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What is Gold-Filled Jewelry? What to know from the experts.

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Gold jewelry on a white background

Gold jewelry is a powerful accessory. It can elevate any outfit. It can help express your style. It might even hold sentimental value. Solid gold jewelry is beautiful and timeless, but the high ticket price can put a wedge between you, your wallet and that solid gold bracelet or necklace you’ve been eyeing up for months. And while gold-plated jewelry is a great, cost-effective option to solid gold, it often has the reputation of lacking longevity—and value. Enter gold-filled jewelry—a beautiful and practical jewelry option that provides the best of both worlds.

Gold-filled jewelry has been around for hundreds of years. The rise in demand for commodities during the Industrial Revolution, coupled with the scarcity of gold at the time, helped gold-filled jewelry gain prevalence in the early 1800s. Yet even today there tends to be some misunderstanding about what gold-filled jewelry is and what it isn’t. Let’s explore the definition of gold-filled jewelry, examine its pros and cons and discover its unique and identifying characteristics to help you spot gold-filled jewelry out in jewelry stores and online.

 

The Basics of Gold-Filled Jewelry

 

What Process is Used to Make Gold-Filled Jewelry?

Unlike the name suggests, gold-filled jewelry is not filled with gold at all. Gold-filled products are made using a process in which a sheet of karat gold is pressed over and bonded to a base metal, such as brass or nickel.

The base metal and gold sheet of desired karat alloy and thickness are placed together in a gas-fired furnace. The base metal and gold sheet are rapidly heated to about 900 degrees Celsius (just over 1600 degrees Fahrenheit, about four times hotter than what you cook lasagna at!). The jewelry is removed and immediately pressed in a hydraulic press. This heat and pressure forces the atoms on the outer surface of each metal to collide and combine with each other, forming a bond. This is why gold-filled jewelry is also referred to as “rolled gold” or “gold bonded” jewelry.

 

Is it “Real” Gold?

It’s technically “real” gold. Despite not being made 100% of solid gold, gold-filled jewelry contains at least 5% of its weight in real gold. But it’s important to note that real gold is not pure gold. While 24-karat gold is made of 99% pure gold, your gold-filled jewelry is an alloy of real gold and other metals. It is similar, but not the same thing as vermeil jewelry. Gold-filled and vermeil jewelry are easily confused, but there are a few key differences:

  • The same gold plating technique is used; however, the base material must be sterling silver for vermeil jewelry.
  • The gold plating layered onto the sterling silver must be a minimum of 10k gold (or any combination of 14k and 24k gold).
  • The gold plating must be at least 2.5 microns thick.  

 

What Requirements Must Gold-Filled Jewelry Meet?

Technically speaking, not all jewelry made by bonding gold with metal is considered “gold-filled”. To receive this qualification, a piece of jewelry must have a gold content of at least 1/20th (5%) of the total weight of the item. Therefore, the gold sheets used to plate gold-filled jewelry are 50 to 100,000 times thicker than those used for other gold-plated jewelry. This thickness helps make gold-filled jewelry more durable than gold-plated jewelry, and many other kinds of jewelry as well.

 

How to Identify Gold-Filled Jewelry on Your Own

Since gold-filled jewelry does a great job of imitating solid gold jewelry, it’s important to be able to distinguish the differences. This will help you ensure the price you’re paying matches the metal type and quality of the piece you’re purchasing. Gold-filled pieces may contain specific marks that distinguish them from solid gold or other gold-plated items. These marks may include “GF,” “gold-filled”, “1/20” or a fraction denoting the ratio of gold to the base metal.

The origins of hallmarking gold jewelry can be traced back to 13th century England when King Edward I introduced a statute where it was decreed that no piece of gold would be offered for public sale without it first being tested and marked with the symbol of a leopard’s head. In the U.S., it is required by the National Gold and Silver Marking Act of 1906, that gold jewelry be marked with a karat stamp denoting its purity. Learn more about gold jewelry markings and stamps here.

 

Are There Different Types of Gold-Filled Jewelry?

As you can probably tell by this point, not all gold-filled jewelry is created the same. While three pieces of gold-filled jewelry may look the exact same, the process and technique by which the gold was applied to the jewelry impacts the finished product, including the gold layer’s thickness and ultimately the durability and longevity of the piece. Here are three types of gold-filled jewelry:

  • Single clad: Gold is layered only on one side of the base metal; the whole 5% of the gold material is on one side.
  • Double clad: Splits the gold alloy and layers it on both sides of the base metal; 2.5% on each side, resulting in a thinner layer throughout.
  • Wire clad: The 5% gold alloy content is layered entirely around the base metal.
Single, double, and wire clad graphic

 

The Pros and Cons of Gold-Filled Jewelry

  1. Affordable: Its appealing price point is a reason many people are drawn to gold-filled jewelry. While solid gold options are superior in their durability and resale potential, they can come with a hefty price tag. In fact, you can expect prices for solid gold jewelry to be roughly four to seven times higher than comparable gold-filled pieces. However, affordable does not always mean cheaply made or of poor quality. Well-made gold-filled pieces can easily be mistaken for solid gold. 
  2. Tarnish-resistant: If you love your thin, lightweight, gold-plated jewelry but want something more durable, gold-filled is the alternative you’ve been looking for. Since 5% of a gold-filled piece of jewelry’s overall weight must come from real gold, the gold layer used is generally pretty thick. This thick plating means gold-filled jewelry is durable and resistant to the fading and tarnishing that can plague other types of gold-plated jewelry. 
  3. Easy to clean: Despite its durability, gold-filled jewelry is not indestructible. It’s best to still handle this type of jewelry with care and clean using gentle cleaning methods, such as warm water and a few drops of dish soap, followed by a light scrub with a soft-bristled brush. You may still want to avoid or reduce exposure to harsher elements, such as chlorine or intense cleaning products also.

You are now well on your way to understanding what gold-filled jewelry is (and what temperature not to cook your lasagna at!). Having more knowledge about how gold-filled jewelry is made and how it differs from other common types of gold jewelry can help you feel more comfortable shopping for jewelry in the future. And when purchasing gold jewelry, you’ll want to protect your investment by insuring it, so be sure to check your rate today.

 

 

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About Jewelers Mutual Group

Jewelers Mutual was founded in 1913 by a group of Wisconsin jewelers to meet their unique insurance needs. Later, consumers began putting their trust in Jewelers Mutual to protect their jewelry and the special memories each piece holds. Today, Jewelers Mutual continues to support and move the industry forward by listening to jewelers and consumers and offering products and services to meet their evolving needs. Beyond insurance, Jewelers Mutual’s powerful suite of innovative solutions and digital technology offerings help jewelers strengthen and grow their businesses, mitigate risk, and bring them closer to their customers. The Group insurers’ strong financial position is reflected in their 37 consecutive “A+ Superior” ratings from AM Best Company, as of November 2023. Policyholders of the Group insurers are members of Jewelers Mutual Holding Company. Jewelers Mutual is headquartered in Neenah, Wisconsin, with other Group offices in Dallas, Texas and Miami, Florida. To learn more, visit JewelersMutual.com.