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Gold-Filled vs. Gold Plated Jewelry | GLDN

Written by GLDN Team — June 10, 2020

Gold-Filled vs. Gold Plated Jewelry | GLDN

There are so many types of "gold jewelry" offered and it’s difficult to navigate the choices. What’s the difference between gold plated vs. gold filled jewelry? What is gold vermeil? Which one’s better (or better for me)? You’ve come to the right place for answers.

Here at GLDN, we genuinely care about making quality products you’ll love for a lifetime. Before we started designing our pieces, we did a lot of research and evaluated our options before we chose the materials and processes we’d use to craft our jewelry. When comparing solid gold, gold-filled, gold vermeil and gold 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 the process it takes to create it) to choose the best option that will make GLDN jewelry badass.

Here's the lowdown…


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

The main difference in gold-plated vs. gold-filled jewelry? The amount of gold. The outer layer of gold in gold-filled jewelry is much thicker than on gold plated pieces—like, we’re talking easily 100 times thicker compared to the common quick flash plating. Plus, the process of creating gold-filled jewelry makes it much more durable and long-lasting than gold-plated jewelry.

How Gold-Plated Jewelry is Made

What is gold-plated? What does it mean? At its core, to gold plate something means dipping it in a solution that contains gold (or a gold-colored alloy), then zapping it with an electric current. An electrochemical reaction occurs that deposits a thin layer of gold onto the base metal.

How Gold-Filled Jewelry is Made

What does gold-filled mean? 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 can trust the quality of the gold-filled jewelry you’re getting. A 5% minimum of gold (by weight) is required for a piece to be called “gold-filled.” Gold-plated jewelry, on the other hand, 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, sometimes jewelers will call their pieces “gold-plated” when they actually just have a gold-colored coating and no real gold at all! 

Also, the core of 14k gold-filled jewelry is quality brass—a lovely, long-lasting 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 lower-quality base metals (and this info usually isn’t disclosed). So, when it comes to gold-filled vs. gold-plated jewelry, gold-filled jewelry is typically made with higher-quality core metals that won’t tarnish or turn your skin green.


Comparing The Different Types of Gold

If there’s one thing you’ve noticed about shopping for gold jewelry, it’s this: there’s no shortage of options. One quick search will yield thousands and thousands of pieces in different metals, made with different processes, all promising different things. What does gold vermeil mean? What about gold-plated? Are they the same? Which is better? We’re here to decode it all—and then some.

We outline the key differences between solid gold, gold-filled, heavy gold plated (also known as gold vermeil) and gold plated jewelry—plus a few little lessons on gold karats—to help you choose the perfect gold jewelry for your lifestyle and budget.

What is Pure 24K Gold?

Pure gold, or 24k gold, is what actually comes out of the ground. Gold's purity is measured in karats (or "k"), meaning pure gold = 24 karats. Unfortunately, 24k gold is a very bright, brash yellow and is impractically soft for jewelry. It's also very expensive. To strengthen it, jewelers add other metals to the gold to create an alloy that works better for jewelry.

What is Solid 14K Gold?

The biggest question we get is this: what’s the difference between gold-filled vs. solid gold jewelry? For pieces to be legally sold as “solid gold,” they must be at least 10k gold and higher (meaning that 10 out of 24 parts of the alloy are pure gold). The most popular blend of solid gold, however, is 14k yellow gold (14 out of 24 parts of the alloy are solid gold). Solid 14k gold has enough pure gold to be durable, tarnish-resistant and a lovely soft, warm shade of yellow—our personal favorite. Gold-filled jewelry, on the other hand, is gold on top of another metal. More on that later!

What is 14k Gold-Filled?

So, what is gold-filled? What’s gold vermeil? What’s the difference? Gold-filled refers to jewelry that has a layer of 14k solid gold pressure-bonded to a core of jeweler’s brass (whereas gold vermeil is a type of gold plating)! With gold-filled jewelry, the thick layer of gold still makes it durable and high-quality—it’s just a step down from solid gold. The vast majority of gold-filled products in the US are made using 14k gold. We personally love gold-filled jewelry because it looks like solid gold without the price tag: an ideal balance of quality and value. (More info at "What is 14k Gold Fill").

  • vs. SOLID GOLD: more expensive but it will last forever.
  • vs. GOLD PLATED: less expensive but lower quality. Plating could chip or flake, while gold-filled 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.
  • vs. GOLD VERMEIL: a more premium version of gold plating over a sterling silver base. Typically contains more gold than gold-plated, but less gold than gold-filled. Gold filled items will usually last longer than gold vermeil thanks to the manufacturing method.

*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.

What is Gold Vermeil?

Other common questions we get: what does gold vermeil mean, and what’s the difference between gold-filled vs. gold vermeil jewelry? To create 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.

With real gold vermeil jewelry, 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.


What is Gold Plated?

Last but not least: what’s the difference between gold-filled vs. gold plated jewelry, or gold-bonded vs. gold plated jewelry? 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 even 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 a .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 more substantial gold.

Compared to gold-filled and gold-bonded jewelry—which are similar processes and contain similar amounts of gold—gold-plated jewelry typically contains less gold, though it differs from jeweler to jeweler.


Beware of Flash Plated Jewelry

Compared to higher-quality options, like traditional gold plating or heavy gold vermeil, flash-plated jewelry is a cheap and low-quality version of gold jewelry manufactured by adhering a super-thin layer of gold over the base metal through electroplating.

Though flash-plated jewelry is created using the same process as gold-plated or gold vermeil jewelry, they’re created, well, in a flash! This means that the base metal (typically brass, copper or nickel) was submerged in gold just barely long enough for a few gold ions to bond to it. To put it simply: this means that flash-plated jewelry will tarnish, rust and flake way faster than other gold-plated or gold vermeil jewelry that contains way more gold.

Get this: the outer layer of flash-plated jewelry is only around .175 microns thick (or even less). That’s about 600 times thinner than the average strand of hair! Expect the gold color to fade in an instant and only be able to wear the piece for a few months—or a few years at best.


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, you may ask? 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.


Which Option is Best For Me?

Gold-filled jewelry is the best choice for durability and longevity at an attainable price—something you can wear for years (even a lifetime if it’s well cared for!). We also recommend gold-filled pieces for birthday gifts, anniversaries, wedding-day jewelry or any meaningful occasion. If you want a piece you can treasure forever, gold-filled jewelry is the one.

Gold-plated jewelry, on the other hand, won’t likely last for years if worn every single day. Since it’s usually even more affordable than gold-filled jewelry, gold-plated pieces are great for experimenting with new trends or buying bolder, flashier pieces—like costume jewelry or cosplay jewelry—where quality isn’t a major concern.

A Note on Gold Plating and Allergies

If you’re allergic to certain metals—like brass, copper or nickel—we recommend choosing gold-filled or gold vermeil jewelry (both which contain a thicker layer of gold). With gold-plated jewelry, the outer gold layer is often too thin to cover the base metal…and you might get an allergic reaction as the gold wears down. We hoped this helped demystify the differences in gold (and you found the right metal for you)! ✨


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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