Gold Plated and Gold Filled jewelry are two similar, but different things. They are similar in that neither are solid gold, consiting more of a shell of gold surrounding some other metal, in many cases, silver or brass, but they vary in the amount of gold used to create the appearance of “real gold”. Gold plated refers to a very thin layer of gold deposited on a base metal and gold filled refers to a much thicker layer of gold over a base metal.
What is Gold Plated Jewelry?
When we talk about gold plated jewelry, we are referring to base metal jewelry with a very thin layer of gold electro-chemically bonded to the surface. Inexpensive costume jewelry can be made of nearly any metal, copper, brass, tin, or even some very cheap metal alloys using lead or pewter, and then electo-plated with gold. The plating can be made from a wide variety of gold types as well. I have used 14kt, 18kt and even 24kt yellow gold plating along with rose gold and rhodium.
The jewelry is placed in to a chemical bath and then charged with electricty to bond the gold to the jewelry. This is the same process used when rhodium plating white gold. The gold layer is approximately .175 to 2.5 microns thick, a human hair is about 75 microns, and easily wears off over time.
While this thinness of the plating is a disadvantage when it comes to wear, it can also be easily replaced by almost any jeweler if you are willing to spend a few dollars to have your jewlery replated. Unfortunately, because so little gold is used, it has no value at all when trying to sell your old jewelry.
What is Gold Filled Jewlery?
Gold Filled Jewelry never seemed to be named very well to me. It implies that the jewelry is “filled” with gold when the opposite is true. When we talk about gold filled jewelry we are talking about a much thicker layer of gold, a minimum of 5% of the weight of the item, than plated gold. Unlike plated gold, gold filled jewlery is created using a mechanical process. Under high pressure and heat a think layer of gold is used to encase a base metal. Like plated jewelry, that base metal can be nearly anything including, brass, copper and tin.
Gold filled jewelry has 2 big advantages over gold plated jewelry.
First, gold filled jewelry is much more durable than plated jewelery. Since the layer of gold is significantly thicker, it tends to wear more like solid gold jewelry and does not wear off exposing the base metal below.
Second, gold filled jewlery is marked GF to show that it is Gold Filled. Solid gold jewelry may be marked 14kt or 14k while gold filled jewelry may be marked 14K GF to indicate that 14 karate gold was used to create the gold shell around the base metal. You may also see markings such as 12K GF for 12 karat gold filled, or similar markings. The big thing to remember is that GF means gold filled.
Can I Recycle or Sell My Gold Filled Jewelry?
Yes, you can! Unlike plated jewelry, there is enough gold in a gold filled piece of jewelry that it can be recycled or sold for the gold in it. There is very little gold though, so don’t expect to put your kids through college, or even get a Venti at Starbucks.
Cleaning Gold Plated and Gold Filled Jewelry
Gold plated jewelry should be cleaned with great care. Because the layer of gold is incredibly thin you need to be aware of the potential to remove the plating with you clean it. You can gently scrub gold plated jewelry with a bakeing soda solition with a soft cloth. I would not use a tooth brush unless it is very old and been used so much that it has become incredibly soft. Hard bristles on a new toothe brush can actually damage the plating if you brush too hard.
Gold filled jewelry is much more durable due to the thickness of the gold. It can be cleaned just like solid gold jewelry with care given to any stones that may be set in it and care to how they are set. I have seen that many gold filled items are actualy set with glue so be careful when soaking your gold filled jewelry so that you don’t loosen the glue and cause the gems to fall out.