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Gold Plated vs. Gold-Filled Jewelry – Which is Better?

Gold plate vs gold filled side by side

Gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry are two types of gold jewelry that may seem the same but are actually very different. So how do you tell the difference between the two and what is the best choice for you? In this article, we’ve covered everything you need to know about gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry so that you’ll be well-informed before you go out jewelry shopping.

What is Gold Plated Jewelry?

Gold-plated necklace. See it here.

Gold plated jewelry is created through a process called ‘electroplating’ which involves using an electric current to reduce dissolved metal. This results in an extremely thin coherent metal coating formed on the metal. This coating is then applied to a base made out of a non-precious metal such as nickel, brass or copper.

  • Purity

Gold plated jewelry is the least expensive option compared to all other types of gold jewelry. However, although gold plated jewelry costs a lot less, the quality and the value of the piece is also far less. The purity of gold is measured by Karats and the higher the karatage of the piece, the purer the gold. Pure gold is also called 24K gold which means that all 24 parts in the gold are pure without traces of other metals. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most commonly used gold alloys to make it easier to understand.

  • 24K = 100% gold or pure gold
  • 22K = 91.6% gold
  • 20K = 83.3% gold
  • 18K = 75% gold
  • 14K = 58.3% gold
  • 12K = 50% gold

The math can be quite confusing but simply put, if you’re buying an 18K gold plated piece, it means that the coating contains 75% of pure gold. It sounds exciting, but with gold-plated jewelry, the karatage hardly matters since the coating can be as thin as 1/1000 to 3/1000 of an inch and weighs less than 1% of the total weight of the piece. If you’re hoping to resell your jewelry in the future, keep in mind that gold plated items aren’t worth much, so they aren’t exactly a good investment. There’s hardly any resell value at all.

  • Durability
Gold plated angel necklace

Gold plated angel wing pendant by ReTrend Art. See it here.

At first, plated pieces may have the same appearance and lustre as other gold pieces but since the plating is so thin, it can rub off or get chipped easily. It’s also more prone to tarnishing if exposed to certain liquids or chemicals. While gold itself doesn’t corrode, the non-precious metal base will, especially when it’s exposed to liquids such as perfume, lotion and sweat.

It’s possible to prolong the longevity of the jewelry by taking extremely good care of it but it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to do this for long. When this happens, you’d have repeatedly take it to the jeweler and get it re-plated whenever it tarnishes which could end up costing you more than what you paid for the jewelry in the first place. Gold plated jewelry is also not very durable and doesn’t stand up well to heat, wear or water.

What is Gold-Filled Jewelry?

Gold filled paperclip bracelet

Gold filled paperclip bracelet. See it here.

Gold filled jewelry is created by pressure bonding 2-3 layers of solid gold around a base which, like gold-plated jewelry is also made from another non-precious metal. The same metals (nickel, copper or brass) can be used as bases for both types of jewelry.  With the use of heat, the gold sheet is pressure-bonded to the non-gold core.

  • Purity

Gold-filled jewelry is more expensive than gold plated jewelry as the quantity of gold found in the coating is much higher. The coating is much thicker than the coating found in gold plated jewelry which also makes it more valuable.

Legally in the U.S., gold-filled jewelry must contain 5% of its weight in gold which means that its karatage refers to the gold layers which make up this 5%. Although it seems a meagre quantity, it’s far more than gold-plated jewelry which contains less than 1% of gold. The re-sale value of gold-filled jewelry is low so it may not be a great choice if you’re planning to resell in the future unless you have great quantities of it.

  • Durability
Gold filled star pendant

North star gold filled necklace. See it here.

Unlike gold plated jewelry, it is less likely that gold-filled jewelry would become tarnished and wear off. It’s a possibility, but it usually takes special circumstances for this to happen. However, it depends on how often you wear it and its exposure to certain chemicals. Although it’s a good choice for a more long-term option, it’s not permanent and the jewelry is bound to tarnish and discolor over time.

It’s much more durable than gold plated jewelry and you may be able to keep it in good condition for up to 30 years depending on how well you take care of it. On the plus side, you wouldn’t need to keep replating it like you would for gold-plated jewelry.

How to Tell the Difference between Gold-Plated and Gold-Filled Jewelry?

Gold filled ring

Gold filled brushed wedding ring by The Rose Gypsy. See it here.

An easy way to tell the difference between these two types of jewelry is by looking at the stamps on them. The most common stamp used on gold plated jewelry is GP (which stands for ‘gold plated’). If you see GEP, this means ‘gold electroplated’ and RGP means ‘rolled gold plate’.

Gold-filled jewelry has markings which indicate its karatage, but these come with additional numbers and letters. A ‘GF’ sign after the karat number indicates that the piece is gold-filled. However, in some cases the item may not have any markings on it. If this is the case, it’s possible that it could have worn off or that the piece wasn’t stamped in the first place. It’s best to avoid purchasing jewelry items like these since you don’t know what you’re getting and they could be fake items.

Girl wearing gold plated ring

Gold plated ring by Lina Jewelry. See it here.

Unlike gold-filled jewelry, the coating in gold plated jewelry can wear off very quickly. It can flake off in patches, leaving you with discolored and dirty looking jewelry. Since the coating on gold-filled jewelry is a lot thicker, it will last longer.

When it comes to cleaning and maintaining your jewelry, you will find that gold-filled jewelry is much easier to clean. Cleaning with mild soapy water and a cotton ball is sufficient and won’t damage the surface. Cleaning gold plated jewelry on the other hand, should be avoided entirely and only done when absolutely needed.

Which Should I Buy?

Before you make your decision, consider your budget and why you want to buy the jewelry.

Choose gold-filled if:

  • You’re looking for a piece for daily wear because gold-filled pieces are more durable and less prone to tarnishing.
  • You’re looking for a gift for someone and want to give something beautiful but not too expensive.
  • Higher quality is more important to you.

However, don’t discredit gold plated jewelry entirely:

  • Although it’s not a suitable option for daily wear, gold-plated jewelry is a great economical choice for special occasions.
  • It also allows you to keep up with the trends and look and feel fabulous without going overboard, spending too much money.

Looking for gold plated or gold-filled jewelry? Etsy is an excellent option to find unique, stylish pieces that you’re sure to love.

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