Gold-filled jewelry is the perfect way to get the look and durability of solid gold pieces at a much more accessible price point.
But what exactly is gold-filled jewelry, and how does it differ from other types of gold?
In today’s article, we’re exploring the ins and outs of gold-filled jewelry, including what it is and how it’s made, along with the benefits, drawbacks, proper care, and more.
Ready to learn more about this chic and affordable alternative to solid gold? Read on!
Gold-filled jewelry offers all the beauty and durability of solid gold without the steep price tag. But what is the meaning of gold-filled jewelry?
This type of gold jewelry is made by bonding a layer of gold to a base metal using heat and pressure. The gold layer must be at least 5 percent of the total weight of the piece and is much thicker than, say, gold plating — but more on that in a minute.
Gold-filled jewelry is an affordable alternative to solid gold jewelry and a go-to choice for those who want the golden aesthetic without the premium price. Gold filled-jewelry is also a good option for people with allergies or sensitivities to certain metals, as the base metal used in gold-filled jewelry is typically hypoallergenic.
But be careful not to confuse gold-filled with gold-plated.
Pictured above: Gold-plated necklace
At first glance, gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry look very much alike, making it easy to mix them up. But there are actually quite a few significant differences between the two.
The most significant difference between gold-filled and gold-plated pieces comes down to the thickness of the gold coating.
Gold-plated jewelry consists of an affordable base metal — commonly brass, steel, copper, silver, or nickel — coated (or “plated”) with a thin layer of gold alloy. The thickness varies between 0.175 microns (for lower-quality, “flash-plated” gold jewelry) and 0.5 microns for most standard gold-plated pieces.
Gold-filled jewelry, on the other hand, features two or three layers of a thick gold sheet instead of just one.
Not only does the thin layer make gold-plated jewelry more likely to wear, but the gold layer in gold-filled jewelry is required to be at least 5 percent of the piece’s total weight.
In fact, the gold layer on most gold-filled jewelry is up to 100 times thicker than standard gold plating — making it much more long-lasting than gold-plated pieces.
To put it in contrast, gold-plated jewelry is usually less than 0.05 percent of the total weight in most cases.
Another key difference is the application process.
Gold-plated jewelry is created via electroplating. In other words, an electric current is used to deposit the thin gold layer onto the base metal. This is done by placing the base metal in a solution containing gold ions and passing an electric current through the solution. This causes the metal ions to be attracted to the base metal, bonding to it and creating a thin layer (or plating) of gold.
Gold-filled jewelry, however, utilizes a method called pressure bonding. Also known as mechanical bonding, this involves placing the base metal and gold layer between two rolls that apply pressure and heat, causing the metal layers to bond together.
One key advantage of pressure bonding over electroplating is that it creates a much thicker and more durable gold layer. Additionally, the pressure bonding process doesn’t involve electricity, making it safer and more environmentally friendly. However, it’s also a more complex and time-consuming process, making gold-filled jewelry more expensive to produce.
Ultimately, it depends!
Most gold jewelry lovers tend to gravitate toward gold-filled jewelry over gold-plated for the sake of durability and enduring appeal.
While gold-plated is less expensive, it tends to only look “new” when you first purchase it. After a few days or weeks of wear, the gold coating is prone to fading. On the other hand, gold-filled jewelry can last decades and sometimes an entire lifetime with proper care.
That being said, if you’re someone who only wears jewelry on special occasions, likes cycling between trends, or prioritizes affordability over durability — gold-plated jewelry might be the better option.
Shifting our focus back to gold-filled jewelry, let’s dive a little deeper into how it’s made.
Image credit: Artisan Plating
As mentioned earlier, gold-filled jewelry is created by pressure bonding a layer of solid gold to a base metal, such as jeweler's brass (made up of 90 percent copper and 10 percent zinc). It’s then covered by a thick sheet of gold with a minimum purity of 10k (meaning a gold alloy that’s 41.7 percent pure gold).
Next, the gold layer fuses to the base metal via mechanical application involving heat and pressure, known as pressure bonding. This permanent bond prevents the gold from flaking or peeling with frequent wear.
In gold-filled jewelry, the gold sheets bonded to the base metal come in three different styles:
Single clad: Gold is applied to only one side of the base metal, exposing the other side.
Double clad: Gold is applied to both sides of the base metal.
Wire clad: Gold fully encases the base metal.
Why does this matter?
Single-clad gold-filled pieces may be less durable than double-clad, as the gold is only applied to one side, and the metal base is exposed on the other. This means that the brass is more prone to tarnish, exposing through the gold layer over time.
Double-clad gold-filled pieces, on the other hand, have gold applied to both sides, providing additional protection for the brass base, resulting in a longer-lasting and higher-quality piece of jewelry.
As far as durability and protection, we can say the same for wire-clad gold-filled pieces. Additionally, wire-clad is more flexible — making it a popular choice for creating delicate and detailed pieces like gold-filled earrings or pendants.
