What Is Gold-Filled Jewelry and Why Does It Matter?

March 11, 2021

What Is Gold-Filled Jewelry?

Unlike solid gold jewelry, gold-filled jewelry is composed of a solid layer of gold that is bonded to a base of another metal, such as sterling silver or copper. While gold-filled jewelry is typically less expensive than solid gold jewelry, it is actually more durable, looking shiny and new even with decades of wear.

Let’s look at what the Gem Society says about gold and gold alloys to get a better understanding of why gold-plated jewelry is so popular.

“Since gold never tarnishes and has great workability, many jewelry designers and makers prefer it to other metals. If properly cared for, gold can last indefinitely, which makes it a prized metal to designers as well as consumers. It doesn’t oxidize or corrode, and only a handful of rare acids or hot chlorine bleach can damage it.”

So why not just purchase solid gold jewelry instead of gold-filled jewelry? Price isn’t the only reason. Yes, pure gold jewelry is more expensive than gold-filled jewelry, but there’s more to it in terms of workability and durability. Gem Society goes on to explain the role of gold alloys.

“Despite gold’s desirable properties, it does have one significant drawback: softness. This means it wears out easily. However, mixing gold with other metals creates gold alloy that are stronger, more durable, and better suited for jewelry use. While jewelers do use pure gold for some jewelry pieces, these dent and show wear so readily that most people don’t wear pure gold jewelry on a regular basis.”

Related: How to Choose a Unique Everyday Necklace

Interestingly, the type of metal used with gold is what gives gold alloy its different shades. Mixing copper with gold creates a darker yellow color, while silver and copper result in a yellower tone.

When it comes to gold-filled jewelry, the Gem Society explains how it is made, saying, “Gold-filled pieces have a minimum of 5% gold applied to the base metal. The relative quantity and karat of the overlaid gold determine their classification. For example, a stamp of ‘1/20 14K GF” means the piece has a 14-karat gold layer comprising 1/20th of the piece’s weight.”

This will make more sense when you understand the difference between gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry.

Why Gold-Filled Jewelry Is Better than Gold-Plated

Now that you understand gold-filled jewelry a bit more, what about gold-plated jewelry? Is it the same? Not in the least.

Gold-filled jewelry, also referred to as rolled gold plate, can be as thin as 1/40th of the weight, half of what a typical gold-filled jewelry piece is. The Gem Society says the primary difference between gold-fill and gold-plate is quality. “Of the two types of gold overlays, gold platings are thinner and less expensive. With a thickness of a few thousandths of an inch, at best, gold plating wears off easily.”

Gold-plated jewelry is also less expensive than both pure gold or gold-fill. You can guess why. It has less gold overall, so the materials cost is less.

What does that mean for you? Well, you may be able to buy more gold-plated jewelry than gold-filled pieces because it’s cheaper, but be prepared to replace those items frequently. Gold-plated jewelry won’t last for long. Normal wear and tear that includes sweat, perfume, hair products, salt water, chlorine, and even UV rays will turn your gold-plated jewelry odd colors, darken it, and even rub off to the base metal layer.

It can be frustrating to find a piece of jewelry you love and think you got a great deal on, only to pull it out of your jewelry drawer a year later and it has turned dark. All of the cleaning and polishing in the world won’t return it to its original lustre.

If you are looking for inexpensive jewelry that you can wear for a season, then gold-plated jewelry may hit the mark. But if you are adding pieces to your jewelry collection that you can wear for a lifetime and pass down to loved ones, gold-filled is the way to go. It may cost a little more, but you won’t have to continually clean it and replace it.

Where to Find Gold-Filled Jewelry

Unfortunately, unless you’re versed in jewelry making or metals, it isn’t always easy to identify gold-filled jewelry just by looking at it. When jewelry is new, it often appears the same, although you can sometimes tell if the gold has an orange or white tone that seems “off.” It’s with wear and tear that the quality reveals itself.

A good rule of thumb is to consider where you are purchasing jewelry and the price point. The lower the cost of the jewelry item, the more likely it is to be gold-plated. Remember that gold-plated uses only the smallest amount of gold that is bonded to another, less expensive metal. The less gold, the less expensive the piece.

Another red flag is if the store you buy from has racks of costume jewelry, there’s a good chance it’s selling gold-plated jewelry. Gold-plating is commonly used for costume jewelry to mimic more expensive pieces. Sometimes, the label will make reference to it, but don’t count on it.

On the other hand, if you purchase jewelry from a local jewelry designer or from a local store that supports local jewelry artists, you’re probably looking at gold-fill items and not gold-plated. Gold-plated jewelry is typically mass produced in factories, whereas local jewelry artists will often use higher-quality gold-fill or other metals, such as sterling silver.

Related: Local Austin Jewelry vs. Mass-Produced Jewelry

The beauty of purchasing locally means you have the opportunity to to ask the shop owner or artist what metals they use. Even if the store isn’t the designer’s showroom, they usually have a relationship with the jewelry artist and know basic information about the artist and the materials they prefer.

Gold-plated jewelry may have its place, but if you want to invest in higher-quality jewelry that will stand the test of time, look for gold-fill instead. Need help finding a beautiful piece of jewelry made by a local artist? We’d love for you to visit our website to see what quality, handcrafted jewelry looks like.