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A piece of jewelry may look like it’s filled with gold, but it might actually be gold plated. Let’s see how gold plated pieces are different from gold filled ones and how you can distinguish between the two.

Gold Plated vs. Gold Filled Jewelry

(Pixabay / Hans)

What is Gold Plated Jewelry?

A base metal like brass or copper is used to make gold plated jewelry. Once the base metal is rinsed, cleaned, and shaped, a nickel layer is attached to work as a “buffer” between the gold plating and the metal base. In the last phase, electroplating is used to deliver the nickel-plated base into a gold plating tank.

The plating, however, doesn’t compose any quantifiable proportion of the jewelry’s total weight. In fact, the total amount of gold a plated item usually has is under 0.05% of the overall weight of the product. In terms of durability, gold plating generally wears off quickly and can’t stand up to wear, water, or heat over time.

What is Gold Filled Jewelry?

Gold filled jewelry contains an actual layer of gold that’s “pressure bonded” to a core metal using pressure and heat. Unlike electroplated (dipped or plated) metals, gold filled pieces legally need to feature 1/20 or 5% of gold by weight. In terms of karat, the gold layer on the jewelry is 10k or higher.

Gold filled pieces are much thicker than gold plated ones, but still can’t beat solid gold. The base metal for this type of jewelry can be silver, copper or brass. Because gold filling is much more intense and consumes gold in a higher quantity, the price tag of gold filled jewelry is often higher than that of gold plated pieces.

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

As we stated earlier, 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

When it comes time to make a buying decision, make sure your bank or PayPal account has enough balance to back up your purchase. 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.

How to know if a jewelry piece is gold plated or filled?

There are two methods to determine if an item is plated or filled, but both require the assistance of a professional.

The conventional approach is to perform an acid test where a small bit of acid will be put on the jewelry to indicate if it’s gold plated or gold filled. If it is plated, the acid will dissolve the plating right away, telling the consumer that they own a gold plated piece.

The other approach is to get the jewelry “electronically tested” with a device that can reveal the thickness of the gold alloy. Most professional jewelry makers have this machine available. With that said, some people will still look at markers, stamps, and other identifiers to determine whether a piece of jewelry is gold plated or gold filled.

Note: If a vendor offers a guarantee that the jewelry’s gold surface will last for a certain number of years, it’s likely that the piece is gold filled and not gold plated (although this is not a perfect way to identify the gold type).

Also, beware of some vendors listing gold plated jewelry as gold filled. These are distinct classifications even if some sellers try to blur the difference between them. Filled jewelry is built to last and will virtually always outlive its plated counterpart.

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 plated pieces, for example, are a better option for “in the moment” occasions. Because they don’t cost a lot, you can buy them without having to waste sweat and tears second-guessing whether your purchase was worth it. Gold plated jewelry is great for trendy pieces, blingy party pieces, and simple accessories for work or play.

Gold filled jewelry, on the other hand, 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.