Gold filled vs Gold Plated What’s The Difference?
Gold filled, 14K gold, gold plated, gold vermeil, 1/20GF….there are dozens of terms and acronyms that you’ll see when buying gold jewelry or jewelry supplies. It’s kind of like going to the grocery store and determining what you’re getting with words like “natural”, “healthy”, or “organic”. All golds are definitely not created equal and certain terms are regulated and defined by the government, while others don’t mean a dang thing.
The 3 most common golds we see in jewelry are “gold” “gold-filled” and “gold plated”. If it isn’t real gold it needs to be advertised as such. Gold, as in solid gold, is great if it fits in your budget! It will pretty much last forever. Gold plate on the other hand may only last a few months and will quite possibly turn your skin green. Gold-filled falls somewhere in the middle. It’s an artisan jewelry maker’s metal of choice because of it’s reasonable price (at the time of this posting it runs about 2.5x the price of sterling silver) and it’s longevity….it can last up to 30 years if cared for properly!
From junk to gem, here’s what you need to know in order of preciousness…is that a word?
Gold Tone or Gold Look – this is not necessarily, and usually is not, gold at all. When jewelry is noted as “gold tone” it’s just made with a base metal that is the color gold.
Gold Plate or Gold Plated – an extremely thin layer of gold (usually 14K) that will wear off if aggressively polished and will wear off overtime showing the base metal core below. Gold plate is not regulated by the government. Some gold plate is thicker than others (like heavy electroplate) but all are subject to quite a quick degree of tarnishing, flaking, and rubbing off of plate.
Gold Vermeil – I personally love vermeil. Vermeil is essentially sterling silver that has been plated with gold. It is often seen plated with 24K gold which gives it a gorgeous bright yellowish tone, but again, it’s plated so when worn regularly you will end up with a sterling silver piece.
Gold filled or Gold fill – Gold filled is a regulated term defined by the Federal Trade Commission. By law, gold-filled items sold in the US must contain at least 5% gold by weight…keep in mind that you can only be sure that you are getting actual regulated gold-filled if you are purchasing from a US source. Gold filled is kind of a mis-leading term, but it is the correct one to use. It’s more like a gold plating that is SUPER thick. It is AT THE VERY LEAST 50 times (sometimes exponentially more) more gold material than gold plating. It wears, looks, and feels just like solid gold. Because of this it can be worn by anyone who can wear gold without worry of allergic reaction. Most gold-filled items will be marked based on the weight of gold contained in the piece, for example it might be stamped “1/20” or “1/20 14K GF” which means that it is at least 1/20th 14K gold. Gold filled items can last between 5 and 30 years depending on how often they are worn and how they are cared for.
When purchasing gold filled sheet it is either “single clad” or “double clad” both has the same gold weight, but single clad means that the gold appears only on 1 side, double clad splits the amount of gold on either side of the sheet. The biggest down fall for a jewelry maker is that gold fill is really a pain to solder. It’s heat resistant to only a certain degree which is close to the temp at which solder flows.
Gold – Pure gold is 24K. The higher the karat the more pure gold the item is. Although, higher purity isn’t always a good thing though when it comes to wear-ability. A lot of jewelry and most rings are made of no more than 14K because anything higher would be softer and could dent easily. If an item is 14K gold it means that it is 14 parts gold and 6 parts a different metal usually copper, silver, and zinc.
This should serve as a good guide in deciding which type of metal to choose. And, it should be no surprise to hear that I opt for and offer gold filled most of the time!