A lot of us buy or are attracted to gold-looking jewelry and accessories. Unless you have paid big money for it, most of these items are not made from real, solid gold but are instead gold plated.
So, you might be wondering what does gold plated mean? How about gold coated and gold-filled? All these terms have different meanings, and if you love your gold accessories, it helps to have a firm understanding of the vocabulary used in the world of jewelry.
Keep in mind that we refer to jewelry here because the term gold plated is mostly used in that industry. However, just about any item can be gold plated, including décor, picture frames, household items such as fixtures, and cutlery.
This article will explain what it means when an item is gold-plated and the difference between similar terms such as gold-coated and gold-filled. In the end, you will be able to tell the difference between solid gold and a gold-plated item.
What is Gold Plated?
A gold-plated item is covered with a thin layer of gold. The item, for example, a necklace, is not made from gold but rather a different metal or a gold alloy and is then covered with traces of gold. The thin layer of gold gives the piece of jewelry a shiny, golden appearance.
During the gold plating process, an electric current is used to positively charge the plating solution and negatively charge the item’s base metal. The solution’s positively charged ions are then attracted to the metal’s negative charge, which results in a thin layer of gold forming on the item.
The thickness of the layer of gold varies from one piece to another, depending on the manufacturer and brand. According to the US Federal Trade Commission, items with gold coatings at 0.5 microns are considered gold plated, while those at 2.5 microns are categorized as heavy gold plated.
Some items have very thin layers of gold at less than the standard 0.5 microns. Although some of these items are marketed as gold plated, the correct technical term is gold flashed or gold washed.
Gold Plated, Gold Filled, and Solid Gold: What’s The Difference?
Let’s look at the difference between these three commonly used terms.
A lot of people dream of owning a portion of gold. That’s understandable—gold is one of the most valuable precious metals, with spectacular economic value. However, when we talk about solid gold, we refer to real gold metal, whether it is in the form of an ingot, piece of jewelry, or accessory.
Despite its value and attractiveness, solid gold is not the best material for making items for everyday used. Pure gold is soft and easily malleable and changes shape easily, making it unsuitable for manufacturing daily use items. In fact, retail jewelry is hardly made from the purest form of gold.
Gold alloys come closest to real solid gold. A gold alloy is made from a mix of real gold and another base metal such as silver, brass, or copper, which are less prone to bending.
Gold-filled items contain at least 5% gold alloy and are seen as the next best thing to solid gold, especially for the manufacturing of commercial jewelry. These items are made by sandwiching a core metal, typically brass, between a top and bottom layer of gold alloy. The piece is then heated and rolled a few times to bind and flatten the metals.
If you are allergic to other metals, you can wear gold-filled accessories and jewelry safely. These pieces are not pure gold, but a gold-filled piece of jewelry will be significantly thicker than a gold-plated one. And, unlike pure gold, you can wear gold-filled accessories every day without worrying about folding and malleability issues.
Gold plated items contain a base metal covered in a thin layer of gold. Gold-filled pieces contain 100 times more gold alloy than gold-plated ones. Compared to solid gold and gold-filled items, gold-plated accessories are more prone to tarnishing because of how thin the layer of gold on these items is.
When it comes to economic value, gold-plated items are more affordable and accessible than gold-filled and, of course, pure solid gold. For this reason, most retail fashion jewelry is gold plated.
Is Gold Plated Fake?
There is a negative connotation around the term gold-plated, but it need not be this way. There are different varieties of gold-plated items, some are plated with a thicker layer of gold than others, but all are categorized as plated.
So, is gold plated fake? The answer is yes and no. Gold plated items are coated with a layer of real gold, and in some items, this layer can be quite thick.
However, the core metal in a gold-plated piece can be a gold alloy. But, most of the time, it is a metal other than gold. This is why gold-plated is sometimes referred to as fake gold. Although the outer layer is gold, the core is not.
A lot of the jewelry that regular people buy is gold-plated. These pieces are pocket-friendly without sacrificing the aesthetic appeal that makes gold so attractive and highly sought-after. If you love gold jewelry and accessories but don’t want to break the bank buying real gold or gold-filled, gold-plated is still a perfect choice.
Even though gold plated contains some amount of gold, the item is not worth much. This is true even for items that are plated with a thicker layer of this precious metal. So, if you wonder how much your gold-plated jewelry is worth, the answer is: very little and likely less than what you purchased it for.
Pros and Cons of Gold Plated
Now that you know what gold plated is let us look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of this technique.
Advantages of gold plated jewelry
- Gold-plated items have the appearance and appeal of gold. They are the perfect alternative to the more expensive pure gold or gold-filled jewelry
- Versatile: Gold-plated items lend themselves well to different designs and are quite fashionable while being inexpensive.
- Hardy: Gold-plated jewelry stands up well to abuse compared to pure gold, which is soft and whose shape is easily changed.
Disadvantages of gold plated jewelry
- Gold plated items are made using base materials such as silver, copper, and tin. Although these core metals are sturdy and don’t bend easily, they eventually tarnish and show through the thin layer of gold. Items such as watches, earrings, and rings are worn regularly and are more prone to tarnishing. On the upside, you can have your item re-plated to restore its luster and shine.
- The thin layer of gold is easy to scratch. Even the slightest abrasion can spell the start of the tarnishing process, and your once lustrous jewelry will begin to lose its shine in what started as a small scratch.
- Compared to solid gold and gold-filled items, plated jewelry has little to no economic value. This is because the traces of gold on these jewelry types are so minimal and are only useful for decorative purposes.
How To Check If Gold Is Real Or Plated
There are a couple of ways to tell if an item is gold plated. Remember, nothing is wrong with electroplated pieces; even though they don’t have a lot of economic value, these items can be beautiful and hold sentimental value.
Here’s how to check:
- Markings: Gold-plated jewelry is often stamped with initials such as GP (gold plated), GEP (gold electroplated), HGP (heavy gold plated), or RGP (rolled gold plated). Keep in mind that just because a piece doesn’t have these initials doesn’t mean that it is solid gold; it could be that the piece is plated but not stamped.
- Acid test: The acid test is best done by a professional jeweler. The jeweler will apply some acid to a sample of your jewelry and check for a color change. Depending on the color change, they’d be able to tell the amount of solid gold in a piece and determine if the jewelry is plated or solid.
- Color: Some gold-plated jewelry is coated with 24-karat gold, giving the jewelry a deep yellow color that looks like pure gold. However, if the piece is relatively cheaper than pure gold, it probably is gold-plated and not solid gold.
- Magnet test: When used with other tests, the magnet test can also be useful. Gold is not magnetic, so if the piece of jewelry is attracted to a magnet, it means that it contains some other metal other than or in addition to gold.
Identifying Gold Plated Pieces Requires Basic Technique
Anything that is gold-plated often gets a bad rap for not being the real deal. But, many gold electroplated items are of good quality and easy on the pocket.
That said, it helps to know what gold plated means to ensure that you are making the right decision and getting value for your money when shopping for jewelry.
We hope this guide helped to demystify some often confusing terms in the world of metallurgy and jewelry. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!