What is Gold-filled?

The earrings above are made with 14k gold-fill wire. Each link is make from a small section of wire that is twisted using tools and then attached together to create a unique mesh. Gold-plated and Vermeil components can’t be manipulated with tools or the gold plating will flake off of the core.

I’ve been asked what gold-fill is many times, so I’d like to touch on some facts and maybe even dispel some myths, about what it really is. Gold-filled started being used in the 1930’s to offer an economical alternative to solid gold. Right now the price of gold is high and gold-filled jewellery is back in full force. It’s made of real gold and has the beauty, warmth and lustre of solid gold without the high price.

Pure gold
24 karat gold is too soft to make most jewellery with so it’s alloyed (metals blended together), to make it harder, more durable and scratch resistant. Copper, zinc, silver and palladium are used in differing amounts to create yellow, rose and white gold. The common alloy combinations are 10k, 14k, 18k and 22k gold. I’ll be writing about solid gold later on – stay tuned!

This is my simplified diagram of what gold-filled wire is. In real gold-fill wire there is no difference in colour between the core and the outer gold layer.

How it’s made
I don’t want to be a bore so I’ll keep it quick and simple. Gold-fill jewellery is 10k, 12k, 14k or 18k gold outside with the inside core being made of quality jeweller’s brass. Gold-filled wire starts out as a tube in any number of different diameters, mostly from 28 gauge to 12 gauge (or 0.3mm to 2mm). This tube is then filled with jeweller’s brass or sometimes the alloy used to cut 24k gold. Heat and pressure are used to bond the outer layer of gold to the brass inside. Gold-fill sheets have an inner sheet of brass which has the gold bonded in the same way on the top and bottom.

Seal of approval
Not to get too technical but gold-fill is standardized and regulated by the government, you can’t just call any gold product gold-fill. Gold-fill pieces are 50 to 100,000 times thicker than gold-plated jewellery. Manufactured or factory made gold-filled jewellery should be stamped with one of the following: 1/20 14kt GF, 1/20 12kt GF or 1/10 10kt GF. 1/20 means that the item has at least 1/20 in fine gold of the total weight. Artisan and handcrafted gold-filled jewellery generally isn’t stamped by the maker since it isn’t factory made, but the metal used is acquired from a smelter or trusted supplier.

Durability and longevity
Gold-filled jewellery can last 30 years or more, with normal use the gold should never chip off. Many early 20th century pieces made of gold-fill are still just as gorgeous now as they were when they were made. Gold-plated jewellery by comparison can last from 3 to 7 years of regular wear.

Other gold products
Gold-plated and vermeil components and jewellery aren’t standardized by the government. Gold-plated jewellery is made using the electroplating process. The item is placed in a metallic chemical bath and an electrical current is used to deposit a film of fine gold metal onto the item. The thickness of the gold-plating varies a lot. Vermeil (pronounced vur-may) is sterling silver plated with gold. It’s made by electrolysis, the gold is around 1/10000ths of an inch in thickness. You can often see the difference between gold-fill, gold-plated and vermeil. Vermeil and other gold-plated jewellery are warmer or yellower in colour than gold-fill.

Keepsakes and heirlooms in GF
Durability, affordability and the beauty of gold makes gold-filled jewellery great for those who love the look and feel of solid gold. Gold-fill jewellery is as important and valuable today as it was in the 1930’s. Like all jewellery, if you take care of your gold-fill pieces they will make wonderful heirlooms to pass along to family and friends.

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