Get the look you love, the durability you want, and the price you need with gold filled Jewelry! You can ‘have your cake, and eat it too’!
What is gold filled Jewelry? It consists of a thick layer of gold over a base metal like jeweler’s Brass. The gold is mechanically bonded to the base metal using heat and pressure. By law, the gold must represent at least 5% of the item’s total weight. This makes gold filled jewelry much more durable than other plated items.
Gold filled jewelry is PERFECT for many frugal jewelry shoppers searching for breathtaking…on a budget. The paragraphs that follow will fill you in on all the info on gold filled jewelry that you need to be aware of.
Table of Contents
Who Buys Gold Filled Jewelry?
Gold jewelry shoppers who demand maximum value for their money often choose gold filled (GF) jewelry. Sometimes they choose it because they’re trying to make a limited jewelry budget go further than it otherwise could. Others turn to Gold Fill, even though they have enough money for solid gold because they feel their savings could be better used elsewhere.
One classic example is engaged couples shopping for wedding jewelry. They either need to stretch limited dollars, or they’d prefer to apply their savings toward paying down debt or saving for future expenses.
Gold filled jewelry brings savings without sacrifice for most people. They get the look of solid gold, great durability, and huge savings.
The terms ‘Gold Overlay,’ ‘Rolled Gold,’ ‘Rolled Gold Plate,’ ‘Rolled Gold Plated,’ and ‘Gold Filled’ are used interchangeably by some. In reality, the terms aren’t all synonymous. The first four terms can be used to describe pieces that have a thinner layer of gold applied than ‘gold filled’ would apply to. I’ll provide more detail below.
Because of the different ways that terms are sometimes presented, you have to be careful about the product titles and descriptions used by some sellers (particularly small shops, auction sites, and private sellers).
How is Gold Filled Jewelry Made?
I see the question, ‘what is gold filled jewellery?’ pretty regularly. There’s an interest, and confusion, around this type of jewelry that seems to be pretty common around the globe. Some have heard the term, but still wonder how it differs from other options like Gold Plating, Gold Vermeil, or Solid Gold. This section will make those distinctions far more clear!
Gold filled jewelry starts with a base metal like Jeweler’s Brass. That’s commonly made by combining Copper (90%) and Zinc (10%). The Brass is covered by an extremely thick sheet of gold that has a minimum purity of 10k. Again, it’s a solid sheet of gold that’s applied—not a bath of liquified gold that the base metal is dipped into.
The gold layer is then fused to the base metal through a mechanical application process involving heat and pressure. It’s a permanent bond, so the gold won’t flake or peel.
Gold filled is a regulated term that’s enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. That means that if you describe your product as “Gold Filled,” it has to meet certain specific requirements.
Those requirements include:
- A minimum of 1/20th (5%) of the item’s total weight must be made up of gold.
- The gold layer has to have a purity of at least 10-karat.
- The gold layer must be fused to the base layer through a ‘mechanical process’
- The composition of the piece needs to be ‘clearly and conspicuously’ disclosed. That means that the karat fineness of the gold needs to be stamped immediately before a term like ‘Gold Filled’ or ‘GF’ on the jewelry piece (I’ll provide examples of quality stamps below).
All of those requirements have to be met for a piece of jewelry to legally be considered gold filled. If even one of the requirements listed above isn’t met, the term can’t be used for that particular item.
If jewelry meets all the requirements listed above (except for gold thickness) and it has a gold layer that’s at least 1/40 (or 2.5%) thick—it can legally be sold as, Gold Overlay, Rolled Gold, Rolled Gold Plate, or Rolled Gold Plated. Here again, the amount of gold actually applied to the piece has to be ‘conspicuously’ displayed. For example, a stamp on the jewelry might read, “1/40th 10Kt RGP.” Again, I’ll share more on quality stamps below.
Single Clad vs Double Clad vs Wire Clad
Gold filled jewelry is made from sheets of where gold has been bonded to Brass, as described above. These sheets can come in several different finishes.
Single Clad sheets have all the gold applied to only ONE side. The other side of the sheet is exposed, Brass. Gold makes up at least 5% of the sheet’s total weight. Double Clad Sheets have gold applied to BOTH sides. These sheets also have at least 5% of their total weight in gold.
