Looking for an in-depth comparison between gold filled jewelry and gold plated jewelry?
You're in the right place! In this Learning Jewelry guide, you'll learn:
- Are gold filled jewelry and gold plated jewelry made of real gold?
- Is gold filled the same as solid gold?
- How can I tell the difference between gold plated and gold filled fine jewelry?
- And much more!
Gold Plated vs Gold Filled Jewelry: Origin
Gold plating and filled gold are two different types of gold jewelry and have two different processes to become fine jewelry.
Gold plating is the most common alternative to solid gold in the jewelry industry. You can find gold plated earrings and other gold plated fashion jewelry in many different department stores like Walmart, Kohl's, and even big jewelry retailers like Kay and Zales.
Jewelers can plate gold around any durable base metal. Most often it's plated over sterling silver. In costume jewelry, it's more likely to have a resin or jeweler's brass base.
Gold pieces that have been plated over sterling silver might be referred to as gold vermeil jewelry. In order for a gold plated piece to be legally be able to be sold as a vermeil piece, the gold content must be at least 10 karat and two microns thick.
All gold plated jewelry should be made of real gold, but don't expect to find white gold plated jewelry anywhere.
Nearly all plated jewelry is yellow gold, or the piece comes in sterling silver instead. If you do find it, it will be called rhodium. Rhodium is what makes white gold that silvery color.
So, jewelers take a thin layer of gold and use a technique called electroplating to bond the real gold alloy to the base metal. So while the inside is a cheaper metal like sterling silver or copper, the wearer gets the look of solid gold jewelry.
A gold plated piece is usually made of 10, 14, or 18 karat gold plating. Gold plated pieces aren't always stamped, but should be stamped with the karat gold followed by GP on the piece: 14KGP.
But like I said, most gold plated jewelry isn't stamped. It's safe to assume that unmarked gold looking jewelry is either gold plated or gold colored.
Gold filled jewelry is pretty similar in process to gold plated jewelry, but you're less likely to find it in jewelry stores and more likely to find shopping online. Gold filled jewelry is also made of real gold.
Gold filled jewelry is plated with real gold, but with a thicker layer of gold instead of thin one. The thick layer is comprised of many thin sheets of gold. One by one, each sheet is wrapped around the piece of jewelry and bonded by heat.
The gold is bonded to the base metal. It can also be referred to as rolled gold or gold overlay.
Gold filled jewelry usually has a brass or nickel base metal.
In order for gold pieces to be legally sold as gold filled pieces, the total weight of the gold must be 1/20th or 5% real gold. Gold filled jewelry is usually found in 10, 14, or 18 karat gold amounts.
You can identify a piece of gold filled jewelry by observing any markings on the jewelry piece. A gold filled piece of jewelry made with sheets of 14K gold should be stamped 14KGF or 14GF. You can also see it as 1/20 14K GF, indicating the piece is made of 1/20th of real 14 karat gold.
Gold Filled vs Gold Plated: Appearance
Because both gold filled and gold plated jewelry are made with high quality gold in different plating thicknesses, they look just like a pure gold piece. But while they may look like pure gold jewelry for a time, they will not appear that way forever.
Pure yellow gold jewelry is perfect for everyday wear because you don't have to keep up with its appearance, short of polishing and or having a jeweler steam-clean gold jewelry.
White gold jewelry is actually plated with a mixture of white metals. This process is called rhodium plating and all white gold jewelry needs it to keep up its silvery appearance.
But since, gold is naturally yellow, over time, the silver color will fade, making the bottom of the ring shank a slightly yellowed color.
For some, this can happen within months of purchasing a white gold piece. For others, it may take longer to see this effect. But it does happen, and there's nothing you can really do about it because the color of gold is being modified from its natural color.
On average, most people need to get their white gold engagement ring redipped once a year.
Read also: Is black gold good for engagement rings?
Since both gold filled and gold plated jewelry are plated over a base metal just like rhodium is over solid gold pieces, a similar situation happens. But instead of your metal looking yellow, it'll look the opposite.
If your base metal is sterling silver, that color will appear through the gold plated or gold filled jewelry. It also makes your piece vulnerable to tarnishing. Remember, gold doesn't tarnish, but sterling silver does. And if your base metal is copper or a generic band of metal alloy, it can look a really unappealing rusty color.
Some jewelers will replate gold plated or gold filled jewelry, but most of them won't. In order to keep your gold plated or gold filled jewelry in its best shape, it shouldn't be worn every day and should be kept in a jewelry box.
The gold will start to fade over time due to natural oils in the skin, dirt, and various soaps or chemicals.
Gold filled jewelry will last a longer time than gold plating due to its many layers, it just has to be maintained. So if you're wanting a cheaper alternative to pure gold, going gold filled is going to be better for longevity.
Gold Filled vs Gold Plated: Price
The cost of a gold filled or gold plated piece of jewelry will vary based on multiple factors, but most of it boils down to the base metal of the piece. Vermeil jewelry is going to be more expensive than your average plated jewelry, because sterling silver is still considered a precious metal.
