Gold has been a symbol of wealth and luxury throughout human history. The ubiquitous precious metal can be found on every populated continent of the earth, making it a universal symbol of prestige. Both extremely flexible and durable, gold can be melted down and re-forged into coins, crowns, armor, weapons, and of course, jewelry.
Wearing gold jewelry can be dated back to 4000 BC. Ancient civilizations like the Mesopotamians and Egyptians valued gold because it was a durable metal that didn’t rust or tarnish. They adorned throne rooms and dressed kings and queens in ornately crafted gold jewelry because its ability to maintain shine symbolized long-lasting permanence.
It’s no wonder gold is still just as much of a statement of refinery today as it was back then. We know all that glitters isn’t gold, but even when it comes to real gold, not all jewelry is made equally. Often, jewelry wearers don’t know the difference between gold filled vs. gold plated or gold plated vs. solid gold. In this guide, we’ll explain the biggest differences between solid gold, gold filled, gold plated, and Vermeil jewelry, so you can know what to look for when buying and caring for your gold jewelry.
Understanding Karat Measurements
In addition to understanding the difference between gold filled vs. gold plated jewelry, it’s also important to know what different karats of gold represent. Karats measure the purity of a piece of gold, since pure gold is often too delicate for everyday wear. Gold jewelry is usually mixed with other metals like silver, copper, nickel, or zinc to add durability and strength. The higher the karat, the higher percentage of gold that metal contains. The most common karat measurements found in jewelry are 9k, 10k, 14k, and 18k.
What is Solid Gold Jewelry?
Solid gold jewelry, like its name implies, is jewelry made entirely of gold, inside and out. While solid gold is often referred to as “real gold,” it can still be an alloy, or a mixture of other metals. In fact, 100% pure 24k gold is really too soft to be practically used for jewelry, so even solid gold is likely to contain varying percentages of other metals like copper or silver.
Solid gold is the most long-lasting jewelry type and can even be melted down and re-forged into different styles. With the greatest longevity and tarnish-resistance, solid gold definitely has the highest value and quality.
What is Gold Filled Jewelry?
Yes, gold filled jewelry still contains real gold. Gold filled jewelry consists of 2-3 thick layers of solid gold bonded to a core of some other base metal, typically jeweler’s brass or silver.
While not as high quality nor as expensive as solid gold, gold filled jewelry is still better quality than gold plated or gold vermeil. While the gold does wear away over time, with proper care gold filled jewelry can last for a while.
Gold filled jewelry is tarnish resistant and can withstand moisture, so you can shower while wearing gold filled jewelry. It is recommended, however, to avoid exposing any jewelry to pools, hot tubs, or salt water.
What is Gold Plated Jewelry?
The least expensive option, gold plated jewelry is created through a process called electroplating. Electroplating uses an electrical current to coat an object in a thin layer of metal. A thin layer of gold covers the base of the jewelry, typically made of either copper or brass. Gold plated jewelry is more likely to wear away with age and will need to be replated to maintain its gold appearance. Because the actual gold part of the jewelry only accounts for about 1% of the entire metal composition, gold plated jewelry doesn’t really have any gold value.
What is Gold Vermeil Jewelry?
Gold vermeil is a type of plated gold with a base of sterling silver and a thin coat of gold surrounding it. Gold vermeil is similar to gold plated jewelry, except the jewelry must contain a sterling silver base in order for it to be vermeil. Vermeil is generally better quality than gold plated jewelry because even when the gold layer chips away, you’re still left with a sterling silver base, rather than a copper or brass base. There are certain industry standards, like quality of silver and thickness of gold plating, that must be met for a piece to be considered gold vermeil.
Comparing Different Gold Types
Solid Gold vs. Gold Plated
Solid gold jewelry lasts much longer than gold plated jewelry and is sold at much higher price points. Solid gold jewelry is also a better choice for people allergic to different metals, especially when buying earrings. When the gold plating inevitably wears away, you’re left with a metal that can potentially irritate your skin. Solid gold’s value really comes down to its longevity because a single piece of solid gold jewelry could last you a lifetime.
Gold Filled vs. Gold Plated
The process of making gold filled vs. gold plated jewelry differs. Gold filled is mechanically bonded to the base metal, rather than plating with an electric current. Gold filled jewelry can also contain up to 100% more gold than gold plated jewelry, since the layer of gold in plated jewelry is so thin, which is why you’ll find the price of gold filled jewelry is higher than gold plated.
We offer lots of our pieces, like our Perfect Hoops, with both gold plated and filled options. Both styles contain a center of recycled brass.
Gold Plated vs. Gold Vermeil
In general, gold plated jewelry has a lower quality and thinner layer of gold than gold vermeil. Vermeil has certain quality requirements it must meet, while gold plating does not. Both gold plating and gold vermeil are made through the same electroplating process.
So there you have it! It’s important to understand what to look for when shopping for gold jewelry, because the labels can often be confusing. Not all gold is made equally, so knowing distinctions like gold filled vs. gold plated will help you make the right choice when shopping for a timeless and luxurious staple like gold jewelry. MACHETE’s selection of fine jewelry is made from recycled brass and ethically sourced gold and silver, with plenty of style variations to help you find something you’ll love.