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What is the difference between solid gold, gold filled, and gold plate?

Updated and expanded February 2023

The question I get from my customers the most is “what is the difference between solid gold, gold filled, and gold plated?”

Navigating the world of gold jewelry can be an overwhelming and frustrating experience. From necklaces that turn your skin green to the seemingly endless options of gold jewelry, it can be hard to know what you’re getting.

While too many options can be confusing, various types of gold coatings mean we can have a gold look, without using too much gold, which makes the price a lot more accessible. But, which type you choose really depends on your price point and desired level of maintenance.

To help you make the right choice, I’ve outlined the differences between gold plated, gold vermeil, gold filled, and solid gold jewelry.

Read on for all the info you’ll need to choose the best gold jewelry option for you.

Table of Contents

What is solid gold jewelry

What is Solid Gold Jewelry?

Solid gold simply means that the metal is the same throughout. Gold all the way through. It won’t fade or tarnish with time.

Don’t confuse solid gold with pure gold though. Most solid gold jewelry will be what’s referred to as karat gold. An alloy made up of a certain number of parts of gold mixed with other metals.

What is an alloy?


Pure gold is rarely found in jewelry because it’s quite soft. Mixing it with other metals increases its strength and durability.

Gold purity is measured in parts of 24. So each karat is 1/24th gold by weight. Meaning 18 karat gold is 18 parts gold and 6 parts other metals – 75% gold. The mixture of other metals depends on what colour you are trying to make (yellow, rose, or white for example).

Just remember, the higher the karat number, the purer the gold.

For jewelry, the most common alloys are 18 karat, 14 karat and 10 karat (or 9K outside of North America).


If you’re allergic to nickel, be aware that most white gold alloys are made with nickel. If you really want white gold but can’t wear nickel, ask your jeweller for palladium white gold instead.

To learn more, read the truth about white gold.

When to choose solid gold

Opt for solid gold jewelry if you’re buying a piece that you want to wear all the time and keep forever.

Solid gold is an investment but will retain its value over time – so it’s perfect for heirloom pieces and meaningful gifts for special occasions. The extra initial cost will be worth it in the end for a longer-lasting piece that can be passed on through generations.


Solid gold jewelry can also be recycled at the end of its life and remade into something new, making it the most eco-friendly and sustainable option.

Shop recycled gold jewelry.


Neither gold filled nor gold plated jewelry can be recycled without sending to a specialized refinery to separate the gold from the other metals. Usually the cost outweighs the benefits for these pieces and they end up in the trash instead.

Solid Gold Jewelry Care

Solid gold jewelry doesn’t require much maintenance. The occasional cleaning with mild soap and soft brush (such as an unused baby toothbrush) is enough to maintain the shine and beauty of your gold piece.

Solid gold won’t tarnish or fade with time, as it’s solid throughout so it can be worn almost all of the time. Just make sure to take off your gold jewelry when you’re doing anything rough or dirty (sports, gardening), or coming into contact with chemicals (cleaning solutions or chlorinated pools for example).

Shop Solid Gold Jewelry

What is gold filled jewelry?

What is Gold Filled Jewelry?

Gold filled jewelry has most of the benefits of solid gold, without the high price tag.

The outside layer that you see and come into contact with is 10 or 14 karat gold – so it won’t tarnish or stain your skin, and the gold layer is much thicker than gold plating so it won’t fade or wear through quickly.


In North America, gold filled jewelry must contain 1/20th gold by weight – approximately 100x the amount of gold in a gold plated piece.

Since the gold layer is quite thick, you also don’t have to worry about coming into contact with base metals that may trigger sensitivities (or turn your skin green).

Gold filled metal is made by pressure bonding a layer of karat gold to the surface of another metal – usually brass (but that can vary by manufacturer).


One thing to keep in mind is that gold filled is difficult to recycle and often can’t be repaired if it breaks as repeated work on the piece can remove the gold layer – leaving you with only brass.

When to choose gold filled

Opt for gold filled when choosing everyday pieces that you want to save a little money on.

