is better: plated or filled gold? It can depend on preference, budget, and the jewelry’s purpose. 

Gold-filled is more durable and long-lasting, but it’s also more expensive. It’s best for daily wear, thoughtful gifts, and special occasions. 

Gold-plated is less durable and not as long-lasting, but it’s more affordable. This type of jewelry is great for trendy items, costumes, and anything you don’t want to splurge on.

Is Gold-Plated or Gold-Filled Right for You? 

Gold jewelry that isn’t solid gold, like gold-plated or gold-filled jewelry, can get a bad rep as “cheap” gold. While there are certainly some downsides, gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry are great options that make rocking some gorgeous gold possible for everyone.

We recommend gold-filled jewelry for longevity and value, but gold-plated jewelry is better if you have a tight budget or like to switch up your style more frequently. 

Ready to shop? Browse our collection of high-quality gold jewelry!

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