What Does Gold-filled Mean? (Tarnishing, Skin Sensitivity & Worth)

You have undoubtedly come across phrases that primarily describe jewelry, such as solid gold, gold-plated, and gold-filled gold. It is not easy to notice the difference between them at first glance, but it is significant.

To avoid misunderstandings when buying jewelry and to be able to assess its value well, it is desirable to know how to recognize these gold types. For a start, let’s see what does gold filled mean precisely.

Definition

Solid gold

Solid gold is always in the first place in terms of purity and price. It is highly valued because it never loses its shine or darkens over time. However, it is not exactly the best choice for making jewelry, especially those worn every day, due to its softness and flexibility.

Therefore, jewelers always mix pure gold with other metals, resulting in much sturdier alloys that suit better for jewelry making. As this process reduces the karat and gold purity, jewelry made of these alloys is much more affordable. However, it retains most pure gold properties, including:

  • Luster
  • Color
  • Inability to darken

Gold-plated

Gold-plated
something borrowed

Gold plating is the process of coating more accessible metal with a thin layer of gold. That layer is applied to base metal like silver or copper with chemicals or electricity. Be aware that it is really thin, only from 1/1000 to 3/1000 inches.

The good side of gold-plated jewelry is that you can afford it even when your budget is limited. Plus, it creates the impression of luxury, and its price is very affordable.

The downside of gold plating is that the gold layer will fade and lose its luster over time. Therefore, you need to get your jewelry recoated after a while.

Gold-filled

Gold-filled
something borrowed

Gold-filled is a layered material. It includes a single or double gilded core made of silver or brass. Nowadays, its popularity grows throughout America, Asia, and Europe.

Jewelers find it in the form of wire or sheet metal plates and use it to manufacture jewelry. Most quality-designed gold-filled pieces don’t lag behind high-carat gold jewelry in their appearance.

In most cases, gold-filled jewelry can last from 10 to 30 years, even with everyday wearing. You can expect a layer of gold to wear out eventually, and a metal base will appear.

Keep in mind that the gold layer on gold-filled jewelry is 5 to 10 times thicker than the layer of gold in ordinary gold-plating pieces. It is also 15 to 25 times thicker than the layer obtained with gold electroplate.

Gold-filled jewelry needs to meet some legal provisions. The law stipulates that gold-filled jewelry contains a minimum of 5% or 1/20 of the weight of gold, unlike plated metals. Usually, this 5% is marked through karate on the material surface. Typically, they are marked 12KT and 14KT.

The most accurate marking is by karats with the symbol /20. Most products are marked as 12/20 or 14/20 gold-filled, possibly abbreviated 12/20 GF or 14/20 GF when necessary. However, you can find many other markings, like:

  • GF
  • 1/20 12K GF
  • 1/10 12K gold-filled (also 10K, 14K, and 18K)
  • 12KT GF (also 10KT, 14KT, and 18KT)
  • 20/12
  • Gold-filled
  • R 14K rolled-gold or 14K rolled-gold plate
  • RGP, 1/30 RGP, or 1/40 RGP, denoting rolled-gold plate
  • 1/4 14K shell, indicating that 1/4 of the metal weight is solid 14K gold
  • 1/5 18K shell, meaning that 1/5 of the metal weight  is solid 18K gold

You can also find a stamp Guaranteed 10 years or Guaranteed 20 years on watch cases, indicating warranty. It is a sign that the gold layer on that particular piece is thick enough to withstand 10 or 20 years of everyday use.

1/20 14K GF Sterling Silver mark means that the gold layer wraps around solid silver. It is typical for pieces from the 1940s and 1950s, but it often appears on new studio jewelry, as well.

Atypical markings

Sometimes, you can see the term rose gold-filled, meaning that jewelry is made of rose gold-filled instead of yellow gold. The only difference is in color, while the gold quantity is the same. You can also find the term gold fill instead of gold-filled, without differences in meaning.

The gold-filled jewelry color can vary because of different finishing processes. Most manufacturers adhere to the standard Hamilton color, but the final gold color can be yellow, yellowish, or darker shades. These variations occur when manufacturers want to adapt to the market and consumer desires.