Gold filled jewelry is much less expensive than solid gold yet requires less maintenance than gold plated. The only limitation is the style of pieces that can be made in gold filled as the pressure bonding method isn’t possible in all jewelry designs.

Gold Filled Jewelry Care

With proper care, your gold filled pieces can last many years.

Treat your gold filled pieces as you would solid gold: occasional cleaning with mild soap and a soft brush – that’s it.

Again, gold filled jewelry can be worn almost all of the time. You just want to make sure to take off your gold filled jewels when you’re doing anything rough or dirty (sports, gardening), or coming into contact with chemicals (cleaning solutions or chlorinated pools for example).

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What is gold plated jewelry?

What is Gold Plated Jewelry?

Gold plating uses an electrical current to deposit a microscopic layer of gold onto a piece of metal that has been submerged in a chemical solution.

The layer can be very thin (as in the case of flash plating) or fairly thick (as in gold vermeil).

While gold plating is an affordable option, there are a couple of downsides to this method. The first is that the gold layer, being very thin, can wear off quite quickly. Pieces must be given proper care and occasional replating as necessary.

The other downside is the possibility to come in contact with metals that cause sensitivities. Many plating operations use a layer of nickel between the base metal and the gold. Nickel is an inexpensive way to seal the base metal while making the gold layer come out a bit brighter – but many people develop a reaction to nickel so it’s best to avoid it altogether.

What is the difference between Gold Vermeil and Gold Plated?

Gold vermeil is a specific quality of gold plating. It’s a thickly plated layer of gold over sterling silver. If you do decide to buy gold plated jewelry, gold vermeil is the best quality you can get.

When to choose gold plated

While I don’t recommend gold plated jewelry as your first choice, it can be an option for pieces that you intend to wear occasionally. They should be the last piece you put on before you leave the house and the first you take off when you come home.

No matter how carefully you treat your jewelry, gold plating won’t last forever and will need to be redone in time. How often will depend on frequency of wear and your own unique body chemistry.

When you’re buying gold plated jewelry, factor in the ongoing cost of replating before you decide if the lower initial cost is worth it.

Gold Plated Jewelry Care

To make sure your gold plating lasts as long as possible, keep it dry! Avoid exposing it to water, lotions, makeup, perfumes, and cleaning products, which can all make the plating deteriorate.

If your piece needs to be cleaned, reach for the sort of very soft, lint free cloth you’d use to clean eyeglasses, camera lenses, or computer monitors.

Never use any soaps or detergents or anything abrasive.

Store your gold plated pieces individually in a soft pouch to prevent scuffing against other jewelry.

I have personally chosen to stop offering gold plated jewelry because of the environmental downsides. Not only are the plating chemicals very bad for my health, but they’re even worse for the environment and proper disposal is difficult.

When the plating wears off a piece of jewelry, it has to be replated – which, if the piece was cheap to begin with, is often not worth the cost. These coated jewelry pieces can’t be recycled and so they end up in the trash at the end of their short lifetime.

Which type of gold jewelry is right for me?

In an ideal world, we could all afford to fill our jewelry boxes with only solid gold jewelry. However, in reality I feel like there is a time and purpose for each of the different types of gold jewelry.

Here at Andrea Shelley, quality and durability are my priorities so I only use either solid gold or gold filled.

Which material you choose will depend on your budget and how much you plan on wearing the piece.

If you can wait and save up for a few truly special solid gold jewelry pieces, they will outlast their value in gold-plated jewelry over time.

To flesh out your collection, gold-filled jewelry is a good middle-of-the-road option.

Shop Solid Gold Jewelry

Shop Gold Filled Jewelry

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Gold plated vs gold filled vs solid gold

Andrea Shelley

HI, I'M ANDREA! I create powerful, meaningful jewelry that you can connect with and enjoy each day. I believe that jewelry, when worn purposefully, can have transformative powers. My pieces go beyond decoration to help connect you to your inner self and focus your energies to your greatest strengths. If you're enjoying my content, you can support my page by buying me a coffee so that I can continue to make more content for you.

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