Both Single Clad and Double Clad sheets contain the same amount of gold, in total—the distribution of that gold is the only difference.
Wire Clad is a brass wire that has gold fully encasing it. The gold, again, represents at least 1/20th (5%) of the weight of the wire. The following ring was made with gold filled wire, for example.
The wire could be solid, or it could be a hollow tube (hollow copper tube with gold encasing it.
Gold Filled vs Gold Plated
Have you wondered what the difference between gold filled and gold plated jewelry is? It’s understandable to be confused because the two can look the same from the outside. In reality, there’s a significant difference between these two types of jewelry.
The biggest difference is the thickness of the gold coating that’s applied. Gold plating often applies a minuscule, almost microscopic, gold film that can often be worn through quickly. Gold filled jewelry is required to have at least 5% of its total weight in gold. That’s a SIGNIFICANT difference in thickness and durability.
Gold plated looks great when it’s new, but may not last more than a few days or weeks before the gold coating has been worn through. Gold-filled jewelry can last decades, and sometimes an entire lifetime!
The gold layer on gold filled jewelry is at least 50 times thicker (and sometimes up to 100,000 times thicker) than standard gold plating provides.
Gold Filled vs Vermeil
When you evaluate gold filled jewelry vs vermeil, you see that both provide more durability than standard gold plating offers, but the two are still very different from each other.
The term ‘gold vermeil,’ like the term ‘gold filled,’ is regulated in the United States by the FTC. Gold Vermeil is required to have at least 2.5 microns of gold on top of its base metal (which is always Sterling Silver).
As we’ve discussed, the gold requirement for GF jewelry isn’t measured in microns—it’s a weight ratio. This generally leads to a much thicker gold layer. In fact, the layer of gold on gold filled jewelry is often at least 17 times as thick. In some cases, the layer can be up to 25,000 times as thick!
That’s an enormous difference that plays a huge role in durability! Gold Vermeil is much more durable than standard gold plating, but gold filled jewelry is significantly more durable than both.
Gold filled jewelry is made with sheets of gold, not liquified gold that can be poured and molded. This presents limitations to the types of jewelry that can be made through the process. Jewelry made with electroplating, like Gold Vermeil, can have much more ornate and intricate designs. For more information on how the electroplating process works, check out my recent article on Gold Vermeil.
Gold Filled vs Solid Gold
What is the difference between solid gold and gold filled jewelry? Solid gold is going to be the most durable option available for jewelry that has the ‘gold’ look, but it’s also FAR more expensive than gold filled Jewelry.
When all factors have been weighed and considered, gold filled jewelry delivers incredible value! You get a substantial amount of gold, great durability, and a much lower cost. When other people look at your jewelry, they can’t visibly tell that it isn’t solid gold jewelry. You end up with the look you want at a price you can afford!
Is Gold Filled Jewelry Expensive
The cost for this jewelry is MUCH more reasonable than the cost for solid gold jewelry. The reason is simple, gold is priced based on weight. The more gold that’s used in a particular piece of jewelry, the more expensive it will be. Since GF pieces only need to have 5% of their total weight in gold content, that means that they can use low-cost Jeweler’s Brass for the other 95%. That provides ENORMOUS cost savings!
Imagine, If gold costs $48 per gram, and you have your eye on a piece of jewelry that weighs 50 grams. The cost for the gold portion when the item is made of solid gold would be $2,400. The GF version would only use 2.5 grams of gold, along with 45 grams of brass. The gold for this second piece would only cost $120. In this example, you end up saving $2280 (95%) on the cost of gold (which would have been buried in the middle where no one could see it anyway)! That’s a HUGE SAVINGS on a durable item that looks identical!
This is a great example of quality gold filled chains (necklaces) that are dramatically less expensive than identical looking solid gold versions would be.
Is Gold Filled Jewelry Worth Anything?
Gold filled jewelry does have intrinsic value (melt value), but how much is gold filled jewelry worth? The answer depends on the specifics of your item. The Hallmark provides information like the percentage of the item’s weight that is made up of gold (expressed as a fraction). It also lists the karat value of that gold (most is 12k or 14k). Once you have those two pieces of information and the spot value of gold in grams, the gold value of your jewelry can be easily calculated.
