Comparing Types of Gold Jewelry: Gold Plated, Gold Filled, and Solid Gold

a gold plated heart bracelet and gold filled hoop earrings laying on a piece of marble with flower petals

About the author:

Julia is the owner and designer of Topaz & Pearl handmade jewlery. She's been a jewelry professional since 2017 and also holds a science degree so she's really the best type of nerd to explain the different types of gold jewelry!

Julia, the owner of Topaz & Pearl handmade jewelry looking at the camera and smiling

A quick search on the internet for "gold jewelry" will present you with options ranging from a few dollars, to hundreds, thousands, or even more. How can there be so many types of gold jewelry, and what do they all mean?

With so many options at our fingertips these days, it can be overwhelming. You shouldn't have to do hours of research into gold manufacturing just to know what you're buying. I want to help you to feel confident about your gold jewelry purchases, easily and quickly.

That's why I created this guide to the types of gold jewelry.

After reading, you'll know which types of gold jewelry are options for you so you don't have to hesitate on buying cute gold pieces because you aren't sure what they're made of or if they will last.

I'll quickly explain the difference between  gold plated, gold filled, and solid gold jewelry, and which ones I use in my business.

Just a quick note: Everybody has a unique body chemistry and skin acidity that affects how all jewelry will last. This general guide is meant to educate and empower your jewelry purchasing, but is not a guarantee of any outcome.

What is gold plated jewelry?

Of all the types of gold jewelry we will discuss, "gold plated" is the broadest term, because there are a number of variables under this umbrella category.

To sum it up, gold plated jewelry is made of a base metal that is coated in a layer of gold. The metal underneath is usually brass, pewter, or an alloy (a mix of metals).

Is gold plated good?

The quality of gold plated jewelry varies greatly. For example, a piece made with a cheap alloy metal coated with a super thin layer of gold (referred to as "flash plating") can be super affordable like the low-cost jewelry at big box stores. This type of jewelry will turn color quickly as the gold layer fades away, revealing the metal underneath (the culprit for your itchy ears).

On the other hand, fine metals such as sterling silver are also used underneath gold plating in a process called vermeil. The thickness of vermeil plating is legally required to be 2.5 microns and a quality of at least 10 karats, which is a fancy way of saying it's thick and durable. Vermeil plating is great quality but can still fade away over time, revealing the sterling silver underneath.

As a middle option, gold plated jeweler's brass is often used in fashion jewelry. The brass core is nickel-free and has a gold-ish tone, so when your gold plating starts to wear off, you won't see as much of a difference and most people won't have any allergic reactions. The thickness of gold plating over brass is not regulated, so it can vary from a "flash" to a thick layer like 0.5-1 microns.

The good news is that quality gold plated jewelry can last months or years when properly cared for, offering an affordable jewelry option for non-heirloom pieces.

Gold plated vs real gold

Real gold is the outermost layer of gold plated jewelry. Underneath the gold is a different metal.

Any karat of gold can be used in gold plated jewelry. For example, you may see "18k gold plated brass" or "24k gold dipped brass" when shopping for jewelry. Both of these are referring to gold plating, and the longevity of the plating depends on the thickness of the gold layer.

What I use:

In my jewelry business, I offer several types of gold plated jewelry. I love the affordability of gold plating for certain chains and pendants, and always abide by the following rules:

  • thicker than industry standard (no "flash" plating)
  • free of nickel, lead, and cadmium
  • high quality base metal
  • tested for durability and longevity
a woman

Best-Selling Gold Plated Jewelry

What is gold filled?

Gold filled material is a two layered construction. In the vast majority of cases, it is made with jeweler's brass as the inner most layer. This is what gold filled has in common with gold plated, but the quality is on another level.

The outer layer of gold on a gold filled piece is thousands of times thicker than plated jewelry. Gold filled is required to be 5% real gold by weight, and this super thick gold layer is permanently bonded to the layer underneath through heat and pressure. It is permanent and will not fade, flake, or chip (except in extreme and rare circumstances).

