Gold Filled 101 - A Deep Dive into Gold Filled Jewelry
Gold jewelry comes in many different forms: gold plated, gold vermeil, gold filled, and solid gold. Our absolute favorite type is gold filled jewelry; it’s durable, beautiful, and affordable - but what exactly is it? By familiarizing yourself with the differences in composition and characteristics, you can make an informed decision and ensure you're getting the quality and value you deserve.
Read on to learn more about what gold filled jewelry is and why we love using it for our pieces! If you're curious about the other types of gold, check out our Types of Gold Jewelry blog post.
What does gold filled mean?
Gold filled items are created using a solid layer of gold mechanically bonded to a base metal, usually jeweler's brass, through heat and pressure. The gold layer in gold filled jewelry must be at least 5% or 1/20th of the total weight of the item.
Since the gold is mechanically bonded with heat and pressure and not simply plated on, the gold doesn’t fade or rub off - it’s also tarnish resistant. This makes gold filled is a popular and affordable alternative to solid gold!
What is gold filled jewelry?
Gold filled jewelry is jewelry that is made from bonding a thick layer of gold to a base metal. Because gold filled jewelry contains 1/20th or 5% of its weight in gold, the weight and size of the piece determines the amount of gold it contains, and therefore its price. So, it's no surprise that the heavier or bigger a gold filled piece is, the more expensive it is.
The gold used is typically 14 karat. Karats refer to the proportion of actual gold in a metal alloy (or mixture). It’s measured out of 24, so 14k gold is 14 parts gold and 8 parts other metals - typically silver, copper, and zinc.
Gold filled pieces are often marked with “GF” and the karat number such as 1/20GF, 14/20GF, and 12/20GF indicating that the piece is not solid gold but gold filled. The 1/20 number is indicating that gold filled is made of 1/20th real gold. The 14 or 12 part indicates the karat measurement.
When shopping for your next piece of jewelry, keep an eye out for abbreviations as they give you valuable insights into the composition and quality.
We use gold filled whenever we can, but gold filled has some limitations due to the way it's made. We'll get into that soon! Our favorite jewelry are pieces that are 100% gold filled - like our Sunburst Pendant Necklace, Croissant Hoop Earrings, Zodiac Tag Necklace, Pearl Chain Necklace, & Ribbed Hoop Earrings.
Does gold filled jewelry tarnish?
Gold filled jewelry is tarnish resistant, thanks to the way it’s made. The gold is pressure bonded and not simply plated on so the thick layer of gold provides a protective barrier against tarnish and oxidation.
It's important to note that gold filled jewelry can still tarnish over time, especially if it is exposed to certain environmental factors or not properly cared for. Tarnishing can occur due to factors like exposure to moisture, chemicals, perspiration, and air pollutants.
We suggest preserving the quality of your gold filled items by storing them in an airtight bag when not in use for extended periods. If it does tarnish, tending to any tarnishing is a breeze – a gentle cleansing with mild soap and water or the use of a polishing cloth will do the trick. For a comprehensive guide on maintaining your gold filled jewelry's luster, check out our Jewelry Care Guide. We also LOVE our Sunshine Polishing Cloth for getting rid of any tarnish and maintaining its luster.
What are the advantages of gold filled jewelry?
It's important to see the pros and cons of each jewelry type in order to make an informed decision on which metal type you'd like to purchase. We put together a quick and easy table so you can easily decide on whether gold filled is for you!
Gold filled jewelry offers the advantages of solid gold at a more affordable price. With its thick layer of gold bonded to the base metal core, it is durable, resistant to tarnish, and maintains its shine over time making it a great choice for everyday wear! Here are the pros of gold filled jewelry:
- The gold won’t rub off - The layer of gold in gold filled jewelry is bonded to the base metal using intense heat and pressure, meaning it can’t rub off over time like gold plating. Gold filled jewelry is also at least 5% of its weight, so it has at least 100x more gold than gold plated jewelry.
- It’s waterproof and tarnish resistant - Just like solid gold it is waterproof and tarnish resistant meaning you get the benefit and look of solid gold for a fraction of the cost making it a great choice for everyday wear!
- It’s safe for sensitive skin - By utilizing a pressure bonding process, the thick gold layer forms a protective barrier between your skin and the base metal. This barrier works wonders in minimizing the risk of allergic reactions, making gold filled jewelry a safe choice for individuals with nickel or other metal allergies.
- It’s durable - Pure 24k gold is incredibly soft and prone to scratches and dents. But with gold filled jewelry, you get the best of both worlds—durability and beauty. The addition of alloys strengthens the piece, making it more resistant to everyday wear and tear.
- It’s cheaper than solid gold - Gold filled jewelry consists of a thick layer of gold that is bonded to a base metal, whereas solid gold jewelry is made entirely of gold. By using a base metal as the core material and applying the layer of gold, it is a fraction of the cost with the same look of solid gold!
- It’s easy to care for - since it's naturally tarnish resistant and waterproof it is easy to care for. If you notice your jewelry is getting dirty from daily wear use a mild soap and water to give your gold filled jewelry a quick wash, dry it with a soft cloth and you're good to go!