Pawnshops and refineries are happy to purchase a gold filled chain or other similar jewelry. They can quickly weigh your item and then tell you what they’re able to pay for the piece.
In my experience, it’s going to be a little less than the spot value. How much less depends on who you take the jewelry to. If you want to maximize the sale price, visit multiple places and compare what they’re willing to pay before deciding on who you’ll sell to. If you have a metal refinery in your area, it would be helpful to visit them in addition to the pawnshop.
You also have to option of selling ‘private party’ to someone that loves gold jewelry and wants to use your item as jewelry. You could consider selling through a local classified ad site (like craigslist.com or Kijiji.com), or online through a platform like eBay.
How to Identify Gold Filled Jewelry
From the outside, gold-filled jewelry looks identical to solid gold jewelry. The best way to identify gold-filled jewelry is through quality stamps or hallmarks. They’re placed in a spot that it’s visible to the people that see you wearing your jewelry. Rings will have the stamp on the inside of the band. Necklaces and bracelets often have the stamp on the backside of the clasp and on the metal beside the clasp. Notice the print on the following clasp that reads 14/20 (meaning that the clasp is covered in 14k gold comprising 1/20th of its weight).
Is Gold Filled Jewelry Fake?
Some might refer to GF jewelry as ‘fake’, but is it? These pieces contain a thick layer of REAL gold with at least 10k purity. More often, GF jewelry will contain 12k or 14k gold. While it’s true that the center of the jewelry item isn’t comprised of solid gold, that doesn’t make the jewelry ‘fake.’
It’s often interesting for those that are critical of gold filled jewelry to ponder the question, Is 14k or 22k gold ‘fake’?
Gold is typically an alloy that’s comprised of gold and other metals. For example, 22k isn’t ALL gold. 14k gold is only 58.3% gold. The other 41.7% is made up of metals like Copper and Zinc that add hardness and influence color. 10k gold is 41.6% gold (it’s MOSTLY other metals).
Non-Gold metals are an important and legitimate part of gold jewelry.
Is Gold Filled Fine Jewelry?
Gold filled jewelry isn’t considered ‘fine jewelry’—but who honestly cares? The impact of that classification is more psychological than anything else. No one can tell the difference between GF Jewelry and solid gold jewelry based on appearance. Gold filled is also durable and functional, so what’s the actual implication of not being considered ‘fine jewelry’? Would you ever go around announcing to friends that your gold jewelry is (or isn’t) ‘fine jewelry’? Doubtful! If not, then the classification is truly meaningless for most people.
So, if gold filled jewelry isn’t considered ‘Fine Jewelry,’ what IS it considered? It’s classified, along with Gold Vermeil, as ‘Fashion Jewelry’ or ‘Costume Jewelry.’ Gold Snobs that look down on everything other than solid gold love to use the term ‘Costume Jewelry’ the most.
Some use the term ‘Semi-fine’ jewelry to classify gold filled pieces. They use the term as a middle ground between ‘Fine Jewelry’ and ‘Costume Jewelry’, but that it’s not an officially recognized category.
What is Yellow Gold Filled Jewelry?
Yellow gold filled jewelry is classic, timeless, styling. It utilizes the process described throughout this article and can be made with 10-karat gold or better. Again, 12-karat and 14-karat are most common for this jewelry.
What is Rose Gold Filled Jewelry?
Rose Gold is like yellow gold, but the has common metal additives mixed in different ratios. Rose gold is heavy on the Copper content, for example, which is what gives it the beautiful rosy coloring that it’s famous for.
What is Black Gold Filled Jewelry?
Black gold is a bit of an illusion—just like White Gold. There’s no such thing as either white or black gold in nature. Yellow gold can be made lighter or darker by mixing other metals into it. Metals like Cobalt can darken a gold mixture. Black Rhodium can also be used to plate gold jewelry and give it the ‘black gold’ look.
A gold filled item is plated in a black gold alloy or Black Rhodium to change the appearance of its surface. As with all plated jewelry, the coating will need to be reapplied as it wears through.
