If you’ve seen a late-night commercial advertising gold-clad coins at a discounted price, you might be wondering, what is gold clad? They say fancy stuff like 18K fine Gold clad coins. The coins look just like gold, shiny and beautiful. But are gold-clad coins worth anything?
In the next few minutes, you will learn everything to do with gold-clad metals, how they make them, how to identify them, and their real value.
Let’s get started.
What Is Gold-Clad?
Gold clad is a fancy word for gold plated. It is an extremely thin layer of gold plated over a metal like copper, brass, silver, etc.
Facts About Gold
- A mass of pure gold has a metallic yellow color. But when you break it down or mix it with another metal, the color varies.
- Gold is soft and easy to stretch. You can beat pure gold into a thin sheet that’s 400 times thinner than your single hair.
- Pure gold doesn’t discolor or tarnish. It doesn’t react with single elements like oxygen or nitrogen.
- People decorate and eat food with edible gold leaf for glamour.
- To create jewelry or coins with gold, we mix it with a stronger metal like silver. This mixture is an alloy.
Most gold in the market is an alloy of gold and some other metal. It is marketed as solid gold.
As such, the standard way to measure gold is by referring to the alloy’s purity. That is, measuring the amount of gold in the alloy. Gold’s purity is measured in karats.
Gold is measured in troy ounces. But the purity is measured in Karats.
The karat measuring system divides the metal’s weight into 24 parts. The purest gold is 24K, while the lowest gold is 9K (though anything below 10K is considered non-commercial in the US).
A 24K solid gold means that 24 parts out of the total 24 parts of the metal’s weight are pure gold. The 24K bullion coins in the market are made of 99.9% or 999.9% pure gold. The 12K gold means the metal is 50% pure gold.
See more gold measurements in this chart.
|% of Gold Content||Karat System||Millesimal Fineness System|
Gold Clad Vs. Gold Filled Vs. Solid Gold.
Solid gold means that the metal is only made of gold alloy. No matter how much you scratch into the metal, you will only find the same alloy layer. The law demands that gold vendors stamp their solid gold with its purity level.
For example, a 22 karat pure gold bar will have a 22K and manufacturer’s name stamp.
On the other hand, gold-filled means a metal covered in a thick layer of gold. Beneath the gold layer is an inexpensive metal like brass or nickel. It’s the base metal.
For example, an 18K Gold-Filled necklace means that the necklace is covered in an 18K (90%) pure gold alloy. Gold-filled jewelry will have the label GF after the purity label. But only if it’s at least 1/20 part gold. E.g., 1/20 12K GF.
As for gold clad, it means that a base metal has been covered with an extremely thin layer of gold. Usually, it is less than 0.5micrometers (or microns).
Most gold-clad items have no hallmarks. There’s no legal requirement to mark the purity in gold-clad items. But some manufacturers place hallmarks like GP (Gold Plated), HGE (Heavy Gold Electroplate), or KGP.
How Much Gold Can You Extract From Gold Clad
Even though the gold-clad jewelry comes with an 18K GP label, the gold content is below 1%. It is not worth anything. Extracting the gold will cost you more than the value of the gold you get out of the process.
Gold-clad coins are not valuable to gold refiners or investors. But they are great for commemoration. You can buy a gold-clad coin at $1 or less.
How To Make Gold-Clad Items.
Jewelers coat their jewelry with gold in minutes through electroplating. Electroplating is coating a metal with a thin layer of another metal using an electric current.
The base metal is dipped in a gold bath (solution with dissolved gold) with an electric current. The base metal is usually copper, bronze, silver, or brass (copper and zinc alloy).
The electric current creates a negative charge on the base metal and a positive charge on the gold ions in the bath. The oppositely charged surfaces attract each other, creating a chemical bond between the two metals.
As gold ions collect on the base metal, a thin gold layer forms on the surface. A lot of preparation goes into the gold cladding process. See how he does it from scratch in this video.
Why Clad In Gold?
Why clad stainless steel in gold if the gold will not increase the coin’s value?
Gold cladding in jewelry and coins is for the aesthetic appeal more than anything. The gold cladding creates the gold appearance at very little added cost to the manufacturer.
Marketers emphasize gold-clad items only to hook you in. A gold-clad coin is worth as much as you’re willing to pay for it. But you won’t find anyone to buy it from you. A gold-clad coin is not an investment.
Here are the benefits and downsides to gold-clad items.