On average, you can find most gold plated rings for less than $100 and many even less than $50. It can even go as low as $10 for a cute fashion ring. Gold filled prices are going to be similar. You can find low end gold filled jewelry under $50 and some over $100.
But on average, you can find a variety of options for each type of jewelry with an affordable price tag. Gold filled jewelry may be more expensive because the thick layer has a higher amount of gold. But it's hard to blanket price them.
The cost of gold jewelry in general depends on the gold karat amount, how large the piece is, if it has any gemstones or diamonds, or even if it's a particular brand, like Pandora.
Gold Filled vs Gold Plated: Value
With all these "We take gold jewelry" places, it's safe to assume that gold is very valuable. And it is, but to an extent. The value of gold is calculated by weight using jewelry scales and its current value. The value of gold changes and fluctuates, similar to the value of Japanese yen to the dollar.
Unfortunately, if you're looking to sell gold filled or gold plated jewelry, you're barking up the wrong tree.
Because these types of gold jewelry only contains a couple microns of real gold at most, there's not enough to be considered a value, which is why the jewelry is so cheap to begin with.
Even if you have heirloom pieces, or plated jewelry that's years and years old, the most you'll get out of it will be based on historic or collector value, rather than the gold content itself.
Read also: How to buy gold online
Gold Filled vs Gold Plated: Other Factors
There are a couple other reasons why someone might choose one of these types of gold jewelry over the other that might not be so obvious. Let's check out some things you might not have thought about.
While it may be difficult to find either of these kinds of gold jewelry in fine jewelry retailers, you'll have no problem finding it online. There will be more gold plated pieces than gold filled, but you can easily find them both.
So, what's the problem?
Because they're so cheap, it's easy to mass produce them in different designs. So if you really love your design and it wears down a year later, it's highly likely you won't be able to find the design again, unless it's a top seller. Gold plated designs come and go all day.
This is also why we don't recommend buying gold plated or gold filled rings as engagement rings or wedding bands. Most people assign sentimental value to their engagement rings, so they don't want to have to pick out a new one anytime soon.
If something happens to your gold plated or gold filled piece of jewelry, you might have a time trying to find a jeweler to fix it. Most fine jewelry retailers won't touch it, so you'll more than likely have to find a local bench jeweler to fix it.
Which isn't too bad, except that often labor costs end up being more than what you purchased the ring for. Gold plating small rings usually costs around $50-$110 on average.
One of the biggest cons about choosing gold filled and gold plated jewelry is because the piece is not solid gold. Many jewelry wearers are prone to allergic reactions in jewelry, mainly due to nickel content in the piece. Nickel allergies are the most common jewelry allergies.
Since both types of gold are plated essentially, allergic reactions will come from the base metal. For gold plated pieces whose base metal is just described as "metal alloy", those will be the ones more likely to cause reactions.
Cheap fashion jewelry is also a culprit of unnamed base metals. They focus on the plating, rather than the gold.
Ever wonder why a ring turns green on a finger? Allergic reaction. Not all reactions are the same. Some create rashes, others weird coloring irregularities.
If you have sensitive skin and absolutely don't want to buy solid gold, I'd recommend going with vermeil. Sterling silver doesn't cause allergic reactions and is considered hypoallergenic.
As long as you know what the base metal is and your allergy, you should steer clear of it. Look for pieces with "hypoallergenic" in the description. Also, keep in mind that items labeled "nickel-free" aren't hypoallergenic, they just don't have nickel in it. Might not help for someone whose allergy is copper, right?
Hypoallergenic jewelry doesn't cause any known jewelry allergic reactions. Surgical stainless steel is another cheap hypoallergenic metal and most body jewelry is made out of it.
Bottom Line: Gold Filled vs Gold Plated
As you can see, there's much more to gold jewelry than meets the eye, whether it's solid, gold plated, or gold filled. But since this was a battle of gold filled vs gold plated, my recommendation is to go with gold plated jewelry.
My reasons for this is because you're going to have a much wider selection and more options if you're looking for specific designs.
I also think it'd be easier to find a jeweler than can replate a thin layer rather than one that has to replate in layers. The labor is a little more, which means the repair might cost more too.
Gold plated jewelry is recognized more, so it should make your search easier. But if we're talking about the overall best gold jewelry, it's solid gold.
It may be more expensive than plated or filled, but it will last in various conditions much longer. Many online retailers offer lifetime warranties for those of you who have to have white gold. Our pick for high quality gold jewelry is JamesAllen.com.
For those of you who want to save some cash when shopping for the best gold jewelry online, you might consider buying 10K gold engagement or wedding rings. 10K gold has less gold content, which means it is cheaper and more durable. Yellow gold in 10K may not be as vibrant as 14K because there's less yellow gold content.
But if you're looking at fashion jewelry to sport today's latest fashion trends, going with gold filled or gold plated jewelry can be a cost effective alternative to solid gold. Our recommended place to buy both gold plated and gold filled jewelry is Amazon.com.
Amazon has endless pieces of gold plated jewelry and a ton of gold filled as well to suit any style and need. So no matter what you're looking for, you're bound to find it there!