What is White Gold Filled Jewelry
Like Black Gold, White Gold rings are dependant on plating to give them their expected appearance. It’s Rhodium plating that makes White Gold jewelry look the way it does. The gold underneath the plating looks yellowish. If you have a White Gold Filled piece of jewelry, you’ll need to have it re-plated with additional Rhodium occasionally.
Is Gold Filled Jewelry Hypoallergenic?
The answer is ‘yes’ AND ‘no.’ High purity gold (18k and above) is typically considered hypoallergenic—so the surface of the jewelry would qualify as long as the gold purity is high enough. Brass is at the core of most gold filled jewelry It isn’t a hypoallergenic metal.
Based on all that, most probably could wear this jewelry without any issues, as long as the gold layer continues to encapsulate the brass well. If the gold layer ever wears too thin, over time, people with sensitive skin could start to experience reactions from contact with the base metal.
How is Gold Filled Jewelry Marked?
Gold filled jewelry hallmarks are like industry shorthand that tells you about the composition of your jewelry. These markings are also referred to as Quality Stamps. They’re required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for jewelry sold as Gold Filled, Rolled Gold, or Gold Overlay in the United States. Manufacturers are required to include some very specific information in these stamps. We’ll talk more about those elements in a moment.
The FTC protects consumers by ensuring that manufacturers and retailers are representing their products accurately.
Certain information is required to be disclosed, including:
- Gold quality (in karats)
- The ratio of gold used in the piece
- The term that best describes the jewelry item
All of this information needs to be communicated ‘clearly and conspicuously,’ meaning that there can’t be any fine print or misleading presentation of information. The information should all be printed in the same font, and in the same area.
For example, manufacturers couldn’t legally shorten the stamp on gold filled jewelry to just read ‘Gold’ … or even something like 12k or 14k. All of those examples could mislead buyers into thinking that the jewelry being offered is made of solid gold.
Stamps are often arranged so the purity of the gold (the karatage) is printed first. Immediately following that number is a forward slash (the “/” symbol), and a number to reflect the ratio of the item’s weight that’s made up of gold. For example, let’s say we have a gold filled bracelet that’s made of 14 karat gold. The gold comprises 1/20th (5%) of the piece. Based on all that, the stamp could be laid out like any of the following examples.
- 1/20th 14K GOLD FILLED
- 1/20 14KT GOLD-FILLED
- 1/10 22K GF
- 14/20 GF
Various combinations of those examples could also work.
When less than 1/20th of the item’s weight is made up of gold (but NOT less than 1/40th of the total weight), it may be referred to as Rolled Gold Plated (or Rolled Gold). In that case, the term can be used for the stamp, along with disclosure regarding how much of the total weight is made up of gold. Any of the following stamps could be used, for example.
- 1/30th 14K RGP
- 1/40 14K Gold Overlay
- 1/40 14 Kt Rolled Gold Plate
For example, you can put a “th” after the weight ratio, or not. Similarly, you can abbreviate karat with a ‘K’ or a ‘Kt’. Here again, I tried to show several variations that you could mix and match with as needed to align with your personal preferences.
How to Test Gold Filled Jewelry
When you test gold filled jewelry, you’re looking for a couple of primary checking to see if the gold purity is what it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to differentiate gold filled jewelry from solid gold jewelry without damaging the item. I’ll explain more about why that is in a moment.
Will gold filled jewelry pass an acid test? Yes, gold filled jewelry will often pass a simple surface-level acid test. To acid test gold, you apply an acid that matches the gold purity that you expect from a particular piece of jewelry. The color and activity in the acid will tell you things about the material you’re testing. If the acid drop turns colors or starts bubbling, you’re dealing with something other than the kind of gold you were looking for.
The 14k gold acid is the only that’s most often needed with gold filled jewelry. The acid test can help you confirm the purity of the gold in your jewelry. What it CAN’T always do, is tell you that the piece isn’t solid gold. The gold layer on GF jewelry is very thick, so there’s often no visible reaction that would alert you to the presence of a non-gold metal beneath it. You would need to get near the base metal somehow and apply the acid in that area to have the potential for a better outcome.
On a used piece of jewelry, you can sometimes look for worn points that might be more effective points to test. Otherwise, you would have to use a file or pocket knife to open, or wear down, the surface so you can apply acid on, or close to, a potential base metal.
