“What’s the difference between gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry?”
I get this question fairly often and wanted to write down my response for any of my readers considering making a jewelry purchase – regardless of whether or not it’s from CMD. I believe that everyone should be aware of the quality metal they’re purchasing when investing in jewelry.
Gold-plated jewelry is a base metal (jeweler’s brass, steel, nickel…) dipped into an electrified solution with a piece of gold, which then gets electronically or chemically bonded to that base metal. The gold on gold-plated pieces is so little, it’s basically immeasurable. The gold finish on gold-plated jewelry won’t last long. With wear and love, the gold film will chip and fade. When the base metal is exposed, it will tarnish and can irritate your skin. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses sell lesser-quality, gold-plated jewelry for more than they should.
You may have also heard of gold vermeil, which is a bit more valuable than gold-plated jewelry, though it’s in the same family. It’s similar to gold-plating in that it uses a similar process, but is dipped for a longer period of time. Gold vermeil jewelry is usually plated in 24K gold, so its coloring is a little yellower than 14 or 10K gold plating. To qualify as gold vermeil, a piece has to have at least two microns of gold plating thickness – gold plated jewelry is identified by anything less than this. Gold vermeil has a base of sterling silver, so it has a more substantial weight to it, too. But, with such a light layer of gold plating, buyers should beware that vermeil pieces will eventually become sterling silver pieces as the gold wears.
Gold-filled jewelry has a thick layer of 14k gold that’s been pressure bonded to jeweler’s brass. Gold-filled shouldn’t be confused with gold-plated jewelry. Some people, including myself, can’t tolerate gold-plated jewelry. I’m actually super allergic to most metals. As a kid, I always had to wear sterling silver or solid gold until I discovered gold-fill. The gold layer on gold-fill jewelry is hardy, and makes for a stunning, hypoallergenic, and affordable alternative to solid, silver, or gold-plated jewelry.
Gold-filled jewelry has almost 100% more gold than gold-plated jewelry and is usually constructed in two or three thick layers. Gold-fill is legally required to contain 5% gold by weight and is much more valuable and longer-lasting than gold-plated jewelry. The gold is not as likely to flake or rub off, or change colors.
All gold is tarnish-resistant and gold doesn’t take oxidation. Gold doesn’t change color, what changes color is the base metal becoming exposed and tarnishing. How quickly the base metal is exposed (very quickly for gold plating, and much less quickly with gold fill) determines how long the piece lasts before tarnishing. Gold-fill jewelry is much hardier against the wear and tear that would make the gold on a gold-plated item flake or rub off. It’s a much better investment to purchase a gold-filled piece than it is to buy gold-plated.
At CMD, I use 14K gold-fill (14K gold over brass core – no nickel) or sterling silver in all my designs. Our sterling is 92.5% fine silver, and 7.5% copper. Some people have allergic reactions to the copper in sterling, meaning that sterling is not hypoallergenic, although very few people react to it. If anything, people might have a reaction with ear wires, because ear lobes are particularly sensitive. In the case of my solid and special occasion pieces, I use 14K solid gold (yellow, rose and white). Gold-fill is the next best thing to solid gold when it comes to quality and durability, and with proper care and love, will last a lifetime without fading or tarnishing.
I’m all about quality, durability, and style. When I began designing, my desire was to create a collection of classic, elegant jewelry that would be long-lasting and affordable.
If you have any questions, just ask! I’d love to hear from you
Your way of presenting the article is wonderful. Thank you for sharing this great article.
Hi, do you use gold filled with a copper base? Im wondering if the copper base would affect the gold layer colour.
Thanks in advance, your blog is really informative!
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August 31, 2021
Thank you so much! You gave a very thorough & thoughtful explanation of the differences in gold. It’s very helpful. Would you please tell me the difference between ‘fine’ silver & sterling silver?