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Gold Plated vs. Solid Gold – How to Tell the Difference?

Solid gold vs gold plated jewelry

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With so many different terms describing gold jewelry on the market today, it can quickly become confusing to know the true value of the piece you’re buying and how to take care of it.

When shopping for gold jewelry, it’s essential to know the difference between solid gold and gold plated. When it comes to quality, these two types are on the opposite ends of the spectrum, solid gold being of premium quality and price.

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In this article, we’ll explain these two terms and introduce you to the various techniques for testing and checking your gold jewelry.

Solid Gold vs. Gold Plated – What Does It Mean?

Solid gold ring

By Jane Fuller Designs. See it here.

Gold plated ring

By Mariana Handmade. See it here.

Can you tell, just by looking at them, which of the above two rings is solid gold and which is gold plating? It can be hard to see the difference.

The key difference between solid gold and gold plated jewelry lies in the metal composition of the piece.

Solid Gold:

Even though the name might imply differently, solid gold jewelry isn’t made of pure gold. Pure gold, or 24k gold, is an exceptionally soft and malleable metal, not suitable for crafting jewelry. Instead, solid gold jewelry refers to pieces made of gold alloys. The most common ones are 10k, 14k, and 18k gold, marking different purity levels of gold in an alloy.

Solid gold jewelry pieces will contain a particular gold alloy that is consistent and uniform throughout thes piece. In the jewelry world, solid gold makes for the highest quality and the most valuable type of gold.

Gold Plated:

In gold plated jewelry, the foundation of a piece is made of different types of metals. Using various procedures, this base metal is coated or plated with a thin layer of gold. As a result, we get a jewelry piece that contains less than 1% of gold.

Vermeil is another term used for gold plated pieces. It means that the base metal is sterling silver.

At first, you can’t really tell the difference between solid gold and gold plated pieces, as they will possess the same gold appearance and luster. However, over time, gold plated jewelry will become dull and dirty looking as the thin layer of gold fades with wearing, rubbing, and washing.

How to Tell the Difference Between Solid Gold and Gold Plated Jewelry?

Girl wearing solid gold rings

As we have already mentioned, gold-plated jewelry will wear off and tarnish over time. However, to avoid paying a hefty price for a gold-plated piece, you might want to know how to tell the difference immediately.

Of course, you can always ask a trusted jeweler for a professional opinion. But, if you have some time on your hands, you can test your jewelry yourself, using these simple but effective techniques:

#1 – Pay Attention to the Initial Stamps

Checking the markings on your jewelry piece is one of the surest and fastest ways to determine if it’s solid gold or gold plated. These markings show the metal composition of the piece as well as the different procedures it has been through.

These hallmarks are usually stamped on an inconspicuous part of the piece, such as the inner side of a ring band or necklace clasp. Some of the most common markings are:

  • GP – which stands for Gold Plated
  • GEP – meaning Gold Electroplated
  • RGP – means Rolled Gold Plate
  • HGE or HGP – both markings stand for Heavy Gold Electroplate

The problem is, however, that not all gold jewelry manufacturers mark their gold-plated jewelry. If your piece doesn’t contain any of these markings, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s made of solid gold.

For this reason, the following tests might come in handy.

#2 – Visual Test

The first approach in testing your jewelry should be a simple visual test. Try to observe the color and the surface of the piece with a naked eye or a magnifying glass.

Solid gold pieces are made of gold alloys, mixing gold with other metals to make it more durable. In contrast, gold plated jewelry pieces are often coated with a thin layer of 100% pure, 24k gold. Consequently, gold-plated pieces will have a more intense yellow color.

Additionally, if the piece has an uneven color or has patches where the color is worn off, showing the underlying metal, it’s highly likely gold plated.

#3 – Magnetism Test

Gold is a precious metal that doesn’t respond to a magnetic force. If a piece of jewelry sticks to a magnet, it means that it’s either not gold or contains components made of metals other than gold.

However, this test isn’t completely reliable since all gold jewelry contains different metal alloys. It will react to a magnetic pull to some extent, depending on the purity level of gold in the jewelry piece. Besides, some gold plated jewelry may contain metals that aren’t magnetic, giving the illusion it’s made of solid gold.

While unreliable, this type of testing isn’t entirely useless. Together with other tests, it might give you a better picture of the type of gold in your jewelry.

#4 – Acid Test

An acid test is probably the most reliable way to establish whether your jewelry is made of gold or not. This type of testing is usually meant for determining the karat level of solid gold, but can also be used to reveal if the piece is gold plated.

This is how it works.

A small sample of your gold jewelry piece is put in an acid solution and, depending on the induced color change, it can indicate what types of metals the piece is made of.

Although you can find over-the-counter acid testing kits, we wouldn’t recommend doing this at home. It’s best to have it done by a professional, for both your safety as well as for the accuracy of the result.

#5 – Scratch Test

This step should be your last resort because scratching into your jewelry can be quite risky. To get the best results, you should cut into your gold jewelry piece deep enough to expose the underlying metal. If the exposed metal is of different color and composition than the one on the surface, it’s most likely gold plated. If the metal is uniform throughout, your piece is probably made of solid gold.

Which One Should You Choose?

There are pros and cons to both gold types. To determine which one you should go for, it’s essential to weigh all the pros and cons out and establish which option would be better for you.

Solid gold is generally more valuable and, therefore, more expensive than plated gold. But it’s also more durable and less likely to cause allergic reactions.

On the other hand, gold plated jewelry is a much more affordable alternative. But, since the thin gold coating of gold plated jewelry can quickly rub off, leaving the piece looking dull, it will need more maintenance and care. In the long run, it’s not an investment.

Plated gold could be a good option for fashion jewelry pieces that you plan to wear only occasionally, minimizing its exposure to sweat, moisture, and friction. For fine everyday jewelry, such as engagement or wedding rings, solid gold is unquestionably a much better option.

To Wrap Up

In the end, the type of gold you opt for will depend on your budget and the type of jewelry you’re planning to purchase. Solid gold will be more costly, but at least you’ll know you’re investing in something that will always stay valuable and withstand the test of time.

Seeing a shiny new gold plated piece in a jewelry store might draw you in because of its far lower price. But bear in mind that its sparkle has a very short lifespan, and you might end up re-plating it often, only adding to the ongoing expenses.