Understanding the Difference Between Gold-Plated and Gold-Filled Jewelry

May 10, 2022

Two often misunderstood terms in the jewelry trade are gold plated and gold filled. In this piece, we’ll explain the difference between gold plated and gold-filled jewelry, the unique benefits of each, how to care for your gold, and how to accessorize it. It should be noted that gold remains an excellent diversifying investment, as well as a beautiful precious metal.

First things first – neither of these terms denotes fine or solid gold which, as the name suggests, is pure, high-quality precious metal shaped and fashioned into jewelry. Rather, gold plated or gold filled jewelry combines gold with other metals to offer classic glamour without the bank-breaking expense of pure gold.

Explaining the Difference between Gold Plated and Gold Filled Jewelry

Let’s look in a little more detail at these two popular gold jewelry options.

Gold Plated: Low-Cost Shine for Everyday Wear

Gold-plated jewelry makes up most of what you’ll find in high street jewelry stores and market stalls – its price is kept affordable because it has a comparatively tiny amount of actual gold in its manufacturing.

In fact, most gold-plated jewelry contains less than 0.05% gold by weight. The thin gold layer is plated on the outside of each piece to provide the luster and yellow hue of pure gold without the expense of a higher gold concentration.

How is Gold Plating Achieved?

A technique called electroplating is used to affix microscopic specks of gold to the exterior of a base metal dipped in an electroplating solution. A positively charged gold source is dipped in the solution (anode), and the base metal is negatively charged (cathode), dissolving particles from the source and causing them to bond tightly to the base metal.

If this process sounds familiar, it’s possible you studied it in chemistry class at school!

The result is a gold piece that is almost entirely base metal (often an alloy such as brass or bronze). This keeps the cost down, which is excellent for experimenting with different looks, collecting a range of earrings, or giving inexpensive gifts.

However, gold-plated jewelry can be fragile and easy to scratch, revealing the alloy beneath. Let’s compare it with another option and identify the difference between gold plated and gold filled.

Gold Filled: Affordable Glamour for Elegance and Style

Made by an entirely different process, gold-filled jewelry isregulated by the FTC to contain at least 5% gold of 10 carats or more (at least 100 times as much precious metal as gold plating requires).

The larger proportion of gold makes gold-filled jewelry more suited to special occasions and tends to be more durable. Gold-filled items are far more affordable than solid gold equivalents, however.

How is Gold-Filled Jewelry Made?

Gold-filled jewelry is made by a mechanical process involving intense heat and pressure. A base metal layer is typically sandwiched between two layers of gold and then pressed under high temperatures until the materials are bonded together. The gold-filled metal is continuously flattened until it attains the desired thickness.

Since gold-filled jewelry contains more precious metal, it is usually heavier than its gold-plated counterpart. It’s also typically more durable and scratch-resistant if well looked after. It feels and looks more valuable and is usually more expensive.

You can tell the difference between gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry by looking for the hallmark denoting quality. Gold-filled jewelry should carry a GF stamp after the carat designation – usually 10, 14, 18, or 24k. Generally, gold-filled jewelry will be made up of 10k or 14k.

The hallmark may also contain a fraction (i.e., 1/10) which tells you the proportion of gold in the item by weight.

For example, 2/10 14K GF would indicate a gold-filled piece of 20%, 14-carat gold.

Where to Buy Gold-Filled Jewelry

Most jewelers will sell a mix of pure gold, gold-plated, and gold-filled jewelry. Make sure you specify which type you are looking for. If you are buying a vintage piece, look out for the hallmarks described above.

Remember that it is illegal in the US to misrepresent the amount of gold in a piece of jewelry and that you can always have pieces independently verified if you are uncertain before committing to a purchase.

Related: Gold-Filled Versus Gold-Plated: Which is Better?

We hope this has fully explained the difference between gold plated and gold-filled jewelry. There are plenty of independent designers creating pieces from gold-filled metal, and you may even find them on some high-end market stalls. If in doubt, just ask the trader.

How to Care for Gold Jewelry

Since gold is a comparatively soft metal, it must be looked after carefully. Avoid abrasive or acidic cleaning products and opt for simple warm water with a small amount of PH-balanced soap. Dish detergent is fine if it is designed to be kind to the skin.

You can leave your gold jewelry in a solution of dish detergent and water for up to three hours – it will not damage the metal. Then dry and buff it softly with a piece of chamois leather. However, it is best not to soak jewelry containing stones – clean these pieces by hand only.

Rub gold gently and avoid pressing it against hard surfaces, as this can cause scratches or indentations.

Gold-plated jewelry is especially susceptible to abrasion because its gold coating is typically between 1.7 and 2.5 microns thick (less than three-thousandths of a millimeter and much smaller in width than this dash – ).

Gold-filled pieces are more durable, but here are some things to avoid:

Chlorine: It’s best to remove all gold jewelry before stepping into the pool.

Harsh detergent: Remove all your hand jewelry before doing household chores.

Polishes: Cleaning products designed for brass, copper, or bronze should NOT be used on gold. Only use products that have been created specifically to polish gold.

Don’t let your stored gold jewelry touch pieces made of other metals: Harder substances like titanium or platinum can scratch the gold. Precious stones such as sapphires or diamonds can also cause scratches. Use a jewelry box or storage solution with individual slots or spaces for gold pieces.

How to Wear Gold-Filled Jewelry

Gold is an all-time classic precious metal and has a bright, yellowish hue. White gold, rose gold, or green gold are all alloys made by melting gold with other metals.

White gold will usually contain high proportions of zinc, silver, or nickel (and less copper)

Rose gold will have a greater admixture of copper or other copper-colored metals

Green gold is a subtle blend of gold and silver that produces a faint greenish tinge

These alloys may be used, alongside pure yellow gold, in either gold-plated or gold-filled jewelry. They can also be used in combination pieces, where layers of gold and other metals are paired to dramatic effect.

Related: Evening Wear Jewelry: What to Look For

Gold-filled jewelry is more expensive than gold-plated, as we’ve already explained. For this reason, you might wish to save your gold-filled pieces for more special occasions. You’ll want it to be noticed, so why not show it off against your skin, or dark, flat colors?

Gold and white can be a little déclassé, but against a shimmering black or navy, or deep chocolate black, gold-filled necklaces or bangles can really shine.

However, gold is a versatile metal and can work just as well with casual wear (bangles or hoop earrings) or evening dresses (necklaces or brooches). Use it as a power dressing accessory before your next investors meeting, or give it as an anniversary or birthday gift.

Easy to pair with any outfit, and simple to care for, gold-filled jewelry especially is the perfect blend of convenience, price, and timeless elegance.

Gold Plated and Gold-Filled Jewelry in Austin, Texas

Liz James has created lovingly hand-crafted Gold-filled jewelry in our studio near Austin, TX, for over ten years. All our gold pieces are unique and original. We’re happy to undertake commissions – just get in touch with your idea and requirements, and we’ll talk through your options. Contact us today.