The Pros Of Gold Clad
- Appealing Yet Affordable – Gold cladding gives the same finish as solid gold at a fraction of the price of solid gold.
- Stronger Than Solid Gold – The more gold you have in a metal, the easier it is to bend it. The base metal in gold-clad jewelry maintains the jewelry’s shape.
The Cons Of Gold Clad
- Easily Wears Out – The shiny golden look only lasts months before the coating starts to fade. If you wear gold-clad jewelry every day, expect a little over a year’s lifespan before the base metal starts to show. Gold-clad jewelry is not suitable for everyday wear.
- Discoloring – Though pure gold does not discolor, the gold in a gold-clad metal is too little to make an impact. As the gold coating fades away, the base metal is exposed to air. When the base metal reacts with air, it starts discoloring. Soon enough, your jewelry turns to a different color.
- Skin Irritant After Wearing Out – Solid gold is hypoallergenic. Meaning, it will not irritate your skin even if you wore it every day. But the same cannot be said about gold-clad jewelry. After the gold coating wears away, it exposes the base metal, which could be brass. With or without an allergy, the base metal will irritate your skin after some time.
How To Identify Gold Cladding.
Unscrupulous vendors will try to pass off gold-clad pieces as solid gold, though it is illegal. Fortunately, there are several ways to test whether you have gold-clad or solid gold. Here are some tests you can do at home.
Inspect For A Hallmark Stamp
Expect a solid gold bar to have a stamp showing the purity and manufacturer’s name. E.g., it could have a 14K label plus the manufacturer’s name. Conversely, most gold-clad items have no markings. If they have a marking, it will be either GP, KGP or HGE
Where to look for the hallmark?
You might need a magnifying glass for this.In necklaces and bracelets, look for the markings on the clasp. For watches, look behind the watch, and for wedding bands, look on the inner side. If it has no marking, assume it’s gold clad.
Solid gold is non-magnetic. This means that it does not attract a magnet.
If you don’t have a magnet, get a piece from your local hardware. Hold the magnet close to your jewelry and observe the reaction.
If the magnet attracts the jewelry, it means that the metal in the jewelry is magnetic. If it’s magnetic, it’s gold-clad.
This test could discolor your jewelry permanently.
Place your jewelry or coin on a flat surface. Drop a few vinegar drops on your metal’s surface. If the metal discolors, it’s gold-clad. Solid gold would not discolor.
Gold Testing Solution (The Acid Test)
This test could discolor your jewelry permanently.
You can purchase a gold testing kit online or from your local jeweler. The kit will come with a gold testing solution (10K, 14K, 18K, or 22K) and a scratch stone.
The gold testing solution is nitric acid.
Solid gold is resistant to the acid, meaning it won’t react in any way with the acid. The acid will only react with the metal if it has a base metal.
This is how to test for gold using nitric acid.
(Wear gloves, safety goggles, and a mask when handling the acid).
Test 1 (Without A Scratch Stone)
- Place a drop of the solution on any part of your metal. When the acid reacts with the base metal, you will see bubbles and a color change (green, pink, or any other hue depending on the base metal). When you wipe off the acid, there will be a visible spot where the acid ate away the base metal.
- Sometimes gold-clad items will have a thick gold coating.
- If there’s no reaction, you can confirm your test results. File away a part of the gold surface to expose the inner layers. Then, place the acid drop on the exposed surface. If you exposed a base metal, you would see a reaction.
Test 2 (With Scratch Stone)
- Rub any part of your gold on the scratch stone. Rub just enough to leave a clear marking. Then place an acid drop on the marking.
- If the metal is solid gold, the markings will remain on the stone. But if it’s gold clad, the markings will quickly dissolve in the acid and disappear.
- You can confirm the results by adding aqua regia. Aqua regia is a combination of nitric acid with hydrochloric acid. The solution will dissolve the gold markings, proving that it is solid gold.
See how he tests his gold in this video
Gold clad means gold plating. A base metal like copper, brass, etc., is covered with a thin layer of gold through electroplating. The thin gold layer gives the metal an appealing golden look until it starts to fade.
A gold-clad metal is not gold. It is only worth the value of the base metal.
Should You Buy Gold-Clad? The Final Verdict.
If you are looking for short-term jewelry or an attractive commemorative coin, gold-clad is a good option. But if you are looking for long-term jewelry or investment, then only buy solid gold. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!