Gold Filled vs Gold Plated: Durability and Properties

Suppose you plan to buy gold jewelry and do not have the money to afford it; gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry are two common alternatives. While authentic gold jewelry can have metals mixed with them as alloys, gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry have outer layers of gold on base metals. While the concept of surrounding a base metal with gold is the same in both gold-filled and gold-plated, there are significant differences between them.

What is Gold Filled?

Gold filling is mechanically bonding a solid outer layer of gold sheets to another base metal. Gold filling is accomplished by enclosing the base metal between two sheets of gold, heating them, and then rolling them multiple times. The most common base metal used in gold filling is brass, and the process can involve using multiple layers of gold sheets around it. 

Because gold sheets of high purity are often used for the filling process, gold-filled jewelry does not discolor, tarnish, or peel easily. For a piece of jewelry to be referred to as gold-filled, the gold-to-other-metal weight must be a ratio of at least 1:20 (or 5%). The material can legally be known as a “gold overlay” or “rolled gold plate” when the weight standard isn’t met.

Gold-filled jewelry has the same appearance as authentic gold and, in most cases, even shines brighter because of the high karat sheets used. However, they are not nearly as expensive as real gold because only a fraction of the jewelry is actual gold.

What is Gold Plated?

Gold plating refers to a process where a thin layer of gold is deposited on the surface of a metal. Gold plating doesn’t use mechanical bonding; instead, a base metal is dipped in containers holding liquid gold and a positive electrical charge fuses the gold layer to the metal. When it is well done, gold-plated jewelry is impossible to distinguish from pure gold just by looking at it.

The outer layer of gold-plated jewelry is usually very thin; it only needs to be a minimum of 0.5 microns (or micrometers). The thickness of the outer layer is determined by how long the base metal is left to sit in the gold. Gold flashing is a type of gold plating in which the base metal stays in the gold for a very short time, and the result is an outer layer that’s even thinner than 0.5 microns.

Differences Between Gold Filled And Gold Plated

1. How Long They Last?

If you properly take care of your gold-filled jewelry, it can last you for between 10 to 30 years before the gold layer wears off. How long the filling lasts depends on the purity of gold used as the outer layer and its thickness; manufacturers tend to use thicker layers when the gold purity is lower. You can know the purity of gold used on a piece of jewelry by looking at the stamps; the most common ones are 1/20 12kt GF, 1.20 14kt GF, and 1/10 10kt GF.

On the other hand, high-quality gold-plated jewelry can last for five years if you take good care of the jewelry. You have to ensure that the gold-plated jewelry is kept away from sweat, water, high humidity, chlorine, perfumes and harsh chemicals. When gold-plated jewelry is worn out, you can always have it replated.

2. The Price

Gold filling and plating are less expensive alternatives to buying pure gold jewelry for those who want gold but can’t afford it. However, they don’t come at the same price as gold-filled jewelry is usually more expensive than gold-plated. 

Gold-filled jewelry is more expensive because the procedure of making it is relatively more complex than plating jewelry. Also, gold-filled jewelry is thicker and usually involves more pure gold used in its production than gold-plated jewelry. Finally, gold-filled jewelry derives its value from customers knowing how long it’ll last; many people are willing to pay more for long-lasting jewelry.

3. Quantity Of Gold In Each

Gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry comprise only small amounts of gold on the outer layers. However, the Gold-filled products have a layer of gold at least ten times thicker than conventional gold plating and 15 to 25 times thicker than gold electroplate (or Heavy Gold Electroplate– HGE).

A gold-plated material might have a gold layer that is about 0.5% of the entire material, but the minimum size that any gold-filled material must have is 5%.

4. Design Limitations

Manufacturers can use gold-filled and gold-plated materials to make all kinds of jewelry. However, because of the gold sheets used in the gold filling, it can be hard to make some types of intricate gold-filled designs. In short, you’d hardly find any gold-filled design that is cast, and they’re used more for basic designs and jewelry.

Gold-plated materials do not have any such limitations, as in some cases, jewelers can entirely do the design before the base metal is plated.

5. Official Legislation

The rules surrounding gold-plated jewelry are very relaxed on unenforced, so different manufacturers can call almost anything gold-plated. In some extreme cases, manufacturers use gold-colored paint to coat a piece of metal and refer to it as gold-plated. Even in cases where it is made of real gold, the variations in thickness are so broad that it’s hard to vouch for any gold-plated jewelry’s quality, with the only exception being gold vermeil.

On the other hand, the quality of gold-filled jewelry is legally defined in the United States by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). FTC regulations state that a gold-fill layer of 10kt fineness must be equal to 1/20th of the item’s total weight. Also, every gold-filled item must have a stamp of “GF,” stating the purity of gold used to fill the material and how much of it the item’s weight is actual gold.

The regulations surrounding gold-filled make it a safer bet to buy, while you should only shop for gold-plated jewelry from reputable jewelers.

6. Repair And Restoration

One common thing in both gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry is the deterioration of the jewelry’s quality with time. Wear and tear of constant use makes the outer layers of the jewelry begin to fade, exposing the base metal underneath. This wear and tear make the jewelry look less attractive with time.

Once gold-plated jewelry begins to tarnish and peel off, it is easy to restore it to its original state by replating. This process involves dipping the metal in gold liquid again, and your gold-filled jewelry should look as good as new.

With gold-filled jewelry, it’s not as straightforward because filling worn-out jewelry would cause its appearance to look uneven. If the gold-filled jewelry is merely tarnished, you can use a quick buff to restore its appearance. However, if the gold layer is worn out, the only solution is to gold-plate the entire jewelry to give it an even tone.

Is Gold Filled And Gold Plated Real Gold?

There is no context under which any genuine jeweler would call gold-filled or gold-plated real gold. They are both cheaper alternatives to the real thing, but their gold content is too insignificant to call them gold materials.

In the United States, anything you legally call gold has to be at least 10 out of 24 karats, which amounts to around 41% of the material. In comparison, the gold content of gold-filled and gold-plated materials is between 0.5 and 5% of the material; you should also remember that the 0.5 to 5% gold is likely not even pure. Therefore, while gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry is worth buying, you should be aware that you haven’t bought gold when you buy them.

Is Gold Filled Better Than Gold Plated?

Gold-filled and gold-plated each have their selling points and reasons why some people might prefer one to the other. If price is a big deal for you, gold-plated is the way to go because it is cheaper than gold-filled jewelry. However, if you want something more durable to wear in the shower, swimming pool, and to bed without worrying, you should go for gold-filled jewelry.

Gold-filled also lasts longer than gold-plated; although, it’s easier to keep renewing the appearance of your gold-plated jewelry by replating it once it’s beginning to look worn out. Also, if you choose to buy gold-filled jewelry, there are some design patterns you might not find.

Gold-filled is better for the jewelry you wear often and for items like rings, watches, and necklaces that have constant contact with the skin. Gold-plated is best for jewelry that you do not often wear or don’t touch your skin, such as pendants and earrings. In general, the advantages of gold-filled jewelry seem to outweigh those of gold-plated, but the choice is yours at the end of the day.

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