When searching for that perfect piece of jewelry it is important to know whether or not you are getting your money’s worth.

Down bellow we have rundown the difference between gold plated and gold filled. Learn how they compare and contrast to make an informed jewelry buying decision.

Is gold-filled the same as gold-plated?

No. Not only are their manufacturing processes different, but the amount of gold alloy used on gold filled pieces is different than gold plated.

The layer of gold alloy on gold plated jewelry is so minuscule it is barely noticeable in the above image. Gold filled jewelry has 100x more gold alloy than gold plated and because that layer is so much thicker, it means gold-filled jewelry lasts longer and stands up to wear and tear better than gold plated. All it would take is one small scratch on a gold plated piece to expose the jeweler’s brass underneath.

Why is there such a difference in the amount of gold alloy? The answer lies in the manufacturing process:

To make gold-filled pieces, the core metal is sandwiched between two layers of gold alloy which is then heated and passed through a roller several times – a process that both bonds the metals together and thins the sheet out (left picture).

To make gold plated pieces, an electric current is used to negatively charge the base metal and positively charge a solution containing gold ions. The positive gold ions are attracted to the negative charge of the core metal, slowly forming a layer of gold on top of the core (right picture).

Thicker amounts of gold alloy can be added during both processes but typically the amounts shown before are the standard.

Construction of Gold Filled items

Gold filled has a distinct layer of gold alloy bonded on top of a jewelers brass core. There are three different possible ways to layer the gold alloy.

  • Single clad: has all of the gold alloy content layered on one side of the jewelers’ brass.
  • Double clad: splits the gold alloy and layers it on both sides of the brass core.
  • Wire clad: the 5% gold alloy content is layered around the entire wire.

How to make a purchase decision?

When debating over whether to buy gold plated or gold filled jewelry, take the following factors into account.

  • Tarnishing

Because of the thin layer of gold that wears off after a while, gold plated jewelry will begin to tarnish once the base metal is exposed. Gold filled jewelry, on the other hand, will only tarnish under unique circumstances. Pure gold pieces barely tarnish, and even though they’re an alloy, the heavy layer on gold filled jewelry protects against tarnishing. We recommend that wearers clean gold filled pieces with mild soapy water or untreated cloth. For gold plated jewelry, clean only if it’s an absolute necessity. Use a cotton ball for the purpose, and avoid scrubbing your gold items.

  • Skin sensitivity

It’s also important to have an idea about the sensitivity of your skin before you invest in a gold filled or gold plated piece. Are you allergic to metals like copper, rhodium, silver or brass? If that’s the case, you might want to buy a gold filled jewelry piece as you won’t need to worry about any allergic response. We say this because gold plating may comprise cheaper raw materials that can trigger an allergic reaction in your skin, causing oxidation and irritation down the road. You won’t have this problem with gold filled alternatives.

  • Durability

Gold filled jewelry is more resistant to wear and tear than gold plated items due to the thicker layer of the alloy. However, the overall longevity of both is dependent on the environment, quality of the jewelry, and exposure to wear. As long as gold filled pieces are well cared for, they can last a lifetime. Gold plated pieces, on the other hand, can last up to a year if kept away from water, wear, and heat. It’s also worth mentioning that gold filled pieces with lower karat weight (9-14k) may be more durable than pieces with greater gold content.

  • Budget

Gold filled pieces tend to be on the higher end of the cost spectrum while gold plated jewelry is more affordable as it only has a thin layer of gold to deliver the “appearance of gold.” That’s the reason why most fashion jewelry pieces are gold plated—they can be priced lower and appeal to a broader customer base.

Conclusion

Now that you understand the difference between gold plated and gold filled jewelry, it’s time to visit a brick-and-mortar or online store. But before you do, consider the purpose you want to buy the jewelry for.

Gold filled jewelry is best used where durability and return on investment are top priorities. It makes for great gifts for graduations, anniversaries, and other similar events. Gold filled jewelry is also an excellent choice for classic pieces that you wear daily or novelty pieces that you can flaunt for the rest of your life.