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How do Gold, Gold-Filled and Gold-Plated Differ?

May 15, 2022

Let’s start with some definitions:

  1. “Solid” gold jewelry is what Olympic medal winners bite, because gold is very soft. “Solid” gold pieces are usually not actually pure gold; they’re an alloy. But because it has the most gold, solid gold pieces are the most expensive and durable of all the jewelry you can find at Legacies Upscale Resale.

Gold jewelry comes in 10K (karats), 14K, 18K, or 24K (which is pure gold and too soft for most jewelry). Karats are percentages of gold.

  1. Gold-filled jewelry has two-three layers of solid gold bonded or pressed with a base metal such as brass or sliver. Gold-filled is less expensive than solid gold, but more expensive than gold-plated. 

Gold-filled has 100 times more gold alloy than gold-plated, which allows pieces made from it to last much longer.

  1. Gold-plated jewelry is the least expensive alternative of these three types of gold jewelry. But by paying less, you sacrifice durability.

The gold layer is simply a lot thicker on gold-filled. One small scratch on a gold-plated piece exposes the jeweler’s brass underneath.

The Manufacturing Processes

Solid gold Solid gold pieces are usually made by melting and mixing gold with another metal (creating an alloy) to make it sturdy enough to wear.

Gold-filled For gold-filled pieces, a core metal is layered between two sheets of gold alloy. The sandwich then heated and put through a roller multiple times. This bonds the metals and thins the sheet.

Gold-plated jewelry is electroplated. An electric current negatively charges the base metal and positively charges a solution containing gold ions. The positive ions are attracted to the negatively-charged core metal, eventually forming a very thin gold layer of 14K, 18K or 24K on top of the core.

Comparing Durability and Tarnishing

As long as the jewelry is well cared for, gold-filled pieces can last a lifetime. Gold-plated pieces don’t tolerate heat, water or wear well.

Because the layer of gold is so thin, the gold on gold-plated pieces can easily wear off. Gold plate can tarnish after the core metal is exposed. Gold-filled pieces can tarnish, but it takes unique situations for that to happen.

Solid gold doesn’t tarnish.

Of course, the longevity of any piece of jewelry depends on to some extent on the wear, environment and quality.

Cleaning Each Type

A jewelry cleaning solution made for gold is a safe and effective way to keep it shining. Make sure what you are using shows gold as an intended use.

You don’t have to buy a special solution. You can DIY:

  1. Mix a little Dawn dish detergent in warm water.
  2. Add a few drops of ammonia.
  3. Brush gently with a new, baby-sized soft toothbrush.
  4. Put in lukewarm water to rinse.
  5. Air dry or carefully towel-dry.

Clean gold-filled jewelry carefully to avoid scratching it, which leads to tarnishing. Use a soft cloth with mild soapy water. Don’t scrub. For gold-plated, clean only if absolutely necessary. Use a cotton ball and do not scrub.

You can find a wide range of options for each gold type at consignment jewelry shops like Legacies Upscale Resale.