Have you noticed all of the jewellery labeled “gold filled” or “gold plated” appearing for sale lately? Have you ever wondered what it all means? Well, I’m here to help you understand these terms!
Let’s start with the obvious. Solid gold is exactly what it sounds like, solid gold all the way through the piece. Jewellery is rarely made with pure gold, or 24 karat gold, because is it too soft and the jewellery would bend out of shape too easily while being worn. Gold is alloyed, or mixed, with other metals to make it more durable, and affordable. The metals used to alloy are usually copper and silver for yellow gold; and nickel or palladium, and silver for white gold. Stores don’t usually say “solid gold” however, usually they will state 18K (karat), 14K, or 10K. This means 14/24K, or 14 parts pure gold out of 24 parts, which equals 58.5% pure gold. If you’re in Europe, they stamp their jewellery with parts per 1000 instead. For example, 14K would be stamped 585 (585/1000 parts pure gold). To legally stamp these metal qualities (hallmark) on a piece of jewellery a company must have a registered trademark, and they must stamp both their trademark and the hallmark. It is legal to sell jewellery with no hallmark, it just means the company has no trademark, but it is not legal to stamp a hallmark with no trademark.
Now that we have that information, let’s move on to “gold filled”. This is a misnomer. The gold is not used as a filler but filled with a base metal. This is when a thin sheet of gold is mechanically bonded to a piece of base metal, such as brass, or silver. Or in the case of wire, there is a thin tube of gold, and the base metal is inserted into the tube. They are bonded by soldering or fusing the two metals together. To be considered gold filled, a piece requires a minimum quality of 10K gold, and the gold must weigh a minimum of 1/20 of the overall weight of the entire piece. This means that the edges, and sometimes the back of the metal, are base metal, not gold. Sometimes the gold is fused on the front and back of a sheet of metal, creating a sandwich of gold | base metal | gold.
This means that any piece of jewellery that is not fabricated from sheet metal or wire, and is instead cast, cannot legally be called gold filled. I have seen instances of pieces being called “gold filled” when they are obviously cast. This is misleading. They are probably gold plated, not gold filled.
Gold plating, unlike gold filled jewellery, is created by using electricity to bond particles of gold suspended in a solution on to a piece of jewellery. The layer that is created is approximately 1 micron (a micron is 1/1000th of a millimetre). Gold plating can be done on almost any type of metal. It doesn’t work on all base metals, but silver, copper, and brass can all be gold plated. Unlike gold filled, gold plating can not be easily measured by weight, since it is so insubstantial.
You can read about the Canadian legal requirements and hallmarks here. (Scroll to sections 6 and 7.)
This explains why gold filled costs more. It has considerably more gold than gold plating. This means that it doesn’t wear away as quickly as gold plating over time. Gold plating wears off even quicker, since it is only a layer of 1 micron. Solid gold will show the least obvious symptoms of wear, but it is not immune. Any item that is susceptible to wear and tear will slowly wear away, starting (obviously) with the surface layer. This is why old rings sometimes need to have the area most worn, typically the palm side of the finger, replaced. Stone settings also suffer from degradation, and need to have new claws put on them.
I hope this information helps you. It is always my opinion to use solid gold rather than plating or gold filled, or even gold rather than silver for a piece of jewellery that you want to last. (I love working in either gold or silver!) Quality materials and workmanship will result in jewellery that you can love for years, and even pass down to your children, and grandchildren. I hope you keep this in mind next time you want to buy a new piece of jewellery, or better yet, when you want to have a piece custom made!
Jewelust by Amanda Henderson