Gold-filled vs. Rolled-gold Jewelry

Gold-filled and rolled-gold jewelry are made exactly the same way, except that gold-filled pieces contain more gold. Basically, the term rolled-gold only describes the different processes of making a particular piece.

The procedure includes rolling out a sheet of solid gold over a base metal and joining them together under high temperatures.

  • Gold-filled – To be considered golf-filled, jewelry needs to contain a minimum of 5% gold. However, antique gold-filled jewelry often has much more gold.
  • Rolled-gold – Nowadays, this term indicates that jewelry contains less than 5% gold. It is far more than gold-plated but not enough to be considered gold-filled. For example, you can find the stamp 1/40 14KRG, indicating that this particular piece contains a minimum of 2.5% gold.

Gold-filled vs. Gold-plated Jewelry

The most common plated process is galvanization. It is much more complex than the rolling-gold and gold-filled production, and implies bonding positively charged gold ions with negative ions from the base metal.

The gilding layer can be very thin so that it can be easily rubbed off. Due to the low content of gold in gold-plated jewelry, its price is much lower than gold-filled jewelry.

There are two methods to determine if a piece of jewelry is plated or filled, but you will need the help of a professional for this. The first method is an acid test that implies putting a few drops of acid over jewelry that dissolve the coating if your gold is plated.

The second method uses an electronic device that detects the thickness of the gold alloy. Professional jewelry manufacturers generally have this machine.

The only thing you can do is to check markers and stamps to verify if it is gold-plated or gold-filled jewelry. Be careful to avoid frauds. When trying to decide whether to buy gold-plated or gold-filled jewelry, you should consider the following factors:

Tarnishing

A thin gold layer on gold-plated jewelry wears out after a while, so it starts tarnishing quickly. More precisely, the base metal appears over the gilding. The recommendations are to clean it with a cotton ball when necessary and avoid scrubbing.

It is not common, but gold-filled jewelry can tarnish under specific circumstances. In that case, you should clean it with mild soap and a clean cotton cloth. Jewelry made of pure gold never tarnish.

Durability

Gold-filled jewelry is more resistant than gold-plated pieces, thanks to the thicker gold layer. Even though properly maintained and kept away from heat and water, gold-plated jewelry will change after only a few months or up to a year.

Gold-filled jewelry can last a lifetime if you take care of it properly. Interestingly, a gold-filled piece with a lower karat weight of up to 14K is more durable than those with higher gold content.

Skin sensitivity

When choosing between gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry, it is essential to pay attention to your skin’s sensitivity. If you are allergic to metals such as copper, silver, brass, or rhodium, gold-filled is a better option for you.

Gold-plated jewelry may cause allergic reactions on the skin, irritation, and oxidation because it can contain cheaper base materials. With gold-filled pieces, you don’t have to worry about allergic reactions.

Budget

When choosing between gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry, it is advisable to consider the budget you have planned to set aside for the purchase. Gold-plated jewelry pieces are more affordable, while gold-filled jewelry is better quality, so it will last longer and justify the higher price.

Gold-filled Jewelry Maintenance

Gold-filled Jewelry Maintenance

Taking care of gold-filled jewelry is not complicated. In most cases, water, mild soap, and a soft cloth are enough to clean it thoroughly. Avoid polishing unless necessary and pay particular attention to the remnants of lotions and perfumes, especially on necklaces and chains.

It is not necessary to take off gold-filled jewelry when taking a shower if you use mild soaps. If you are unsure about chemicals in soap, it is a better option to take off your jewelry to prevent ​a negative effect on gold.

Sleeping with jewelry won’t damage its surface, but rubbing the jewelry on sheets and your nightwear can create a problem after a while. That is why it can happen that your gold-filled jewelry doesn’t last as long as it can.

Summary

Gold-filled jewelry is suitable as a gift for an anniversary, prom, or birthday. It is not too expensive but is long-lasting. You can wear it when attending important events, but it is also suitable for everyday use. The best of all is that there will be no financial disaster if you lose it.

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