Is Gold Filled Good?

Gold filled jewelry is an amazing invention and personally my favorite type of gold jewelry. It can last a lifetime and is low maintenance, similar to solid gold but is so much more affordable.

It's rare for a gold filled piece to tarnish and it's waterproof, making it a low-maintenance option for everyday jewelry.

Gold Filled VS Real Gold

The name "gold filled" may give you the impression that the piece is 100% gold, but that is not correct.

Real gold is a major ingredient in gold filled jewelry, but there is a high quality base metal underneath the gold.

The real gold used in gold filled jewelry is extremely thick and permanent, which sets it apart from gold plated jewelry.

The gold used in gold filled can vary in karat, as long as the final piece is 5% gold by weight (equal to 1/20). Common types of gold filled jewelry include 14k gold filled (sometimes written 14/20 gold filled) and 18k gold filled (written as 18/20 gold filled).

What I use:

I offer several types of gold jewelry in my business, and gold filled is definitely the most popular (and my favorite too). Here's why my customers love it:

  • lifetime quality
  • super low maintenance
  • tarnish resistant
  • waterproof
a pair of gold filled huggie hoop earrings with topaz raw gemstone charms laying on a green silk background

Best-Selling Gold Filled Jewelry

What is Solid Gold?

Solid gold is reserved for fine jewelry and is exactly as it sounds, the piece has no base metal core.

What Types of Gold Jewelry are Best?

The answer to this question depends on how you define "best". Are you looking for the most pure, unaltered form of gold, or are you looking for jewelry that can withstand everyday wear?

The purity of gold is measured in karats (abbreviated in k or kt). 24k is pure gold which is very soft, so it is commonly mixed with other metals in order to make it more durable or to alter the color.

Each karat step (22k, 18k, 14k, etc.) cooresponds with more addition of metal to the gold. For example, 14k has a lower pure gold content than 18k because more other metal has been mixed in. 

The type of metal added varies but is commonly silver, nickel, copper, or zinc, all of which affect the color of the gold. If you examine a piece of 22k gold jewelry, you'll notice it's a slightly deeper yellow than a 14k gold piece.

Metal added to gold can also change the color, while still having enough gold content to be considered "solid gold". Copper is added to make rose gold while nickel is commonly added to produce white gold.

No matter the karat rating, all solid gold pieces carry a significantly higher price tag than both gold plated and gold filled jewelry.


Types of Gold Jewelry Summary:

There are many different types of gold jewelry, the most common are:

  • Gold Plated
    • Most affordable
    • Gold sometimes fades over time
    • Varies greatly in quality of materials and gold content

  • Gold Filled
    • Middle price point
    • High quality, low maintenance
    • Permanent layer of gold, brass core
    • Quality is legally defined
    • Best bang for your buck

  • Solid Gold
    • Highest price tag
    • Solid gold throughout
    • Other metals added are minimal
    • Heirloom quality
    • Quality is legally defined


What types of gold jewelry can you find at Topaz & Pearl?

My mission as a jewelry designer is to create pieces that symbolize your unique journey and offer the best quality possible at a price that won't break the bank.

For sentimental pieces that you'll wear every day like a Customizable Raw Birthstone Necklace, I use semi-precious metals such as 14k gold filled and sterling silver chains. These pieces will last you a lifetime if properly cared for and many customers tell me they never take off their gold filled jewelry.

When I opt for gold plating in a design, it's usually because the piece is more of a statement and will not be worn all-day-every-day, and this allows me to offer an amazing price for these fashionable pieces.

Some pieces, like our best-selling Geometric Beaded Earrings have 14k gold filled components where it touches the skin, and a super thick-plated pendant that shines bright and keeps the cost down.

When making ear posts, ear wires, or any part of earrings that will touch your ear, I always use nickel-free, 14k gold filled or sterling silver components.

At Topaz & Pearl, we strive to achieve the perfect mix of high quality, affordable materials to make your earrings enjoyable for years to come.

hand wearing gold jewelry. Text says title of blog post for use on pinterest.

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