Last updated on April 10, 2023
Gold-filled jewellery is a budget-friendly alternative to solid gold pieces and, in most cases, has the same appearance and may last for decades. Although the gold layer may eventually wear off, exposing the core metal, gold-filling is a much better option than gold plating.
What Is Gold-Filled Jewellery?
The history of gold-filled jewellery traces back to early 19th century England, where this technique was patented to create semi-precious and better-quality custom jewellery during the Victorian Era.
Gold-filled jewellery, also referred to as rolled gold plate or gold overlay, is jewellery composed of a solid gold layer of not less than 10 karat fineness and constitutes at least 1/20th of the item’s total metal weight, mechanically bonded to a core metal such as brass, copper or sterling silver.
The terms “gold overlay” and “rolled gold plate” may also be used in reference to the jewellery that is composed of less than 1/20th of solid gold in case the portion of the gold’s weight is accurately disclosed by a fraction, for example, 1/40th 12k rolled gold plate or 1/40th 12k RGP. In comparison, the term “gold-filled” may only be used in reference to jewellery that has a plating of solid gold of at least 5% of the item’s total metal weight.
The abbreviation used to stamp modern gold filled jewellery is GF standing for gold-filled. The most common stamps found today are 1/20 12k GF and 1/20 14k GF. Items can also be labelled 12/20 GF and 14/20 GF, which means the jewellery is gold filled with 12k or 14k gold. To indicate rolled gold plate jewellery, jewellers use RGP or R.G.P.
How Is Gold-Filled Jewellery Made?
Unlike the gold plating process, the gold filling is made mechanically. First, the base metal is cleaned to remove any accumulated dirt. Then a layer of solid gold is mechanically bonded to the core metal using heat and pressure. The bong between the gold layer and the base metal is permanent, meaning the gold will not peel off or flake.
There are three different ways to layer gold alloy – single clad, double clad and wire clad. Single clad has the whole 5% of gold layered on one side of the core metal. Double clad is produced by layering 2.5% of gold on each side of the base metal, making the total content 5% gold. The wire clad method layers 5% gold alloy around the entire base.
It is worth mentioning that there is a limitation in the type of jewellery that can be manufactured in gold-filled metal. Pieces are made from a sheet, tube or wire that retains separate layers of base metal and gold, meaning if the jewellery requires casting, which is melting by definition, the layers will melt into a new alloy.
Gold-Filled Jewellery vs Gold-Plated Jewellery
Although the terms “gold-filled” and “gold-plated” are sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably, they refer to different types of jewellery.
Gold-filled jewellery contains at least 5% solid gold of the item’s total metal weight, while the content of the gold layer on gold-plated jewellery is 0.05% which is 100 times less than in gold-filled jewellery. It means the gold overlay on plated jewellery wears off much more easily, and even a small scratch on it will expose the base metal.
There is also a difference in their manufacturing processes. Gold-filled jewellery is created by mechanical bonding using heat and pressure, while gold plated jewellery is made by applying an electrical current, where the base metal is negatively charged, and the solution containing gold ions is positively charged. The attraction between positive and negative charges forms a thin layer of gold on top of the core metal.
The thickness of the gold layer also affects the jewellery’s chance of tarnishing. Both gold-filled and gold-plated jewellery may tarnish, but since the gold overlay on filled items is thicker it takes longer for that to happen. On the contrary, due to the thin layer of gold on plated items, they quickly tarnish once the gold wears off.
Gold-Filled Jewellery Care and Cleaning
Gold-filled jewellery is quite durable; however, you need to take proper care of your item to extend its life and keep it clean.
To clean your gold-filled item, mix a few drops of dishwashing liquid with some warm water. Soak the piece for a couple of minutes in the soapy solution and gently wash it with your fingers or a soft toothbrush. Carefully buff the item with a dry microfibre cloth and let it dry off. After cleaning, store the gold-filled piece separately to keep it from scratching against other types of jewellery you have.
It is recommended to take off your items when swimming, showering or applying makeup. Always remove your gold-filled jewellery when you come into contact with something hard. This will help you avoid scratching and damaging it.
Featured image: Jana Kukebal / Canva