Gold-Filled vs. Gold Plated Jewelry: What's The Difference

A gold chain is a sign of prestige and success. There is nothing more fulfilling than turning heads on the streets with a brand new golden piece.

The problem is that pure gold is expensive. Like most precious metals and gems, the only real reason that it has so much value is because of the gold market’s pricing. You can get the exact same look of a pure gold piece at only a fraction of the cost.

Jewelers achieve this through gold filling and gold plating. These are similar processes, but there are a number of differences that are important to recognize before picking up your next accessory.

So what exactly is the difference between the two? Here is everything you’ll need to know.

What Is Gold Filling?

This is a process that originated in the United States, though it’s beginning to gain popularity overseas. It’s a way of giving a piece the appearance of gold without the expense.

When making a gold-filled piece, gold is pressure bonded to a base metal known as jeweler’s brass. This is a high-quality metal that is extremely resistant to wear and tear. Using high pressure and high heat, the gold is overlaid on top of the brass to give the appearance of authentic gold.

Despite its name, gold filling is only laid on top of the piece to give it the signature appearance. It is not actually filled with gold. The process is complex, which explains why it can be harder to come across gold-filled jewelry options as opposed to gold-plated ones.

By law, a gold-filled piece must contain at least 5%, or 1/20, gold by weight. So if you see a necklace described as being 12k gold-filled, it means that it is 12/20 gold-filled. 

While gold filling is sturdy because of the binding jeweler’s brass, it can be just as expensive as solid gold pieces. It can be tough to justify this when gold-filled products are still not purely gold. 

What Is Gold Plating?

Much like gold filling, gold plating is an alternative to pure gold. It is a prevalent practice in jewelry manufacturing because of its ease of production yet authentic appearance.

Gold plating uses a process calledelectroplating, in which a base metal is cleaned with industrial-strength disinfectants to ensure proper bonding. Then, a thin layer of nickel is placed on the base metal, which helps to make sure that the gold does not react negatively with the base metal. 

Base metals can be made of all sorts of materials. Silver and copper are common examples. However, stainless steel is very high-quality, so pieces that use this as a base material will tend to last a bit longer and have a more authentic feel. ThisRound Cut Diamond Tennis Bracelet is a good example of a sturdy piece that has the look of pure gold for a fraction of the cost.

Gold-Filled vs. Gold-Plated Jewelry: What’s The Difference?

3mm Round Cut Diamond Tennis Bracelet 18k Gold

Finally, the covered metal is dipped into a melted gold liquid and electrically bonded together, forming the finished piece. Gold plating thickness is determined in microns or micrometers. 

Gold plating tends to be a much thinner gold layer than gold filling. Typically, it makes up about .05% of the product’s total weight. However, these are very inexpensive options that look just as good, if not better, than their pure alternatives.

Do Gold Filling And Gold Plating Use Real Gold?

The great thing about both of these options is that they use real gold in their production. The only difference is that they are not made entirely of gold. However, since both are composed of real gold on the surface, there is no way to tell the difference with the naked eye.

These are affordable alternatives that are more widely accessible for a commercial consumer as opposed to pure gold metal. They look and feel just like the real thing, so there really is no reason not to go with the cheaper option.

Can You Tell The Difference Between Gold Filling And Plating?

Most jewelry will come with a marker that can help determine how the piece was created. If the piece is labeled GP, it means that it is gold-plated. Subsequently, a stamp of GFmeans that it was gold-filled.

There are some variations of thesemarkings, such as HGP, which means that a piece is heavy gold-plated. This just means that the gold layer is a bit thicker than a typical gold-plated piece.

However, if your necklace doesn’t have a marking, or you just want to sure, you’ll need some help from a professional. The most basic and conventional approach a jeweler will take is to conduct anacid test.

In this practice, a small drop of acid is placed onto the jewelry. If the acid dissolves, it means that the piece is plated, as the surface is porous enough to allow the acid into the base metal. If it is filled, the acid will not dissolve and will instead remain on the surface. This test should only be done by a professional, so do not attempt it yourself.

The other way is through electronic testing. With this, a professional jeweler will use a special device to reveal the thickness of the gold alloy that was used in the accessory. Based on the thickness, the jeweler can then determine if filling or plating was used.

Based on all of this, it’s important to realize that you can’t tell the differences between pure gold, gold filling, and gold plating with the naked eye. They require either observation of microscopic markings or professional assistance. 

Which Is Better: Gold Filling Or Gold Plating?

Both filling and plating are cheap alternatives to buying pure gold, and they are great for expanding your collection of chains and rings. While filling does tend to be a bit more tarnish-resistant due to the jeweler’s brass as the base metal, gold-plated pieces can last just as long.

With gold plating, it is important to keep it away from oils and chemicals, such as chlorine. You’ll also want to use mild soaps to clean it every now and then. This will extend the life expectancy of your favorite accessories with minimal effort.

Since both gold filling and plating are so similar, there really isn’t much reason not to go with the cheaper option. But even though gold plating is more affordable, there is not a drop in quality as long as the base metals used are sturdy and durable. Silver andstainless steel are especially high quality and will help keep your gold-plated piece looking the same way it did when you bought it.

Gold-Filled vs. Gold-Plated Jewelry: What’s The Difference?

Diamond Nail Cross Pendant

Not to mention, the process of gold plating can allow for more variety in options as opposed to filling. For example, gold can be combined with certain metals, like palladium, to yield endless different colored hues. A popular and stylish option is rose gold, which is achieved by adding copper to the gold alloy. You can see this really great color for yourself in thisBaguette Mariner Chain.

Gold-Filled vs. Gold-Plated Jewelry: What’s The Difference?

15mm Baguette Mariner Chain Rose Gold

Should your bracelet or ring fade over time, losing that sheen of the gold plating, it is also much easier to get your piece re-plated as opposed to being refilled. Since plating doesn’t require the industrial products that are necessary for filling, re-plating is a cost-effective option for jewelry upkeep. 

So overall, if you want something that won’t require as much maintenance over time, you might want something that is gold-filled. However, if you want something of similar quality that is more affordable and easily repaired, it is definitely recommended that you look for a piece that’s been gold-plated.

Conclusion

Any alternative to real gold is going to be a better bang for your buck, as you can save money without sacrificing the look of a chain. Gold filling and plating are two modes of producing gold jewelry at a lower cost.

Although filling is durable, plated pieces are much more cost-effective and can last just as long with just a tiny bit of maintenance. Since the only way to tell the difference between the two is with professional assistance, it’s worth considering going for the cheaper option.

Regardless, both of these options are great for pimping out your wardrobe with some bling that will never go out of fashion.


Sources:

https://ethw.org/Electroplating

https://mjsa.org/publicationsmedia/compliance_guides/stamping_and_marking

https://www.philamuseum.org/booklets/7_44_85_1.html?page=3

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