Unveiling the Mysteries: Gold-Filled Jewelry vs. Gold-Plated Jewelry

Jun 17, 2024

When choosing jewelry, it's important to understand the difference between gold-filled and gold-plated pieces. While both may look similar at first glance, there are significant variations in durability and maintenance.

Gold filled vs Gold Plated Jewelry explained

The History of Gold-Filled Jewelry

Gold-filled jewelry has a rich history dating back to the 19th century. It was first developed in the United States as a more affordable alternative to solid gold jewelry. The first designer to create gold-filled jewelry is believed to be Christopher B. Hughes, who patented the gold-filled jewelry production process in 1853. Gold-filled jewelry gained popularity during the Victorian era and experienced a resurgence during the mid-20th century. Today, it continues to be a popular choice for those seeking high-quality jewelry with a timeless appeal.

What is the Difference Between Gold-Filled Jewelry vs Gold-Plated?

Gold-filled jewelry is created by bonding a 14k or 12k gold layer to a base metal such as brass or copper. This bonding process results in a thicker layer of gold than gold-plated jewelry. Gold-filled jewelry is more affordable than solid gold, offering the look and feel of gold at a fraction of the cost. The thick layer of gold makes gold-filled jewelry more durable and resistant to tarnishing, making it suitable for everyday wear.

Conversely, while appealing and affordable, gold-plated jewelry has its drawbacks. It features a thin layer of gold applied to a base metal through an electric current process. This thin gold layer is more susceptible to wear and tear and may tarnish over time, particularly with frequent use and exposure to moisture.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has specific guidelines for gold labeling in the United States. If the gold layer is 12kt or higher, the material can only be labeled as "gold filled" if the gold content is 1/20 of the total material by weight. Electroplating is another gold plating technique, which must be at least 7/1,000,000 inches thick according to regulations. If you see shorthand for metal content, like 12/20 or 14/20, the first number indicates the karat and the second number represents the proportion of that karat gold in the total piece. At The Stitch Alliance, we use 14/20 gold-filled wire in our gold-filled earrings, and with proper care, the gold layer will last for years.

How to Care for Gold-Filled Jewelry

When cleaning gold-filled jewelry, it's crucial to use gentle methods to preserve the piece. A soft, lint-free cloth is ideal for wiping away dirt and oils. A mild soap and water solution can be used for a more thorough cleaning, followed by careful drying with a soft cloth. It's essential to avoid harsh chemicals and abrasive materials, as these can harm the gold layer.

Does Gold-Filled Jewelry Tarnish?

As for whether gold-filled jewelry tarnishes, the answer is that under normal circumstances, gold-filled jewelry should not tarnish. The thick layer of gold is a protective barrier, making gold-filled pieces more resistant to tarnishing than gold-plated or vermeil jewelry.

Can People with Sensitive Ears Wear Gold-Filled Earrings?

Yes, people with sensitive ears can typically wear gold-filled earrings. Gold-filled jewelry is often a good option for individuals with sensitive skin or metal allergies, as the thick layer of gold provides a barrier between the base metal and the skin. This can reduce the likelihood of irritation or an allergic reaction, making gold-filled earrings a more comfortable and hypoallergenic choice for those with sensitive ears. The thinner gold layer in gold-plated jewelry may not provide the same level of protection against skin irritation.

In summary, the main differences between gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry lie in the thickness of the gold layer and the associated durability and resistance to tarnishing. Understanding these differences can help you make an informed decision when choosing between the two, ensuring you can enjoy your jewelry for many years.


The Stitch Alliance, created by Renee Haas, explores the intersection between fiber arts, gemstones, feminism, and handmade jewelry. Sign up for the newsletter and receive a free Gemstone Guide.