- It’s versatile - With gold filled jewelry, you've got the best of both worlds! Since it has a layer of gold bonded to the base metal, it has a similar resemblance to solid gold. That means you can effortlessly mix and match gold filled pieces with your solid gold jewelry, expanding your collection.
What are the disadvantages of gold filled jewelry?
Gold filled items have some limitations because of the way the gold is manufactured. It is only available in wire or sheet form, so it cannot be casted or poured into a mold. Gold filled charms are either flat (made from sheets), or hollow (two pieces of sheet metal soldered together).
Another disadvantage is that solder marks can show on the joints of rings and links over time. Gold filled wire when soldered together is soldered with silver. There isn’t such a thing as “gold filled solder”, so sterling silver is used instead. We have a handful of pieces with solder marks that are already visible. Most of our gold filled pieces go through a round of flash gold plating to cover up the solder marks, but they can show over time as you wear the piece. There isn’t a way to clean it or prevent it, unfortunately, but the good thing with gold filled is that you can wear it 24/7 - you can shower and even sleep in it!
Gold filled jewelry is not quite as high quality or valuable as solid gold jewelry. Solid gold pieces are, as the name suggests, made entirely of gold. The gold used will almost always be an alloy, as 100% gold is too soft to use for jewelry. The higher the percentage of gold, the more expensive the item. However, any jewelry made with solid gold is considerably pricier than a gold filled piece. Many retailers of solid gold jewelry also have high markups, so one simple necklace can be hundreds of dollars.
What is Brazilian gold filled & how is it different from US gold filled?
Brazilian gold filled, which is different from US gold filled, is another type of gold filled that is very popular right now. Brazilian gold filled consists of 1/30th (or 3%) of 18k gold over a base metal. It has 40% less gold than US gold filled, but can still last a while with proper care.
We have four Brazilian gold filled pieces: our Herringbone Necklace, Herringbone Bracelet, Chunky Rope Necklace, and Chunky Rope Bracelet. We try to carry US gold filled pieces as much as we can but it can get expensive, so we use Brazilian gold filled to bring the price down.
Which is better - gold plated or gold filled?
In gold plated jewelry, a thin, quick layer of gold is deposited atop the base metal by creating an electrical attraction between the base and the gold. By contrast, gold filled jewelry has at least 5% of gold in its weight that is pressure bonded onto the base metal.
Gold filled is a superior choice due to its higher quality and long-lasting value. With gold filled jewelry, you're making an investment that can withstand everyday wear, effectively lowering the cost per wear over time.
On the other hand, gold plated jewelry is inexpensive which can make it an easy way to try out new styles for occasional use; however, it tends to have a short lifespan because the gold is so thin. Gold plated jewelry is not waterproof, will tarnish, and it can also trigger skin irritation.
While the two different types of jewelry seem similar in principle, they are very different in quality!
Which is better - gold vermeil or gold filled?
Gold vermeil, pronounced "ver-may," is a thick layer of gold plating on top of sterling silver. It meets US standards with a minimum of 2.5 microns of gold, making it both dazzling and hypoallergenic for those with metal allergies. The thicker gold plating in vermeil ensures a longer-lasting piece of jewelry than gold plated offers. However, over time and with extensive use, the gold can wear off in high-contact areas.
Unlike vermeil, gold filled won't rub off because it's created by bonding a thick layer of gold to a base metal. Unfortunately it does have its limitations because it is only available in wire or sheet form. So, when a particular design can't be achieved with gold filled, we turn to gold vermeil. Many of our favorite necklace charms and rings are made from gold vermeil - like our Tiny Initial Necklace, Dangling Stardust Necklace, Baguette Cluster Ring, Croissant Ring, and Dainty Baguette Necklace.
Is gold filled real gold?
Gold filled jewelry, despite containing only 5% gold, is considered real gold. The gold used in gold filled jewelry is usually 14K gold, which means it contains a significant amount of pure gold. This is because gold filled jewelry is made with a thick layer of gold that is bonded to the base metal core.
This combination of a substantial gold layer and a durable base metal core gives gold filled jewelry its unique characteristics and appeal.
Where to buy gold filled jewelry
When it comes to buying gold filled jewelry, be mindful of where you shop to guarantee the authenticity and quality of the products. Some sellers out there falsely claim their items as "gold filled”. Not only is this deceptive, but it's also downright illegal. Stay informed and make a conscious choice to support small businesses that prioritize authentic gold filled jewelry - like us! By doing so, you're not only investing in true craftsmanship and value but also contributing to sustainable practices. As a minority woman-owned small business, we're committed to creating sustainable everyday jewelry and ensuring you receive the finest gold filled pieces.
If you're not convinced yet, here are more reasons to support our small biz:
- Free carbon neutral shipping for all US orders, Canadian orders $125+, and international orders $250+
- Free US exchanges & easy returns
- 6-month warranty that covers all manufacturer defects
- Member of 1% for the Planet
- Certified Climate Neutral
We love to use gold filled for our pieces because of its affordability, durability, and beauty. It allows for quality pieces that outlast gold plating, even with daily use, and let you enjoy the shine and luster of solid gold without the increased price.
See for yourself with one of our bestsellers!