“Gold-filled” is actually a regulated term enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US. This means that by describing a product as “gold-filled,” it must meet specific requirements.
Those requirements include the following:
A minimum of 5 percent (or 1/20th) of the item’s total weight must be made up of gold or gold alloy.
The gold layer must have a purity of at least 10 karats.
The gold layer must be fused to the base layer through a “mechanical process”.
The item’s specifications must be “clearly and conspicuously” disclosed. In other words, the gold karatage must be stamped next to a hallmark like “Gold Filled” or “GF” on the jewelry piece.
These requirements must be met for a jewelry piece to legally classify as “gold-filled.” If even one of the requirements listed isn’t met, the term “gold-filled” cannot be legally used for that particular piece of jewelry.
In terms of value, what factors determine what gold-filled jewelry is worth?
Several factors influence the value and quality of gold-filled jewelry.
The most important factor is the karatage, or purity, of gold used.
Gold with a higher karatage, like 24K, is more valuable than gold with a lower karatage, like 10K. Most gold-filled jewelry uses 12K or 14K gold.
Is 14k gold-filled real? Yes. The gold used in gold-filled jewelry must have a minimum purity of 10K, so 14K gold-filled jewelry is made with gold that is at least 14K in purity and contains a substantial amount of gold — at least 5 percent of the total weight of the piece.
While it’s a less expensive alternative to solid gold, 14K gold-filled jewelry is still considered a high-quality material.
In addition to karatage, the additional metals mixed with the gold to create different shades can also impact value.
Typically, yellow gold is the most valuable, followed by white gold and rose gold. The base metal used in the jewelry can also affect value, with base metals like nickel and copper typically resulting in a lower value, while sterling silver increases value.
So how can you tell gold from gold filled?
There are a few ways to make the distinction between gold and gold-filled jewelry:
Look for the hallmark: Solid gold jewelry is typically stamped with a hallmark, such as "14K" or "18K," indicating the gold's purity. Gold-filled jewelry may also have a hallmark followed by the letters "GF," indicating that it’s gold-filled. The hallmark “1/20” is also common on gold-filled jewelry.
Test the item: You can use a simple acid test (like using a drop of nitric acid) to determine the gold content of an item. Gold-filled items won’t show a reaction, but solid gold will. Just remember that this test could damage your jewelry, so it should be a last resort.
Inspect your jewelry closely: Solid gold is typically thicker and heavier than gold-filled jewelry. Gold-filled pieces may also show visible seams where the gold layer is attached to the base metal.
Turn to a pro: A jeweler or other professional can use specialized equipment to determine the gold content of your jewelry. This is the most accurate way to tell the difference between solid gold and gold-filled.
Ready to shop? Let’s talk about what you can expect price-wise.
Gold-filled jewelry is usually less expensive than solid gold pieces because of its smaller gold content, as well as the base metal underneath the gold layer.
The exact cost difference depends on several factors, such as the gold karatage used, the current market price of gold, and the design and craftsmanship of each piece.
Since gold-filled jewelry must contain 5 percent gold, a general rule is that its starting value equates to approximately 5 percent of the value of solid gold.
For instance, if gold value is $48 per gram, a 50-gram gold jewelry piece would run you $2,400. However, a gold-filled version of the same piece would only use 2.5 grams of gold and 45 grams of base metal, say brass.
Therefore, the identical, gold-filled version would only cost $120.
That’s a 95 percent cost savings!
In this section, we’ve rounded up some of the most commonly asked questions about gold-filled jewelry:
How do you clean gold-filled jewelry?
To clean your gold-filled jewelry, use mild soapy water and a soft-bristle brush (like a child’s toothbrush) to remove residue and fingerprints. Then use a soft cloth to dry and polish your gold-filled pieces.
How should you store gold-filled jewelry?
For safekeeping, store your gold-filled pieces in a sealable plastic bag inside a dry, airtight container to prevent oxidation.
Can you shower with filled gold?
Removing your gold-filled jewelry before showering or swimming will preserve its shine.
What should you avoid exposing your gold-filled jewelry to?
To preserve your gold-filled jewelry’s beauty, avoid contact with harsh chemicals and detergents, cleaning products, alcohol and fragrances, chlorine, and ocean water.
Can you wear gold-filled jewelry every day?
Yes! With proper care, you can wear your gold-filled jewelry items daily.
Do gold-filled chains turn green?
Gold-filled jewelry doesn’t turn black or green easily. However, it can show tarnish without proper care.
Are you looking to add some luxurious, high-quality pieces to your jewelry collection without breaking the bank?
Gold-filled jewelry might be the answer you've been searching for!
This affordable alternative to solid gold offers the same luxe aesthetic and durability, making it perfect for everyday wear or special occasions.
Ready to rock some new gold bling without the premium price tag?
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