What’s the difference between the various types of gold jewelry?

Gold jewelry can be misleading with their titles. Types of gold referenced in jewelry are solid gold, gold filled, vermeil gold, gold plated… gold overlay! Confusing, right? I think so! In this post, I will outline the differences for you so you can shop smart when buying jewelry!

How many times have you purchased a gorgeous piece of costume or gold plated jewelry to find that it loses its luster after just a few times wearing it? Usually, the price will indicate it’s quality.

If you find a stylish piece that you love and don’t mind it only lasting for a season, that’s great! Sometimes that’s all we’re looking for to boost the look of an outfit.

The purpose of this post is to educate you on what to look for when you want something that is more durable.

Types of gold jewelry

In its most pure form (24k) gold is soft, almost orange in color, and too weak to work with for jewelry. It is standard to add alloys to create more structure to 24k gold.  When mixed together with other metals, jewelry is still termed and known as “solid gold.”

Metals commonly alloyed with gold for jewelry purposes include silver, copper, nickel, iron, zinc, tin, manganese, cadmium, and titanium.

Differences of alloys mixed with gold usually depend on the desired color finish. For instance, silver or nickel mixed with gold makes white gold. Copper mixed with gold makes rose gold, and so on. 

types of gold jewelry

Seven Bars of Gold 14k 16-18 adjustable spring clasp necklace.

The following lists the percentage of pure gold in the different karats of gold:

14k: 58% gold (most gold jewelry other than special pieces like wedding rings)

18k: 85% gold (much more expensive than 14k and more yellow)

24k: 100% gold (not for jewelry due to softness)

Next Best thing to Solid Gold: Gold-Filled 

Did you know gold-filled is a form of gold plating? There is almost double the gold in gold-filled items than found in gold-plated items (I discuss gold-plated below). Both are plated with gold, but the process between the two is very different.

Instead of being dipped in gold like gold plated pieces, gold filled jewelry undergoes a mechanical bonding process that melts a thicker layer of gold onto the base metal. One or more sheets of solid gold (14K, 12K, 18K, etc) is wrapped around a base metal under intense pressure. The gold sheets are effectively “filled” with something other than gold. 

Gold-filled items have a much thicker layer and higher quality of gold on them than gold plated. Gold filled will be less expensive than solid gold of course, but will be more expensive than gold plated. By law, gold filled jewelry must contain at least 5% gold by weight. 

While gold filled jewelry will maintain its gold cast for longer, it will inevitably discolor and tarnish over time.

Cheaper than Gold Filled- Vermeil: 

Vermeil is a type of gold plating which uses sterling silver as the base metal. Sterling silver is a higher quality of metal than brass or other popular inexpensive base metals used in gold plating. Vermeil is more hypoallergenic and has a thicker layer of gold than regular gold plating (but not as thick as gold-filled), which is why businesses will stress the name when referring to their gold plated products. However, the Vermeil plating will still wear off within 1-2 years. 

Cheapest- Gold-Plated: 

gold plated necklaces starburst

Does gold-plated jewelry fade quickly? Yes. Some businesses refer to gold-plated jewelry as gold-overlay. These are the same things. Gold plated jewelry will most likely tarnish or lose its color within 12 months. Gold plated jewelry consists of an inexpensive metal such as brass which is dipped using a microscopic sheet of gold plating.

The gold content is usually less than 1%. While gold plated jewelry may possess the same luster and gold appearance at first, this layer is quick to fade when washed, rinsed, or rubbed too hard. Most fashion jewelry is gold-plated or not plated at all (even gold plated should be made clear and distinguised from regular costume jewelry.)

It’s important to make gold plated pieces last longer, you put them in a closed bag after each wear.  And don’t expose them to water or heat!

Conclusion: Solid Gold Jewelry is Best

5 sliced diamonds rose gold necklace

Five Sliced Diamonds 14k Rose Gold Necklace

Unless I want to wear a piece of jewelry just a handful of times, when it comes to metal, I am not a fan of costume or gold plated/gold filled jewelry.
 
When I find a piece of jewelry I love, it is usually something I will want to wear for years. I like to have the freedom of pulling out a piece after years of not wearing it and have it still look beautiful. I don’t mind having to clean my jewelry to restore its shine, but how disappointing if it tarnishes to the point of no return! 
 
Did you know there were so many confusing types of gold titles for jewelry?

For my jewelry shop collection, I hand-select beautiful pieces I myself would want to own from the Los Angeles jewelry district. I receive the same wholesale rates the vendors give to the jewelry retailers.

Without the overhead related to having retail stores, I’m able to pass the savings on to my customers. So imagine, with all the choices of style and quality in the jewelry market, having someone you trust to filter out the noise to narrow down your choices to the best selection of jewelry at the most competitive prices. That’s me!

And if you liked this post, visit my posts on How to clean gold jewelry in 10 minutes and How to wear necklaces to compliment your look. Also, keep your diamond rings sparkling with How to clean diamonds quickly and easily.

“Flavor your life with an Ounce of Salt.” A lifestyle blog by Jen Oliak.