Gold 101: the Skinny on Gold-Filled, Gold Vermeil, and Gold Plated

Gold 101: the Skinny on Gold-Filled, Gold Vermeil, and Gold Plated

Because the price of gold has skyrocketed since the late 1970s, (currently gold is about $1200/ounce) alternatives have been created to 10K, 14K and 18K gold jewelry. 

Terms such as "gold-plated", "gold-filled", and "gold vermeil" are common in the jewelry industry, but are confusing to you, the consumer. One of the most common questions I get asked at art shows is "what is the difference between gold-filled and gold-plated?"

Below is a reference guide to these terms in regards to process, durability, and cost.  Note: non of Jen Lesea Designs jewelry is gold-plated.  I want to ensure that my jewelry will withstand wear for years to come!  

Type Process Durability Price
Gold-plated Thin layer of gold (1 micron) that is electroplated to base metal (typically contains nickel) or copper. Not good for people with metal-allergies. Because of the thin layer of gold, it will wear off, showing blackening of the jewelry and possibly discoloring the skin.

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Cheapest of gold jewelry, often used in costume jewelry

Gold Vermeil Thicker layer of high karat gold (at least 2.5 microns) that is electroplated over sterling silver, which is nickel-free.  Good for people with metal allergies. Because of the thicker layer of gold used over sterling silver, it wears better than gold-plated jewelry.  Will not turn skin green.  With proper care, gold vermeil jewelry will last for years to come.

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A bit more expensive than gold-plated jewelry, due to the thicker layer of gold used and cost of sterling silver.  

Gold-Filled Pressure bonded 14K gold that is at least 20% of metal weight typically with brass. (nickel-free).  Good for people with metal allergies. Because of the bonding process and the amount of gold used, gold-filled typically wears like high karat gold jewelry, as long as proper jewelry care is done.

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More expensive than gold plated or gold vermeil jewelry, but a fraction of the cost of solid high karat gold jewelry.  

High Karat Gold (10K, 14K, 18K) Karat is the purity measurement of gold.  The higher the Karat, the higher % of gold that is used.  Because 24K gold is soft and not often used in jewelry, metal alloys are used with solid gold; and the karat determines the amount of gold in a piece of jewelry.  People with metal allergies do best with 14K or 18K gold jewelry. Jewelry and contact with skin will not discolor, as long as proper care is given to gold jewelry.  (Note: do not swim in gold jewelry as chlorine, sulfur, or other chemicals can turn high karat gold jewelry black).  

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Because gold is currently around $1200/ounce, you are paying a premium for high-karat gold jewelry.