Without scratching or filing the gold surface, it’s also difficult to gauge the thickness of the gold layer. Your only information on thickness is the hallmark imprint on the piece of jewelry.
Can gold filled jewelry be magnetic? No, again Brass is almost always the base metal for gold filled jewelry. It’s not a magnetic metal.
Can the Hallmark Stamp on Jewelry be Trusted?
Stamps are typically accurate. Manufacturers face prosecution for falsifying hallmarks. In spite of this, criminals will continue to counterfeit and mislead consumers.
Because it’s difficult to verify EVERY detail of the Hallmark on your own, I’d recommend ONLY buying from sources and retailers that you trust. I would never buy gold filled jewelry from one of the importing sites that allows you to buy jewelry directly from China. There are quality manufacturers there and there are manufacturers that may cut corners or mislabel. It’s not worth rolling the dice.
I also wouldn’t purchase off an auction site. These sellers are so small, that they can fly under the radar of the FTC. They also use terms like Gold Filled, Gold Overlay, and Rolled Gold when they don’t apply to attract buyers looking for that keyword. You might get what you expected, but the chances of getting ripped off are high.
I’ve purchased misrepresented jewelry directly from manufacturers in China. I’ve unknowingly purchased fraudulent items through auctions sites in the past as well. You may not find out that you’ve been lied to for several months, making it even harder to seek any kind of recourse. By that point, you may have already left positive feedback for the seller, or the window for leaving feedback has completely closed.
Can Gold Filled Rings be Resized?
It’s possible to resize a gold filled Ring, but it isn’t always easy to find someone willing to take that on—and the cost might make it impractical. You would be better off buying a similar gold filled ring in a larger or smaller size.
The other issue is how you give the ring a uniform gold appearance after the adjustment. I’ll address how that’s done in the next section.
Can Gold Filled Jewelry be Repaired?
Gold filled jewelry can be repaired, but not with the exact same gold filled finish. The piece will likely need to be plated afterward to give it a uniform appearance. If the item is electroplated following a repair, it may be worth paying extra to have an especially thick coating applied to create a more durable finish.
If you have any trouble finding a Jeweler in your area that’s able to repair your jewelry, you may want to ship your GF item to a jeweler in another area that is accustomed to the work and capable of doing what you need. A few search engine queries should help you to find some good prospects.
How Durable is Gold Filled Jewelry?
Durability is an important consideration for any jewelry. So, how does gold filled jewelry wear? Because the gold layer is so thick, it’s jewelry that should last for years. It can sometimes last decades. A critical factor in how long any jewelry lasts, is how it’s used. Jewelry that’s worn all day, every day, won’t last as long as jewelry that’s worn for a day or two every few weeks.
Jewelry that’s removed before showering and washing hands will likely last longer than jewelry that isn’t. Pieces with harder gold will, obviously, outlast pieces that are coated with softer gold. The lower the karat grade of the gold, the harder it is. This means that 10k gold is harder than 18k for example. It’s important to understand this when shopping for jewelry. If you want to maximize durability, minimize the purity of the gold (10k).
Can You Shower with Gold Filled Jewelry?
Gold filled jewelry generally isn’t affected by water any differently than solid gold jewelry is. Having said that, you really should remove gold jewelry before showering. Again, that’s even true of solid gold.
Tap water contains Chlorine. Chlorine can damage gold over time. It’s not something that’s immediately visible to the naked eye—it’s microscopic and gradual. That deterioration can lead to weakened gold that’s more prone to breaking. Rings that have stones mounted are especially vulnerable because gold prongs can get weak and break as damage progresses. Once prongs start bending and breaking, you’re in danger of losing your center stone.
Most water also contains dissolved minerals, often referred to as ‘hard water’. These minerals that can dull the appearance of your jewelry, and in some cases harm the surface in various ways.
Water itself is also effective at dissolving things. It’s so effective that it’s referred to as ‘The Universal Solvent’. Water carved out the Grand Canyon! Having shower water hit and washing over your Gold jewelry isn’t a great idea. It won’t dissolve before your eyes, but could wear down over time. The shower also tends to put your jewelry in contact with soap, shampoo, & conditioner. These products may cause buildup on the surface of your jewelry and could contain agents that are too harsh.
