What’s the difference between gold, gold plated and gold filled?

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To anyone looking to sell or buy gold jewellery, the industry is swirling with terms that may be confusing. There’s pure gold, gold-plated jewellery, gold-filled items. So what’s the difference between these golden terms and why should you care?

It’s time to clear the air on the terminology to help make your gold shopping venture a lot clearer.

Pure Gold

Because gold is an elemental metal, it’s made up of nothing but gold atoms. Similar elemental metals include copper (made of nothing but copper atoms); iron (made of nothing but iron atoms) and aluminum and so on.

Pure gold is so soft, though, that it isn’t often solely used to make jewellery because it cannot keep its strength in daily use. For example, a pure gold ring would constantly lose its shape and any stones set in it might come loose. Rather, most bracelets, necklaces and rings are made from a “gold alloy,” which is a blend of any two metals.

Also, gold alloys are made by melting pure gold and combining it with another metal (such as silver, copper or tin). Around 99.9% of the gold jewelry on the market today is made from a gold alloy of some type.

Gold Plated

We should stress that gold-plated jewellery is not pure gold. It’s often made of a base metal (e.g. copper) that sports a very thin layer of gold applied to its top. The layer is so thin that you might be able to rub it off with a coarse pencil eraser in a few swipes.

You may have heard the term “gold overlay” but that’s essentially the same thing as gold plated.

A big pro for gold plated is that it’s quite strong. Gold plating can offer an attractive finish to a piece that must be sturdy and durable, since pure gold is so soft.

The downside is that the gold finish on gold-plated goods may chip and wear away over time. Also, some items may be prone to tarnishing.

If you’re interested in the gold-plating process, we recommend this step-by-step guide provided by ThermoFisher Scientific.

Gold Filled

It might sound impressive but again, gold filled isn’t pure gold. Gold-filled jewellery is created by using one or more sheets of solid gold (14K, 12K, 18K, etc) and wrapping them around a base metal under intense pressure. The gold sheets are then “filled” with something other than gold.

Like gold-plated items, some gold-filled jewellery features a thicker layer of gold than other gold-filled items. In some case, the weight of the gold is actually marked on the gold-filled jewellery.Unlike plated metals, gold-filled is legally required to contain 5% or 1/20 gold by weight.

Gold filled is then more valuable than gold plated, and is known to be more durable than gold plated jewellery.

Now that you know the differences between the two ways gold can be applied to jewellery and antique items, you can make a more informed decision on selling or buying golden goodies that catch your eye.

If you’re curious how gold is made, read our earlier blog post here

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