Gold-Filled vs. Gold-Plated

Here's the rundown on the differences between gold-filled vs. gold-plated.

So, you’re curious about the differences between gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry. Maybe you’ve already done some research but have come across confusing, conflicting, or down right false facts on the subject. Never fear, below you can find the research we’ve done into the subject, along with an infographic that you can print so you’ll always have it on hand.

Now let’s get started.

Is Gold-Filled the same as Gold-Plated?

No. Not only are their manufacturing processes different, but the amount of gold alloy used on gold-filled pieces is different than gold-plated.

Comparison of the amount of gold alloy that would be found on a cross section of gold-filled and gold-plated wire.
Comparison of the amount of gold alloy that would be found on a cross section of gold-filled and gold-plated wire.

The layer of gold alloy on gold-plated jewelry is so minuscule it is barely noticeable in the above image. Gold-filled jewelry has 100x more gold alloy than gold plated and because that layer is so much thicker, it means gold-filled jewelry lasts longer and stands up to wear and tear better than gold plated. All it would take is one small scratch on a gold-plated piece to expose the jeweler’s brass underneath.

Why is there such a difference in the amount of gold alloy? The answer lies in the manufacturing process:

Manufacturing Comparison of Gold Filled and Gold Plated Metals

To make gold-filled pieces, the core metal is sandwiched between two layers of gold alloy which is then heated and passed through a roller several times – a process that both bonds the metals together and thins the sheet out. 
To make gold-plated pieces, an electric current is used to negatively charge the base metal and positively charge a solution containing gold ions. The positive gold ions are attracted to the negative charge of the core metal, slowly forming a layer of gold on top of the core. 

Thicker amounts of gold alloy can be added during both processes but typically the amounts shown before are the standard.

How do they compare durability wise?

As said before in the first section, gold-filled pieces are generally more durable than gold-plated due to the thicker layer of gold alloy. The longevity of either type is dependent on wear, environment, and quality of the piece.

Comparison of the Durability of Gold Filled vs Gold Plated Metals

As long as the piece is well cared for, gold-filled jewelry can last a lifetime.
Gold plated jewelry is not very durable and can’t stand up to much heat, water, or wear.

What about Tarnishing?

The thickness of the gold alloy layer also affects the piece’s chance of tarnishing.

Gold Filled Jewelry Does Not Tarnish as Easily as Gold Plated Jewelry

Gold-filled pieces can still tarnish, but it takes special circumstances for that to happen. Pure gold doesn’t tarnish, so even though it’s an alloy, the thick layer on gold-filled pieces prevents tarnishing.
Due to the thin layer of gold which can easily wear off, gold plated pieces can tarnish once the core metal is exposed.

To clean gold-filled jewelry without scratching it (which would lead to tarnishing) use an untreated cloth or mild soapy water. Do not scrub the piece. As for gold-plated, clean only if you absolutely must. We suggest using a cotton ball and as with gold-filled do not scrub.

Best Uses

After all this you are probably wondering what’s even the point of gold-plated jewelry. We’ll give you a couple of ideas on when to use gold-filled or gold-plated jewelry.

Comparison of when to use Gold Filled for Jewelry vs Gold Plated

Gold-filled jewelry is best used where longevity and durability are a must. Gifts for anniversaries, birthdays, and other such events are much more meaningful when the piece is meant to last decades. Another such occasion is when a piece is worn on a daily basis – a gold-plated piece would last mere months if worn daily.

Gold-plated jewelry is great for those ‘of the moment’ trends. This way you can be a part of the trend without having to worry about whether your investment into a more expensive piece was worth it. Jewelry for costumes and cosplay is another great use for gold-plated jewelry. These pieces tend to be worn once or twice so the look is more important than the durability.

Further Reading

Video: Gold-Filled 101

Cleaning Gold-Filled Jewelry

9 Types of Gold Metal Used in Jewelry

5 Things You May Not Know About Gold-Filled

Shop Gold-Plated Sterling   Shop Gold-Filled   Shop Rose Gold-Filled

Wish to put this post in your studio or share with your friends? You’re in luck! This infographic contains the major points talked about in this post in a single image!

Gold-Filled vs Gold-Plated Infographic

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Gold-Filled vs. Gold-Plated

Here's the rundown on the differences between gold-filled vs. gold-plated.
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    • Hi Nessa,

      Great question. I believe “UD” stands for Unique Design and 14K is the percentage of gold in the alloy. Hope that helps!

  • Hi,
    I recently came across a charm that was ‘5% gold-plated’. is this essentially the same as gold-filled? Or at least somewhat durable?

  • Thank you. Neat website.

    Been buying GF over plated for years due to I knew it was better but not why. I learned a lot today and also even got a math refresher on % vs. times. Took me a few to re-understand what I had forgotten due to decades of time. Now I know why certain jewelry styles are not available or hard to find that is GF and that GF is not a solid GF alloy but a 5% layer that is bonded to a base metal usually jewelers brass. Also that it can scratch or wear enough that is can tarnish if base metal is exposed. Lastly to not clean with any abrasive or excessive polishing.

    OMG on it turning black in certain nation /ports. It would be interesting to know which. I doubt I would be going to such locations ever but still be interesting to know where and even why. The GF turning black in Nail Salons does not surprise me at all. The cancer rate for Nail Salon workers is extremely high as well for Hairdressers to. The chemicals used are dangerous and their needs to be development of new less toxic processes since I do not see women in general and some men changing their need or desire for such services.

    Thanks for your short and informative site here.

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