A Guide to Gold Jewelry: Solid Gold vs Gold Filled vs Gold Plated

The shining beauty of gold jewelry attracts the eye of many jewelry wearers. Gold looks rich but you don’t always have to be rich to get the look you want. Not everything that looks like gold is pure gold or even the same quality of gold. This makes it more accessible price-wise for smaller budgets. Always look for a label or ask for the make of the gold, then follow this guide to know the differences between gold vs. gold plated, gold filled vs. gold plated, and gold vs. gold filled pieces.

What is Solid Gold?

Have you ever wondered why you can have multiple pieces of solid gold but they come in different karats? The purest form of real gold is considered 24k, or 24 karat, because no other metals are mixed in. It’s soft and the color is a brighter yellow than in lower numbered karats of gold. For jewelry, 24k is often too soft, so other metals are mixed in with the gold to make it stronger. The amount of pure gold in the mix determines its karat, such as 18k, 14k or 9k gold. The 18k gold designation measures approximately 75% gold, and smaller karat numbers indicate less gold. We call this alloy solid gold.

Solid gold can last for many years. Think of all the gold wedding rings that are passed down through generations because they’re high quality solid gold. They've been treasured and well maintained. Solid gold can be melted down for reshaping, resizing, or reuse to the owner’s liking. It looks good and feels good to know you have a high-quality piece of jewelry. That said, when comparing the materials, solid gold jewelry comes with the highest price by far of all the options listed.

What Does Gold Filled Mean?

Now that you understand what solid gold means, you might wonder about gold filled vs. solid gold. Gold filled pieces begin with a metal other than gold as the base. A layer of gold is bonded to the base metal using pressure and very high heat, so that the piece looks like solid gold. Gold filled jewelry looks goods as fashion jewelry but doesn’t have the value or long-lasting properties of solid gold. It doesn’t cost as much, either. When you consider the difference between gold filled and gold plated jewelry, gold filled pieces will last longer and wear better.

How is Gold Plated Different?

Like gold filled jewelry, gold plated pieces have a thin layer of gold over metal. It’s a very thin layer of gold, sometimes as little as .5 microns, that’s electrically charged onto another metal. It’s strictly used for costume jewelry and will have a limited life span. Over time, the gold layer can chip, peel or fade. Gold plated jewelry costs less than solid gold or gold filled jewelry and doesn’t hold any real monetary value beyond its price.

You may have heard of gold vermeil, wondering about gold vermeil vs. gold plated or gold vermeil vs gold filled items. When the base metal in a gold plated item is sterling silver, the industry calls it gold vermeil. The sterling silver makes the piece more hypoallergenic, and the layer of gold is typically thicker than with gold plated pieces. It can also be used to fortify gold plating to make a piece stronger. Otherwise, the properties are very similar to gold plating.

 Even though gold plating, including vermeil, isn’t valuable like solid gold, some sellers try to make it seem so by labelling their pieces as “14k Gold Plated.” This designation indicates that the very thin layer comes from solid gold yet the final product is decidedly not solid gold. Don't be fooled.

What Type of Gold Jewelry Should I Buy?

Now that we’ve explained about gold plated vs solid gold, gold filled vs vermeil, vermeil vs plated and so on, which choice should you make in your jewelry purchases? Generally, we might say, “It’s a matter of preference.” Here are some recommendations based on the properties of all three types of gold and gold coating.

 Choose solid gold if you want jewelry that:

- Looks great

- Has a high value that will hold

- Can be resized, reshaped or reused

- Can be used as a potential investment

- Is long lasting

- Impresses others as a financial status symbol because of its cost and value

- Maintains its appearance, with cleaning and care, for a sentimental piece or one that will be passed on to other generations

- You can afford

    Choose gold filled jewelry if you want jewelry that:

    - Looks good for a special occasion or to wear for a year or so.

    - Isn't needed as a social status symbol.

    - Isn't important as a valuable of piece.

    - Potentially lasts longer than gold plated because layer of gold is thicker.

    - Meets your more limited budget

    Choose gold plated jewelry if you want jewelry that:

    - Looks good for a special occasion or to wear for a year or so.

    - Isn't needed as a social status symbol.

    - Isn't important as a valuable of piece.

    - Is needed to be hypoallergenic, which means buying gold vermeil.

    - Meets your more limited budget

    The decision that’s right for you may not be right for someone else. Also, sometimes you want to have fun and buy something new, while other times you’re looking for a meaningful, special, lasting piece of jewelry. Start with your budget when deciding what to buy, then use the knowledge you’ve gained to decide on which route to take.

    Always check labels or ask about the metal contained in the jewelry, especially if you want solid gold and don’t want to get fooled by buying gold filled or gold plated jewelry. Cheap jewelry can also be another metal colored gold yet not contain any type of gold. An informed purchase is always the best kind, helping you to enjoy your jewelry to the fullest, no matter the quality.