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What is Gold-Filled?

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Gold-filled jewelry, or rolled gold, is a popular and affordable jewelry option. It was created in the 19th century by the English. It allowed jewelry designers to create large pieces of jewelry without spending a fortune making it with solid gold. The quality was much better than gold-plated as well. Gold-filled jewelry was also popular during the 20s and 30s. The world was in economic upheaval with the Great Depression and World War, so gold-filled jewelry became a popular choice for those who couldn't afford solid gold jewelry.

Today, it is particularly popular with individuals who suffer from allergies or sensitive skin and have to be cautious about purchasing jewelry. Gold-filled jewelry is a great alternative to solid gold without turn your skin green.

What is 14K gold-filled jewelry?

In the USA, "gold-filled" jewelry refers to jewelry that is 5% or 1/20 pure gold by weight. The gold aspect of the jewelry is out the outer portion of the jewelry piece that has a brass base metal. The brass is covered in layers of 14k gold that is pressure bonded to the brass. The brass adds to the durability of the jewelry, reduces the cost of the overall piece, but has the quality of solid 14k gold jewelry. Gold-filled jewelry has not always been made with a brass core, however. In the past, the gold alloy was also bonded to copper or sterling silver.

Within this area of jewelry-making, is single-clad and double-clad. Single-clad gold filled is when the gold layer is placed in a single layer on one side. Double clad is when the gold layer is split and bonded on both sides of the material. Either way, it is important to remember that the gold-filled material is a complete composite, as the raw material. The designer doesn't do the bonding of the pure gold to the base metal.

The karat number that the jewelry is described by is how much gold alloy is on the surface of the inner core. The gold is typically 12k or 14k gold. The jewelry will be labeled with both the karat number and a "/" symbol along with the weight of the gold. For example, 14/20 for 14 karat gold filled or 12/20 for 12 karat gold filled. A quality stamp with the karat number will be abbreviated as 14/20 GF or 12/20 GF.

What's the difference between "gold-filled" and "gold fill"?

Nothing, actually. Gold-filled and gold fill is the same thing. Both phrases are often used interchangeably. Both names, however, do cause some misconception. The jewelry is not actually filled with gold. As mentioned above, it is simply gold surrounding the base metal.

What about white gold or rose gold-filled?

There are various colors of gold that can be used to create gold-filled jewelry aside from yellow gold. The only difference is the color and not the quality and durability of the jewelry piece. The color of the gold is created by combining metals to pure 24k gold to change the color.

Isn't gold-filled just gold-plated?

No, with gold-filled, you get jewelry with much more gold and much more durability. In short, gold-filled creates a higher-quality piece of jewelry. While the gold is bonded to a base metal, the thickness of the gold is strictly regulated, but gold-plating is not. A gold-plated piece of jewelry will have a much thinner layer of gold on the base material. So the difference between gold-filled and gold-plated is substantially less gold in plated jewelry.

There are two types of gold-plated jewelry - heavy and simply gold-plated. While the heavy gold-plating may last, the top layer will eventually wear away. Filled gold has a thick layer of gold creating a higher quality product.

Remember, the important difference between plated gold and gold-filled is the weight. Gold-filled jewelry must contain 5% gold. While gold plated is more like a gold coating. Gold-plated is more like costume jewelry, eventually, the gold appearance will wear off, exposing the brass.

How long does gold-filled jewelry last?

Gold-filled pieces can last a lifetime, just like their solid gold counterparts. There are gold-filled jewelry pieces from the Victorian era that still exist. The longevity of the pieces will depend on the wear and tear they receive as well as the care they are given.

Will gold-filled items tarnish?

A gold fill piece does not typically tarnish, but it can happen. The circumstances need to be quite extreme for it to tarnish, such as extreme sulfide exposure. To keep your gold-filled pieces clean, simply use a soft cloth and mild soapy water to clean them.

A few situations that have caused gold-filled materials to tarnish or blacken include foreign transit through highly polluted locations, gold-filled items stored in a nail salon with high levels of chemicals in the air, and in houses or buildings that have burned and filled with smoke. Otherwise, it takes a lot for it to tarnish than other metals, such as plated jewelry gold or sterling silver.

What about allergies?

We started out this article talking about how gold-filled pieces are popular with those who have allergies or sensitive skin and here's why. Individuals that are very sensitive to jewelry will often have to wear solid gold alloys or they risk irritation or skin discoloration.

