Ever looked at your jewelry options, scanned the prices, and wondered, “Is gold-filled or gold-plated jewelry better?” If so, this post is for you. I’ll cover these two popular gilding techniques and tell you which one I prefer.
Let me tell you, I’ve spent a lot of years buying cheap gold tone jewelry and gotten frustrated each time it tarnishes far too soon. So, sometime in the past few years, I just started tossing any jewelry that no longer looked pristine (or selling it on Poshmark if it still has some life left in it).
I decided that I wanted to invest in “good” jewelry and fewer pieces…but, let’s be honest, I also was not going to buy every piece in solid 14K gold. So, what’s a girl to do? Well, I did my research on all the gold terms that I’d seen pop up: gold-filled, gold-plated, gold tone, and gold vermeil. Let’s chat about all four and the best times to buy each.
Is Gold-Filled or Gold-Plated Jewelry Better?
Two of the most common terms you’ll see are gold-filled and gold-plated. What on earth do these mean? And is gold-filled or gold-plated jewelry better?
Gold-plated is your less expensive gold option that you’ll see offered by almost every big costume jewelry name, think Kendra Scott, J.Crew, etc. Gold-plated means that a thin layer of gold has been plated over a metal, most likely copper or brass. Because the layer of gold is so thin, you cannot expose the jewelry to the elements. Extreme heat, water, and regular wear and tear will often tarnish the piece and strip the plating within about a year (it can last longer with careful care and little wear). This is why I sold all my Kendra Scott…
You should buy gold-plating if you’re looking at a piece that you only want to wear for a little while. Something super trendy you know you won’t wear for more than a season or a piece you’ll only wear occasionally. Think a statement earring that you only wear on the occasional date night. I would caution against gold plating for necklaces, bracelets, rings, or anything that’s going to get more “wear” simply because of proximity to skin.
Gold-filled, on the other hand, is a great, less expensive alternative to solid gold, but more costly than gold-plated. Of course, nothing is going to be as durable as solid gold, but gold-filled is a solid layer of gold (minimum 5%) mechanically bonded to a base metal, likely sterling silver. In theory, you can get gold-filled jewelry wet, you can wear it every day, and it will still last for 10 to 30 years.
Now, I actually have a crazy example of this — this is what actually inspired me to limit my collection, invest in my jewelry, and research all these types of gold. I wear a pocket watch on a gold chain that once belonged to my grandmother. I decided to do some research on it based on the serial number inside the case and found that it was circa 1865 and had initially come with a 30-year warranty. Turns out, that 30-year warranty was on the fact it was gold-filled and was promised to last that long. Not sure how your math skills are, but that gold-fill is still pristine 155 years later. A century and a freaking half.
And, one other note re: pricing difference between gold-filled and gold-plated. The studs that I show below are $29 for gold-filled, $25 for gold tone. We’re not talking about gold-filled being crazy expensive. Plus, if you’re thinking about some of the big names in jewelry, their gold-plated items are actually far more than gold-filled from a smaller jeweler.
What About the Other Options? Gold Vermeil and Gold Tone
If an item is gold tone, that means there’s absolutely zero gold in it. These are the pieces you get from Target or Forever 21 or Amazon that are great for a few wears before they turn to “silver.” I would not recommend buying anything gold tone unless you only need it for one or two wears (of course, that gets into the fast fashion discussion…but I’ll save that for another day).
Gold vermeil is similar to gold-plating in that it’s a layer of gold plated onto metal. However, gold vermeil is a thicker layer of gold than gold-plating and it’s plated over top of sterling silver. So, why didn’t I include it in my top two choices if it’s a thicker layer of gold? Well, it costs more than gold-plating and it will still, eventually, rub off and tarnish.
You’re more likely to see gold vermeil included in a “fine jewelry” section but, in my opinion, if you’re going to spend the money above gold-plated on gold vermeil, you might as well get gold-filled. It’s kind of that awkward middle ground. However, I do have a gold vermeil piece I love: these Mejuri gold hoops are an everyday staple and so far, so good.
Pieces on My Radar Right Now
Of course, what would a jewelry post be without a little daydreaming?! Right now, at the top of my wish list, there’s a classic gold signet ring — still up for debate whether pinky or right ring finger, and a go-with-everything gold cuff.