What is Gold-Filled jewelry? Is it metal that is filled with gold?

In short, the answer is no.

When I went shopping for jewelry (with the intent of not spending a small fortune), I looked for pieces labeled "Gold Plated". I figured, gold plated was better than "gold tone" aka. gold coloring added to metal. I believed that this was the only option other than 14k gold jewelry. However, as I began designing jewelry, I learned that there was another alternative, gold-filled jewelry. This came as a surprise since I couldn't remember a time that I came across an item labeled gold-filled since most of the fashion jewelry out there is gold-plated. 
At ETJ, we use gold-filled chains and findings for their incredible durability and likeness to fine gold. When we highlight this feature to customers, we are often asked, "What is gold-filled jewelry?"
Although the name suggests that gold-filled jewelry is filled with gold, it is not. Gold is mechanically bonded (up to 3 layers) onto the outside of a core metal (such as brass) with heat and pressure. Gold-filled is legally required to contain 5% or 1/20 gold by weight. This would be described as: 12k or 14k gold-filled, and 12/20 or 14/20 gold-filled. Gold-filled jewelry contains significantly more gold than gold-plated jewelry. It has a very similar appearance to 14k gold jewelry, and it's a fraction of the price. Gold-filled jewelry is also durable and will not flake, peel, or wear off. With reasonable care, it should last a lifetime.

Gold-plated jewelry has a significantly lower percentage of gold and goes through a different manufacturing process than gold-filled jewelry. Gold-plated jewelry is created by dipping a base metal (such as brass) into a bath of electroplating solution that contains gold and applying an electric current. This results in a microscopic layer of gold deposited onto the metal. This layer is much thinner than the coating of gold that covers gold-filled jewelry. Gold-plated jewelry has a layer of gold between 0.175 and 2.5 microns (1 micron=1 millionth of a meter). 

Gold-filled jewelry has at least a hundred times the amount of gold than the few microns of gold coating in gold-plated jewelry. Gold-filled items are 50 to 100,000 times thicker than regular gold plating, and 17 to 25,000 times thicker than heavy gold electroplate. Some articles of jewelry such as gold dipped stones, select pendants, etc. may only have the option of gold-plating due to the nature of the material they are bonding the gold to. Whereas, chains and earring wires or posts, are readily available in gold-fill since they are made from sheets and wires of metal that can go through the gold-filled process.

If you have skin sensitivity to metals, make sure you do your research before you buy. Higher karat gold alloys are better tolerated than lower karat qualities because there is less of the reactive metal in the alloy - such as 18k-24k gold. As a low cost alternative to high karat solid gold, gold-filled jewelry is generally known to be non-reactive and hypoallergenic due to the thickness and durability of the bonded gold. If you have a severe allergy, it's best to consult your physician to see if you can wear 12k or 14k gold-fill as a low cost option to high karat gold. 

So, next time you're looking for a new piece of jewelry, you may want to find out if it is gold-filled or gold-plated. More often than not, whether you're paying $20 or $200 for necklace, it will most likely be gold-plated. It would be interesting to see how often you come across gold-filled jewelry at the mall or department store. My guess is that it will be rare. Boutiques and artisan jewelers will most likely carry gold-filled items. They are usually very knowledgable about their pieces and can provide more information about the product's materials. Now that I'm armed with this information, I expect more when I'm paying a higher price tag for fashion jewelry. 

For instructions on how to care for your gold-filled jewelry, click here and scroll to "JEWELRY CARE" 



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