Whether or not a person has a reaction to gold alloys will also have a reaction to gold-filled jewelry and it all has to do with body chemistry. Certain metals cause some people to have a rash or their skin will turn black or green.

If you don't have a reaction to solid gold, then you will likely not have a reaction to gold-filled either. The layer of gold on gold-filled pieces is very thick, unlike gold-plated items, which will wear away and may cause allergy issues. If you don't have an issue with pure gold alloy, then you shouldn't have an issue with gold-filled material.

Will gold-fill flake off?

Gold-filled material will not flake off. This is because the rolled gold plate is mechanically bonded with pressure and heat. The jewelry is designed with the resiliency of solid gold jewelry. Flaking is more common with gold-plated jewelry that has only a very thin gold layer and not much gold content. The only way your jewelry would flake is if the piece took a heavy blow that could damage it to extent that it reaches the base metal and causes the gold to chip off. However, if that were to happen, the entire piece would likely be ruined. Generally speaking, gold-filled components are very sturdy and durable.

Will gold-filled jewelry rust?

No, it is not possible for solid gold jewelry to rust, so gold-filled jewelry will not either. The base metal is completely enclosed with a thick gold overlay, so gold-filled items will not rust just like real gold.

On the other hand, plated jewelry may rust with wear that causes the gold plate to flake, exposing the solid layer of metal beneath it. Remember, plated jewelry gold pieces have less gold than gold-filled jewelry.

Will gold fill items withstand daily wear?

Yes, a gold-filled item will withstand daily wear, but proper care must be taken for the longevity of the jewelry. For example, you can sleep in 14k gold fill and it won't damage the surface of the gold layer, but you may have other issues. For example, you wouldn't want to sleep in a chain or bracelet that could snag on your sheets. The jewelry will also develop residue from skin oils that should be wiped clean on a regular basis with a soft cloth.

Just like you don't want to sleep in your jewelry, you shouldn't necessarily shower in it either. Mild soap and water will help keep your gold jewelry clean, but if you have certain chemicals in your shampoo or soap, it may cause a negative reaction. Though in rare instances will the jewelry tarnish, it's important to play it better safe than sorry.

Are there any downsides to gold-filled jewelry?

There are a couple of downsides to gold-filled jewelry, but it doesn't have to do with gifting it or wearing it. One downside is that not all jewelry pieces will work as gold-filled. Some items need to be cast or have intricate designs. This can be difficult to do with gold-filled jewelry. 

Gold-filled jewelry (or gold-plated jewelry) can't be cast. This means it can't be melted down into liquid and poured into a mold. For example, if you had a bracelet that was gold-filled on top of sterling silver, you wouldn't be able to take it to a jewelry designer and have a new piece created from it. This is because the gold layer is only a layer on top of the sterling silver. Melting it down would also melt down the silver, mixing it with the gold layer as well.

This means that gold-filled jewelry is best suited for pieces with a smooth surface or, at a minimum, not highly detailed.  This way the rolled gold plate is able to cover a larger surface area that can withstand the massive amounts of pressure and heat required. This also means that it is difficult to make items, such as charms, out of gold-filled material.

Another downside is that if the piece becomes scratched, it is not possible to remove those scratches without also removing the 14k gold. The only way to restore the shine and remove the scratches is to have it filled and gold plated.

A gold-filled piece cannot be repaired either. This is because soldering melts all the gold at the soldering point. This will burn off the gold-fill content and expose the brass beneath.

Can the gold jewelry be engraved?

Engraving is popular when gifting jewelry. Unfortunately, gold-filled jewelry should not be engraved. The danger lies in removing the gold and potentially exposing the brass beneath. Exposing the other metal will cause gold-filled tarnish.

Is gold-filled jewelry as good as solid gold?

Pure gold is 24 karat but it is soft and malleable. Gold alloys were created to give the gold some strength but without losing the preciousness and color of the metal. While there is nothing wrong with solid gold jewelry, gold-filled jewelry made with 10k or 14k gold makes the jewelry more durable and less susceptible to wear. Looking at a piece of gold fill jewelry, you will never know what the gold content is without looking at the stamp due to the thick layer of gold on top of the other metals. Either way, gold-filled jewelry is much better than gold-plated jewelry.