What Does Gold-Filled Mean? How Does It Differ From Gold-Plated?

With jewelry makers and international designers charging an arm and a leg for accessories that barely have any gold in them, it’s only natural to wonder whether your investment is truly worth the price. We have seen a plethora of recent advancements in the field of jewelry smithing, and each of them, it seems, aims to reduce the percentage of precious metals in your jewelry.

You can’t fault the goldsmiths and design houses for creating more cost-effective jewelry, since affordability is the key to sales. By the time you finish reading this article, thousands of people all over the world will have completed their shopping sprees with brand new gold-plated bracelets, earrings, and necklaces to put inside their jewelry boxes. Gold is a very expensive mineral, so it bears to reason that the less of it present in a finished product, the more accessible that product will be to the general public.

Overall, three kinds of gold products are available for sale today: Pure gold, gold-plated, and gold-filled items. You will also see an element called pyrite, also known as fool’s gold, which blacksmiths fashion into various accessories before pumping them into fashion boutiques and department stores. However, you can immediately tell the difference between genuine gold and pyrite from the price tag and the latter’s susceptibility to tarnishing.

Pure gold, gold-plated, and gold-filled accessories are fundamentally different from one another, and as you read on, you will learn which one to pick according to your budget and needs. Be sure not to confuse the three, or you might end up with buyer’s remorse years after purchasing a product.

These three gold types have different chemical properties, gold percentages, and price categories, which is all worth knowing about even if you have no plans to buy gold in the foreseeable future.

What Does Gold-Plated Mean?

gold plated rings

In general, gold-plated accessories are less expensive than their pure gold and gold-filled counterparts, but a few exceptions exist. For example, a lot of rappers and fashion designers love to plate their diamond tooth grills and braces with gold, making them technically more expensive than if they were to use pure gold.

You can find many gold-plated earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, although you will seldom see a gold-plated wedding band. Because gold-plated accessories are commonly the cheapest among the three gold classifications, they’re the most accessible to the buying public. If you look hard enough, you can find gold-plated accessories in niche usages, such as car mufflers, RAM sticks on computers, and speaker wires.

Manufacturers make gold-plated accessories by focusing a negative electric charge onto a base metal, which can be anything from a nickel to platinum but is most commonly jeweler’s brass. They will then run a positive electric charge through a mixture of water and gold ions. The gold ions will begin coating the base metal, which will output a gold-plated product.

You can find gold-plated surfaces in the outer shells of everyday commodities. They don’t usually signify something precious like tradition, as does a family heirloom, or a lifelong promise of love, as does a wedding ring. The percentage of gold in gold-plated accessories is exceedingly small, only at or below 0.05 percent.

Because gold-plated articles have the least amount of gold in them compared to pure and gold-filled ones, they are the most prone to tarnishing, heat dissipation, and breakage due to wear. Don’t buy gold-plated accessories when you live in a humid environment, especially when a lot of salt is in the air, like an oceanfront property or a houseboat. Even when you store them inside a cabinet or a jewelry box, unless you put them inside an airtight bag, they will degrade, sometimes in a matter of months.

What Does Gold-Filled Mean?

Unlike gold-plated accessories that merely pass through an aqueous solution with gold ions, gold-filled accessories have tangible gold layers. Usually, when people gold-plate accessories, they dip them in this solution to give them the appearance of pure gold, which means it’s a purely superficial cosmetic process. When an item is gold-filled, you can break it down to a more basic state and separate the gold from the base metal.

The Difference Between Gold-Filled and Gold-Plated

Gold-filled and gold-plated accessories are the same in concept: both non-gold base metals like copper, nickel, or jeweler’s brass with a gold coat, which fools people into thinking they are more expensive than their price on the tag. However, they are products of two different manufacturing processes.

To make a gold-filled accessory, you need two gold sheets, a base metal core, and a generous amount of heat. You’ll need to thin out the gold into a leaf-like thickness and then bond it to the jeweler’s brass with a blowtorch or a metal bender. Most metalsmiths accomplish this by heating the gold alloy and putting it through a metal roller a handful of times, which will both reduce its thickness and bond it together with the jeweler’s brass.

