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Key Differences Between Plated Gold and Solid Gold Jewelry

When adding any gold pieces to your jewelry collection, choosing the highest quality items are essential. You will likely come across both gold plated and solid gold jewelry while searching for the perfect new piece; however without knowing the difference between these categories, you may end up with a less-than-desirable item.

Explore the differences between solid gold jewelry and gold plated jewelry so that you know exactly what to look for when considering solid gold pendant, gold rings, and earrings for your personal collection.

What Is Gold?

Gold jewelry, both solid and plated, contains at least some amount of this precious metal. Gold is a naturally occurring metal found in streambeds worldwide, and is a standard metal used for crafting fine jewelry.

Gold has been mined for thousands of years, dating back to ancient civilizations. Ancient Egyptians used gold to make jewelry for their royal rulers, beginning around 2000 B.C.E. In 1091, Chinese traders started paying for goods using gold squares.

Valued at $1,888.54 per ounce as of February 2022, gold remains a significant force in the global economy. It is used for international trading due to the stability of its worth. Gold is most often used for jewelry making because of its high value, durability, and malleability.

Gold is easily alloyed with other metals to create various strengths and hues. Pure gold is non-reactive with other chemicals, namely oxygen, which ensures that it never tarnishes like other metals such as silver. Gold also has high conductivity, which allows its use in electronic devices and other electrical applications.

What Does the Term “Gold Plated” Mean?

Gold plated refers to jewelry made from a core metal such as copper, nickel, brass, or zinc, and is then dipped in pure gold. Gold plated jewelry only contains a small amount of gold, typically around .05% of the overall weight.

To plate the item in gold, manufacturers use electroplating to bond the base metal and gold layer together. During electroplating, water and metal salt carry a negative electrical current to the base metal, where it bonds with positively charged gold molecules. This thin layer of gold creates the appearance of a solid gold piece; however, the gold plating wears off over time, leading to spots where the base metal shows through.

How Is Solid Gold Different From Gold Plated?

Like it sounds, solid gold jewelry is made of 100% solid gold. Unlike gold plated pieces, solid gold pieces use a high percentage weight of gold, alloyed with carefully selected metals to create durable, high-valued, solid gold jewelry, including earrings, rings, and pendants.

Gold Karat

Gold is measured in karats, written as a “K” on solid gold pieces. 24K gold is the purest form of gold and is the raw precious metal miners find in its natural setting. In its raw form, 24K gold is malleable and non-tarnishing. This makes it an excellent choice to work into intricate jewelry designs.  Despite this beneficial property, 24K gold is not often used in jewelry because its malleability makes it vulnerable to denting and scratching. Most jewelers sell 18K, 14K, and 10K solid gold pieces.

These numbers indicate that a portion of the 24 karats that make up the gold are replaced by other metals like copper, palladium, or zinc to create a more durable, scratch and dent-resistant piece. The other metals also create unique hues, such as white gold and rose gold.

Solid Gold Alloys

Metal alloying uses varying percentages of mixed metals to create specific colored pieces. For example, an 18K yellow gold necklace may contain approximately 75% pure gold, 15% silver, and 10% copper. A rose gold piece might mix around 75% pure gold with the remainder of it having a mixture of copper and other alloys, the copper giving it the pink coloring.  White gold gets its color from mixing approximately 75% pure gold with 25% consisting of zinc and nickel.

These percentages change based on the Karat of the gold piece. A 10K yellow gold piece will contain closer to 41% pure gold, whereas a 14K piece will ocntain about 58% pure gold. The Federal Trade Commission regulates the sale of gold in the United States, “and as of July 2018,” it is legal to sell gold pieces containing less than 10K of pure gold only if the correct purity is clearly labeled.

Features of Gold Plated Jewelry vs. Solid Gold

Gold plated jewelry is the more affordable option for gold jewelry, but it is also low-quality. Because gold plated jewelry only contains a small percentage of gold, it does not carry significant monetary value.

Gold plated pieces wear quickly and can easily tarnish. Brass and copper are prone to oxidation when exposed to oxygen, and may take on a greenish tinge over time. Gold plated pieces react with everyday substances like shampoo, sweat, perfume, and chlorine, which cause them to wear out faster when worn often.

Typically, gold plated jewelry only lasts about one to two years before tarnishing. This makes it a decent choice for a lower budget, and if you only plan to wear the jewelry for fun or fast fashion; however, if you are looking for heirloom quality piece for a gift, or to add to your precious jewelry collection, solid gold is the best choice.

Solid gold pieces, like elegantly designed solid gold earrings, are preferable because they:

  • Do not tarnish
  • Are unaffected by chemicals like chlorine or shampoo
  • Are durable and scratch-resistant
  • Last for decades or longer
  • Hold high monetary value
  • Offer a classic, timeless look

Gold Filled vs. Gold Plated

Gold filled pieces differ from both gold plated and solid gold pieces. Gold filled jewelry features a base metal piece with a thick solid gold layer bonded to the outside. Typically, gold filled pieces are made of sterling silver or copper bonded to gold using a cladding construction method.

Gold filled pieces must use 5% gold alloy and follow specific labeling requirements. A gold filled piece may read “14/20 gold filled” to indicate that it uses 14K gold in 1/20th of the product.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Solid Gold and Gold Plated Items?

The legally required markings are reliable ways to tell the difference between solid gold pieces and gold plated items. The National Gold and Silver Stamping Act of 1905 placed rules on marking gold pieces.

Gold Plated Markings

Legally, a gold plated piece must be marked “GP” or “GEP,” which stands for gold plated and gold electroplated. You may see “HGE” or “HGP” on these pieces, which stands for heavy gold electroplating and heavy gold plating. “RGP” refers to rolled gold plates.

Plated gold pieces will also bear a marking similar to gold filled pieces. For example, a gold plated piece dipped in 18K gold with a gold content of .025% would bear the label “1/40 18K gold plated.”

Solid Gold Markings

Markings on solid gold typically say “14K gold” to indicate that 14 out of the 24 karats in the piece are pure gold. Sometimes, solid gold is marked as “plumb gold.” Solid Plumb gold is a jeweler’s term that refers to the amount of gold in the item. It indicates that the piece contains a precise amount of pure gold.

For example, if you see a piece marked 18KP, the “P” stands for plumb, not plated. Plumb gold jewelry marking became a necessity in 1981 when the National Gold and Silver Marking Act was passed. This act shouldn’t have made it easier to mislead, it should have made the regulations more strict so that jewelers/retailers could NOT mislead consumers.  Plumb gold indicates that a piece contains a specified amount of gold, rather than a rounded number.

Find High-Quality, Solid Gold Pieces for Your Collection

If you are searching for elegant and timeless gold pieces for your jewelry collection, look no further than MODAYA. Browse our unique and handcrafted solid gold rings, earrings, and pendants, and find your perfect everyday piece. We offer avast array of yellow, white, and rose gold jewelry, and we only sell 100% solid gold – never gold-plated or gold-filled.

Find your perfect everyday solid gold piece from Modaya. Our unique designs and an array of yellow, white, and rose gold hues offer you plenty of options to choose from to get the right piece for your collection.