One of the first challenges many young people in the jewelry business face is learning how to assess metal content. The difference between gold plated, gold filled, and solid gold can be difficult to spot. But, knowing how to distinguish between each type of gold will help you better assess your jewelry's value.
The term "gold filled" in particular can be misleading. Maybe a goldsmith injected gold liquid inside the bracelet?
Not quite. Gold filled jewelry isn't filled up with gold, but rather it is full of gold or has a high gold content.
How Is Gold Filled Jewelry Constructed?
Rolled gold and gold filled jewelry are constructed in the same way except that gold-filled jewelry has a higher gold content. Unlike the misleading term gold filled, rolled gold correctly describes the process all gold filled and rolled gold jewelry go through.
First, you take a piece of base metal, which can be anything from steel to brass to silver. Then you quite literally roll a thick sheet of solid gold on top of it. The base metal and gold are fused together using heat. Then these sheets are used to make jewelry.
How Is Gold Filled Different From Rolled Gold?
Gold filled—For something to be considered gold filled, the gold content must exceed or equal 5%. This percentage is the minimal amount needed to legally stamp your jewelry with "1/20 14KGF." If you see that hallmark, your piece would be 5% gold.
However, most antique jewelry that is gold filled has significantly more gold than that. The gold content might be upwards of 100,000 times thicker than gold plate.
Rolled gold—The term rolled gold is used interchangeably with the term gold filled with antique jewelry, but nowadays, rolled gold indicates that the jewelry has less than 5% gold content.
These pieces have significantly more gold than gold plated items but not quite as much as gold filled items. An example of a hallmark you might see on a modern day rolled gold piece might read something like 1/40 14KRG. That item would have a gold content of at least 2.5%.
How Does Gold Filled Jewelry Differ From Gold Plated Jewelry?
The most common method of gold plating is electroplating. Electroplating gold onto jewelry is more complex than the method for making rolled gold and gold filled.
For most gold plating, a microscopic layer of gold is adhered to a base metal using an electric current. This current carries positively charged gold ions and adheres them to a negatively charged base metal.
Sometimes this layer is so thin that it can be very easily rubbed off. Gold filled jewelry is much thicker and therefore much more durable. Because of the difference in gold content, gold filled jewelry is significantly more expensive than gold plated jewelry. Some antique gold filled jewelry has such high gold content that it can be worth as much as some solid gold pieces.