Much of the retail gold jewelry is not made from pure gold. Instead, gold is placed over other types of metal to provide jewelry with a gold look. Gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry differ regarding the amount of gold used and the application process. Gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry also differs in how long it lasts. Jewelry makers should understand how the processes used for both gold plating and gold filling affects the types of materials used by many artisans.
Gold-filling jewelry is jewelry containing pure gold equal to 1/20th of its entire weight. Gold is often mixed with copper or brass. Gold-plated jewelry also combines gold with copper, brass or other base metals, however, only a very tiny amount of gold is used. The gold or gold-colored metal used in gold-plated jewelry equals seven-millionths of an inch.
Gold plating involves pressing a small amount of karat gold over the base metal through an electrochemical process. In some cases, the metal used in gold plating is not real gold, but only provides a gold color.
Vermeil is the process by which gold is bonded to a base metal to create gold-filled jewelry. Vermeil involves a thick sheet gold being mechanically bonded with the base metal. Gold-filled jewelry often is marked with a number that indicates the relationship between the weight of karat gold and the weight of the base metal.
Gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry also differ in terms of wear and tear. The coloring on gold-plated jewelry tends to wear off more easily than gold-filled jewelry. Gold-plated jewelry reacts to salts in human skin and pollutants in the air, breaking down more quickly than its filled counterparts.
Jewelry makers and artisans should be aware of the differences between gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry as it pertains directly to their work. Understanding how gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry relates to one another helps artists enhance their material choices.