Gold-filled accessories tarnish much more slowly than gold-plated ones. You’ll find them more durable and capable of standing up to harsher operating environments. If you wear them to the gym, they will resist your sweat more competently, or you can take them out to the beach or the pool and notice no discoloration for at least a few summers.

Gold-filled accessories also command a higher price tag because they feature a higher percentage of gold. Whereas gold-plated necklaces and earrings are only 0.05 percent gold or lower, gold-filled jewelry is around 5 percent. That’s over a hundred times more gold content, but the price tag only doubles or triples. Therefore, as a first-time gold buyer, you can breathe easy.

Gold-Filled vs. Gold Alloy

Most gold accessories in the market today are gold alloys, the result of fusing gold with other metals before selling it as a finished product. Gold alloys have varying purities, and the amount of gold you get will depend on its certified gold percentage, which you can commonly find on one face of a gold bar or the tag of an accessory.

What Does Pure Gold Mean?

pure liquid gold

If you want to be strict about semantics, there is no such thing as a pure gold bar or accessory. All earrings, wedding rings, and bars that are supposedly pure gold are merely alloys, as gold in its undiluted mineral form is extremely malleable. Before you can make a pure gold necklace, for example, you will have to combine gold with either rhodium, platinum, or copper so it can withstand many formal dinners and night outs without disfiguration.

The highest level of purity you can find on any gold article is 99 percent, which is why you commonly find gold bars with a 9999 marking. This number means they have a vanishingly small percentage of other metals, and they will appreciate over time as pure gold does. “Standard mint gold bars” that the U.S. Mint holds contain approximately 400 troy ounces of gold.

According to Francis H. Brown, dean of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences at the University of Utah, experts determine the amount of gold “by the karat fineness of the alloy,” so one sees marks such as 12K for 12 karats, and so on. “The purity of gold is defined either in karats or fineness. A karat is 1/24 part of pure gold by weight, so 24-karat gold is pure gold.”

You’ll know that an accessory is a pure gold when it has a 24-karat tag, which means it has over 200 times the gold content of a standard gold-filled item.

You can only buy 24-karat gold from private auctions and particular jewelers. In some Asian countries like the Philippines, where gold is heavily regulated, you can only buy gold from government-run central banks.

Pure gold wedding rings, necklaces, and wearable accessories are becoming increasingly rare, and even if you own one, you will rarely wear it outside. Even though pure gold is highly resistant to foreign chemicals and dirt, its extreme malleability means you’ll have to take it back to the jeweler often to bend it back to its original shape.

Pure gold items are significantly more expensive than gold-filled and gold-plated ones. Pure gold’s high price tag and malleability make it impractical in commercial applications. For example, you can find many gold-filled and gold-plated guitar strings, smartwatches, and cell phone cases, but seldom any re gold ones.

Gold and Tarnishing or Discoloration

Unsurprisingly, pure gold bars and accessories are the least prone to tarnishing and discoloration when compared to their gold-plated and gold-filled counterparts. 24-karat gold is nearly impossible to tarnish, but its existence is rare in most markets, even the niche ones.

The most common cause of the discoloration of pure gold bars, coins, and wearables is the degradation of their metal alloys. Unless you combine gold with an equally expensive mineral such as platinum or rhodium, it can tarnish pretty fast, and when you pair it with copper or nickel, your gold necklaces, watches, and wedding bands can darken in only a couple of years.

People use gold-filled items to prevent the base metal from coming in contact with the skin, where oils, germs, and various detrimental minerals like salt and sulfur subsist. So, while gold-filled pieces of jewelry make perfect anniversary gifts, fraternity rings, and business wear, pure gold comes in the form of bars, which generally sit inside vaults for a long time.

Learn More About Gold-Filled Items at Oxford

At Oxford Gold Group, we can tell if an item is gold-plated, gold-filled, or pure with a single glance. Oxford Gold Group should be your first-choice destination to learn more about gold-filled items or invest in gold stock to hedge against inflation. Dial 833-600-4653 and learn how we can build a gold-filled future together.


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