The jewelry industry uses a wide variety of gold-colored metals. You’ve probably seen some of them: “gold tone,” “gold-plated,” “gold-filled,” and “karat gold.” Learning the differences can help you make informed buying decisions.
In this post, I’m going to talk a bit about what gold-filled is, and why I choose to use it in my work.
I’ve always thought the name “gold-filled” was a little confusing. From the name, it sounds like something that is filled with gold. However, the opposite is true. Gold-filled is made of a base metal (usually brass) with a layer of gold that has been applied using a combination of heat and pressure.
Most gold-filled available in the United States is either 12/20 or 14/20. “12/20” denotes that 12 karat gold makes up 1/20 of the metal. “14/20” denotes that 14 karat gold makes up 1/20 of the metal. This layer of gold is typically 100 times thicker than the plating on gold-plated jewelry. That’s a lot more gold!
Gold-filled is available in both yellow and rose gold. The yellow variety has a layer of traditional 14 karat gold on it – it’s the color that you think of when you think of “gold.” Rose gold is a gold alloy that contains more copper, lending it a gorgeous rosy pink hue.
Gold-filled sheet comes in two varieties: single-clad and double-clad. Single clad has a gold layer on only one side, and as you’ve probably guessed, double-clad has a gold layer on both sides.
I choose to use gold-filled in my work because it is affordable, durable, beautiful, fairly tarnish-resistant, and unlike plated metal, the coating doesn’t wear off easily. It is my metal of choice for ear wires, chains, and wire-wrapped jewelry designs.
As the graph below shows, the price of gold has risen enormously since the 1970s. Prior to the 70s, the gold market was typically around $35-40/ounce. In the present day (2017), gold costs over $1200/ounce. Because of this incredible price hike, we jewelers look for ways to use less gold to make lasting and substantial pieces of jewelry. Gold-filled meets these requirements.
Gold-filled does have one drawback I’m aware of: it’s a tricky material to use in fabrication/soldering. Although it stands up exceptionally well to being worn as jewelry, it is all too easy for a jeweler to remove the layer of gold by melting or sanding it off. For this reason, I rarely fabricate with gold-filled. I prefer to use it for ear wires and wire-wrapped jewelry. It is ideally suited for those purposes.
Gold-filled can tarnish moderately with time. It doesn’t tarnish as drastically as sterling silver, but it can darken a bit. Tarnishing is the metal’s natural reaction to moisture. A person’s individual body chemistry can accelerate tarnishing. If your gold-filled jewelry does tarnish, fear not! There are safe ways to polish it up again. I will address tarnish removal in a future blog post, so stay tuned!