Jewellery Quality Guide - Gold, gold plated, gold filled what's the difference?

Just what is the difference between all the jewelry available online and at the holiday markets this year?  Gold plated and gold filled jewellery seem to be everywhere and there is such a vast array of pricing and options it can be really overwhelming. So just what is the difference? 

For the average shopper it can be hard to tell the difference between products and why some are worth more than others. One seller has gold coloured pieces for $30 and the next website has a very similar piece for $300. So many of my customers ask me how to tell what is more valuable and what the difference is between the options. So I thought I would give a quick and easy explanation of solid gold, gold filled and gold plated jewellery and why you should be able to tell the difference, not just for your pocket book but for your health!

Gold filled, plated versus solid gold jewelry

Gold-plating has a much lower amount of gold compared to gold-filled. During the process, a base metal is coated with a thin layer of gold or gold coloured metal. These base metals can include sterling silver, ( a lot of the time called 'Vermeil') but are usually brass or some version of what I like to call 'mystery metal.' Essentially an unidentified metal that has been mixed in a factory to keep costs low. This is important to keep in mind not only for value, but many of base metals coming from factories are impossible to know exactly how they are blended and what chemicals are being used. Many jewelry brands contain base metals that can be absorbed through the skin and potentially harmful to your health. But more about that later. An important factor to consider is that the amount of gold in plated jewellery is extremely low and usually around .5 micron, which is why gold-plated jewelry does not do well with heat, water or the wear and tear of daily life. Gold plated jewelry can easily tarnish, flake and have its finish wear off to reveal the base metal underneath. This gives them a very short lifespan and puts them in what many call the 'fast fashion' category.

Gold-filled jewelry has at least 100 times more amount of gold than gold-plated. But don't get too excited, gold filled jewelry doesn't contain a large amount of gold either. During the process of making gold-filled jewelry they take a layer of actual gold and bond it to a brass core with heat and pressure. Gold-filled jewelry is legally required in most countries to contain at least 5% gold in its total weight. This is important to know when purchasing gold-filled costume jewellery can be priced very high and yet contains a small amount of the expensive metal. Gold-filled jewelry does wear better than gold plated but will not hold its value like real gold jewellery will. Gold filled jewelry is more suitable for fashion jewelry that has a limited lifespan.

Gold Jewellery can be a bit pricier than other pieces but for good reason. Made from real gold mixed with specific alloys to make it more durable or change its colours, gold jewellery will rarely tarnish and is much more valuable. Different alloys are usually mixed in with the gold to make it stronger, change color and create a more affordable blend. If you are interested in learning how gold is alloyed see our previous blog post. Gold jewelry, though expensive, is I believe one of your best options. I will admit it, I am a little biased as I have spent most of my life working with gold jewellery. It has higher value with an heirloom quality and generally speaking will increase in value through the years with very little maintenance. It is less prone to causing allergies or irritating the wearer and has a wonderful sustainability factor as gold pieces will last you multiple lifetimes.  Its rare for gold to tarnish, although it is possible for it to change color due to medications or coming into contact with chemicals. The beautiful thing about gold is its always a quick polish away from looking amazing again.

It is also very important to know that many pieces of jewelry that are plated or filled have often been found to contain high levels of toxic metals that have dangerous health implications. 


*Lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury and arsenic among other highly toxic chemicals, were detected in over half the 99 items taken from branches of Claire's, Forever 21 and H&M and other retailers across the United States *


In a world full fast fashion Rhythm Jewellery prides itself on making pieces designed from sterling silver and 10 karat gold. Each of our pieces is designed to last forever while being available at attainable prices.