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Gold-Filled vs. Gold Plated Jewelry

Written by GLDN Team — June 10, 2020

Gold-Filled vs. Gold Plated Jewelry

There are so many types of "gold jewelry" offered that it can become difficult to navigate the choices.  Well, you've come to the right place for answers.  Here's the thing... GLDN genuinely cares that it's making a quality product that its customers will love.  So we did a lot of research and evaluating of options before we decided on a material and process.  When comparing solid, plated, filled and vermeil, we focused on three things:

•  Will it last?
•  Can we make it affordable so it's accessible to everyone?
•  Will we be proud of the craftsmanship and how it was made? 

We've thoroughly explored the pros and cons of each material and process in order to choose the best option that will make GLDN Jewelry badass.  Here's the lowdown...

Main Difference #1: Gold-Filed has More Real Gold

The outer layer of gold in gold-filled jewelry is much thicker than on gold plated pieces. Easily 100 times thicker compared to the common quick flash plating.  Furthermore, the process for how gold is actually bonded to the outside is far more durable for gold-filled than gold plating.   

Gold-Plating Process

To gold plate something, it’s dipped into a solution that contains gold (or a gold-colored alloy) and is zapped with electric current.  An electrochemical reaction occurs that deposits a thin layer of gold onto the base metal.

How Gold Filled is Made

With gold-filled jewelry, the process involves mechanically bonding the gold to the core through extreme pressure and heat.  It results in a more resilient exterior that’s not prone to flaking or cracking.

Main Difference #2: Trust The Gold

Industry standards mean you trust the quality.  A 5% minimum of gold by weight is required for a piece to be called “gold-filled.”  Well, plating has extremely vague legal requirements.  It can be as thin as half a micron or thicker, and you have no real way of knowing what thickness you’re getting.  In fact, oftentimes something will be called “gold plated” when it actually just has a gold-colored coating and no real gold at all.  Also, the core of 14k gold-filled is quality brass, which happens to be a lovely metal.  Gold-plated products, on the other hand, could have brass or steel at the core, but they could also have a variety of other base metals, and they usually aren’t disclosed.

Comparing Types of Gold

Pure 24K Gold

We're talking what actually comes out of the ground—pure gold.  Gold's purity is measured in karats, or "k," so with pure gold you'd have 24k.  In its pure form, gold is a very bright, intense yellow and is impractically soft for jewelry.  It's also pretty expensive.  To strengthen it, other metals are added to the gold, resulting in an alloy that works better for jewelry.

Solid 14K Gold

The most popular blend of gold is 14k yellow gold.  It is made up of 14 parts pure gold and 10 parts other metal (silver and copper).  Solid 14k gold has enough pure gold to be exceptional quality, but enough other metals are added to give it a practical strength and durability.  Also, the soft warm yellow tone of 14k gold is our personal favorite shade of gold.  BTW, to be legally called "solid gold," the alloy must be at least 10 out of 24 parts gold, or "10k gold."

14k Gold-Filled

Layers of solid 14k gold are pressure bonded to a core of jeweler's brass.  The resulting thick layer of gold means it's durable and top quality and just a step down from solid gold.  The vast majority of gold-filled products in the US are 14k.  We are drawn to this material because it offers an ideal balance of quality and value.  (More info at "What is 14k Gold Fill").

vs. SOLID GOLD: is more expensive but it will last forever.

vs. GOLD PLATED: is less expensive but lower quality.  Plating could chip or flake, while GF is extremely durable.  If the plating is over steel, the piece could be stronger and not bent as easily as a similar gold-filled piece.

*Note: some "designer brands" sell gold-plated jewelry at a ridiculous price.  Don't assume it's gold-filled because of the price tag.  We've seen quite a few places selling a more expensive gold-plated version of a piece we offer in gold-filled.  Don't be fooled by that—it's not better quality.

Gold Vermeil

A thick layer of gold plating is deposited onto a solid sterling silver base.  To be legally called "vermeil," the gold layer needs to be at least 2.5 microns thick (although it's common for people to call jewelry "vermeil" simply because it's gold over sterling silver, even without the required thickness of gold).  With vermeil, you know that if the gold rubs off, there will be another precious metal underneath, which can be comforting for people with sensitive skin.

In real vermeil, the gold-plating layer can be made using gold of different fineness, between 10k and 24k.  The choice of gold fineness determines the color of the vermeil piece: 10k would be a light, more subtle yellow tone and 24k quite an intense, deep yellow.

Gold Plated

Gold plating refers to the process of depositing a layer of gold onto a surface.  The thickness of gold can vary greatly among makers.  The Federal Trade commission classes “gold plate” at .5 microns and “heavy gold plate” at 2.5 microns.  Thinner coatings are also commonly misnamed as “gold plated” when by FTC standards they are “gold electroplate” at .175 microns or “gold flashed” or “gold washed” if the coating is less than that.  It’s a little confusing since all of the above coatings are electroplated, but that’s how the FTC classifies them.

The pieces we plate ourselves use a 4 micron thickness to give extra durability, but the vast majority of gold-plated pieces have a thickness of below 1 micron. Once you’re above that .5 micron thickness, there is nothing regulating the amount of gold used in the plating process, so it can be difficult to know if you will be getting a flash-plated piece or something with a bit more gold.

Gold-Filled and Plated!?

For some of our gold-filled pieces, we add an additional layer of gold plating over the top of the gold-filled layer, so you end up with even more 14-karat gold.  Why plate jewelry that’s already gold-filled?  For pieces that need soldering together, we want to make sure the gold layer isn’t thin at the seams, and the plating helps keep the joint covered with a smooth, even layer of 14-karat gold.  We also use an expensive, quality 14k gold solution for plating that we are able to layer on 4 microns thick.  This helps ensure the solder joints will stay protected through frequent normal wear.


Patricia Scott_

Thank you very much, this was so helpful. I sold most of my real gold years ago and now i can’t afford to buy it, I’ve resorted to lesser gold pieces which fine, but I always wanted to know the quality and process of the metal .

Contemporary Jewellery_

Nice article! Thanks for sharing this post with us. I really enjoyed reading this post and very helpful for me. Thanks and keep sharing.

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