What about washing hands, swimming, or rain? Can gold filled jewelry get wet? GF isn’t overly sensitive to water in general, but both swimming and handwashing carry many of the same dangers as showering with gold jewelry on. If you forget to take your jewelry off once or twice, it isn’t a huge deal—just try not to make a habit of it. Dry the piece off completely as soon as possible.
Here’s an example fo a really cool looking gold filled ring that would be difficult to fully dry after washing your hands without the use of a hand dryer or hairdryer.
Will Gold Filled Jewelry Tarnish
Tarnish is a form of corrosion that causes portions of jewelry to turn green or black. Fortunately, gold filled jewelry is extremely unlikely to tarnish—it would take a very unusual set of circumstances. Direct exposure to harsh chemicals or heavy Sulfide fumes, for example, might cause some surface blackening. That’s not something that very many people will experience.
How to Keep Gold Filled Jewelry From Tarnishing
Remove your jewelry before using chemical agents. You might also want to leave your gold filled jewelry behind the next time you head to a Nail Salon. They’re known to have some pretty serious fumes. The sulfides that can lead to surface blackening have encountered at salons as well.
Be sure to follow the jewelry cleaning instructions that I’ll outline below. You’ll want to avoid harsher chemical-based products that could damage your gold.
Will Gold Filled Jewelry Fade?
The beautiful gold coloring of gold filled jewelry will not fade as time passes. In this regard, it looks and acts exactly like solid gold.
How to Clean Gold Filled Jewelry
Cleaning will help to protect and prolong the life of your jewelry—as long as it’s done properly. Improper cleaning can have the opposite kind of impact. This jewelry isn’t as delicate as pieces with standard gold plating, but it’s still important to clean very carefully. Scratches detract from the look and life of the item, so we want to avoid creating scratches as we clean our GF Jewelry.
It’s best to use a clean soft cloth, a microfiber cloth, or a simple cotton ball to gently wipe the gold as needed. In many cases, no liquid is even needed for a quick cleaning. If you want to use liquid, warm water and a few drops of mild dish soap, like Dawn, is all you need. No need to scrub or apply much pressure. To start, dip your cloth or cotton ball into the soapy water and then carefully wipe the jewelry down. Use lone up and down motions rather than a circular or oval pattern with your wiping.
When you’re done with washing, dip your cloth in clean water and again wipe the surface of the jewelry to rinse. Finish by dabbing with a soft towel until dry, you can also use a hairdryer on a ‘cool’ setting to dry hard-to-reach areas of your jewelry.
Can Gold Filled Jewelry be Replated?
It can be plated with gold—but the gold that was mechanically applied (bonded) previously can’t be removed and replaced. If a significant jewelry repair is made that requires some cutting or scarring of the ring’s surface, gold plating can restore the uniform appearance of the surface. Remember, that with electroplating, more time in the tank leads to a thicker coating. You can let your jeweler know how thick you want the coating to be, and they’ll let you know what your desired thickness will cost.
How Should Gold-Filled Jewelry be Stored?
When you’re not wearing your jewelry, there are some important precautions that you can take to help protect it. First off, keeping it in a jewelry box is a good idea. Jewelry boxes help you not to misplace the item—forgetting where you left it. They also have a soft lining that helps prevent scratching.
You need to be careful with storing multiple pieces of jewelry in the same space. You should ensure they’re separated from each other so they don’t touch. A diamond or sapphire, for example, from a neighboring ring could easily scratch gold if it came in direct contact with it.
For added protection, you can wrap jewelry items in layers of toilet paper, or place them in their own Ziploc bag. This can create an extra buffer between various pieces of jewelry before you store them.
Gold filled jewelry offers a wonderful opportunity for people to get gold on a tight budget. It offers most of the benefits of solid gold for a small fraction of the cost. Some people would never dream of buying anything but solid gold—and that’s alright! But I’ve heard from people that have owned gold filled jewelry for 15+ years that tell me it STILL looks like new and has the appearance of solid gold. They love their gold filled jewelry, and continue to buy more! It’s an avenue worth exploring for your next piece of gold jewelry!