A lot of new jewelers have some misconceptions about gold-filled jewelry supplies. If you are selling this metal, it is important to understand the product so you can accurately describe it to customers and handle it properly. Here are five common questions we hear from customers. But, first a little bit of information about the material.
What Does Gold-filled Mean?
Gold-filled is constructed in two or three layers. The core metal is jewelers’ brass; though in the past, sterling silver was sometimes used instead. Single clad gold-filled has all the gold content in a single layer on one side. Double clad material splits the gold content into surface layers on both sides of the material. The gold alloy is bonded to one or both surfaces of the brass core with heat and pressure. The bonded raw material is sold as sheet or wire to jewelry manufacturers for use in designs.
Gold-filled jewelry supplies are legally required to be 5% or 1/20 gold by weight. This 5% is described by the karatage of the gold alloy on the surface. Most material is 12kt or 14kt gold-filled. It is most accurately labeled with the karatage, the “/” symbol, and then 20 to reflect this construction. Products are identified as 14/20 or 12/20 Gold-Filled; alternatively, 14kt or 12kt Gold-Filled are also acceptable as long as you use the entire phrase. Quality stamps are abbreviated to 14/20 GF or 12/20 GF.
1. Why can’t you stock more of your cast charms in gold-filled?
This layered metal cannot be cast, which is a major limitation in the types of products that can be manufactured in the metal. Products are made from sheet, tube or wire that retain the separate layers of brass and gold. Casting by definition is melting the metal material which would alloy the layers into one big melted mess.
2. Why don’t you stock gold-filled solder?
First, there is no such thing as gold-filled solder. Your best bet is to color match the solder joint to the surface metal by using 14kt gold solder. Second, we do not recommend soldering gold-filled jewelry supplies without specific equipment and specialized training.
Usually, gold-filled soldering at the manufacturing level is done with laser welders that make precision joins. If you attempt to solder it with a torch and normal gold or brazing solder you can alloy the surface layer of gold with the brass beneath it. Overheated joins will leave a dark solder stain that is markedly different than the neighboring gold. Any exposed brass will quickly tarnish to black to be even more distinct. Then, the only way to repair it is to plate the entire item in gold to cover the join and match color all over the piece. Similarly, do not sand or file gold-filled since you will remove the gold portion of the product and decrease the surface layer integrity.
3. I need the gold item XYZ…
OK, this one isn’t a question but it raises an important issue. Some jewelry designers will refer to gold-filled items as just “gold.” It is not gold. It is illegal to call gold-filled items gold or to abbreviate the description to just 12kt or 14kt. This implies they are a solid alloy with higher pure gold content. Gold-filled is a unique material that must be clearly distinguished from solid gold by professionals in the industry. “Gold” is not an acceptable short hand and it can get you in legal trouble for fraud. Don’t get in this bad habit.
4. Is gold-filled the same as gold plated?
No, gold plating is a minuscule layer of solid gold applied to a brass base. The plating does not compose any measurable proportion of the product’s total weight. It is estimated to be 0.05% or less of the metal product. Gold plating can wear off quickly and expose the brass base product. It does not stand up to heat, water or wear over time. By comparison, gold-filled contains 5% gold by weigh. All the gold is on the surface which offers product protection from tarnish and wear. Read more on gold-filled vs. gold plated.
5. Can gold-filled tarnish?
Yes it can, but it takes a rare set of circumstances. Gold-filled jewelry supplies are a lifetime product because the gold layer bonded to the brass core is quite thick. However, in rare instances of extreme sulfide exposure, it can blacken. This has only occurred a handful of times over our decades of experience:
- Foreign transit through extremely polluted shipping docks has caused the product to blacken on several occasions.
- Products stored in nail salons with high levels of chemical sulfide fumes are at risk of blackening.
- A fire where the structure filled with smoke caused blackening
These are extreme conditions . However, it has made me think twice about breathing the air in nail salons. Gold-filled usually just requires light surface cleaning with an untreated cloth or mild soapy water.
6. Can you be allergic to gold-filled?
Individuals who have skin reactions with gold alloys will also react to the gold alloy layer on the surface of gold-filled. Some people’s body chemistry will cause their skin to blacken or develop a rash when they wear certain metals. I am one of those people and on certain days, my fingers will turn black all around my 14kt wedding band. Rarely, an individual’s body chemistry may darken the metal as well.
Gold-filled is a reasonably priced, quality alternative to solid gold. Most gold-filled jewelry supplies are made in the USA. We offer a wide selection of chain, charms and findings in this high quality metal to outfit your jewelry studio with plenty of materials for jewelry design.
Gold-Filled 101 Video Overview
Watch our Halstead Jewelry Minute Gold-filled 101 video for detailed information including material construction, gold layer alloy details, and more. The video has different content than the text below so be sure to check it out!