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Solid Gold vs Gold Filled vs Plated: What's the Difference?

Solid Gold vs Gold Filled vs Plated: What's the Difference?

When jewelry shopping, you may have come across a few different terms. But when it comes to solid gold vs. gold filled vs. plated, what is the difference? Which is the most valuable, and how can you tell them apart?

We'll take you through each one and give you a few tips on identifying them. Let's start with a basic overview of the main differences.

What's the Difference Between Solid Gold, Gold Filled, and Plated?

To put it simply the difference between solid gold, gold filled and plated is:

  • Solid gold is, well, solid! It's gold all the way through to the middle.
  • Gold filled has an outer layer of gold but is usually filled with brass.
  • Plated gold is covered in a thin layer of gold by a process known as plating, with a middle layer of nickel to kind of fuse the gold and other metals together.

Below we'll go into these in more detail, but those are the basics up front. There are pros and cons to each one, and a lot of those are down to price and durability.

Solid Gold

Solid gold is made completely from gold. There's no filling or plating involved - it's gold all the way through (with a small caveat, but we'll get there in a moment).

It probably won't surprise you that solid gold is the most valuable and will usually be more expensive than gold-filled or plated gold, as it has a higher gold content.

Having said that, it's a little more complicated than that, and determining the value of gold comes down largely to the ability to identify the karats (or carats outside of the US).

Karats are a measurement used to determine how pure gold is. In manufacturing jewelry, other metals are added to gold depending on the piece; adding other metals not only brings the cost down but also creates stronger, more durable jewelry. These materials are mixed together, however, so you won't find a 'core' of a different metal in solid gold.

A Quick Guide to Karats

So, you probably know that the higher the karat, the more expensive and valuable a gold piece is, as gold is such a precious metal.

If you take the example of a gold ring, the karat rating simply explains how much of the ring is pure gold and how much is other metals. It works out like this:

  • 24 Karats - 100% gold
  • 22 Karats - 91.6% gold
  • 18 Karats - 75% gold
  • 14 Karats - 50% gold
  • 9 Karats - 37.5% gold

There are pros and cons to higher karats. The obvious pro is that if you go for a 24k pure gold ring, it's going to be considered more precious and, therefore, will be worth more. If you want to sell it a little later, or keep it as an heirloom for potential future family members? The higher the karat, the more it'll be worth.

However, the higher the karat, the more likely the piece is to get scratched or bent.

So, for an extra-special piece of gold jewelry for occasional wear, that's fine, but for something like a wedding ring that you're likely to wear every day, it's better to go for a lower karat, as it will be more robust, and can take the wear-and-tear that comes from washing the dishes, running around at work all day, etc.


Look for a stamp on the inside of your ring - solid gold jewelry should be stamped to indicate its purity. This is pretty easy to work out. Just look at the stamp and take away a '0', and that's your gold percentage.
For example, if it says 370, that means it's 37.5% gold. Pretty easy.
However, some countries have different stamping methods, which complicates things slightly, but a jewelry expert will be able to decipher these, so you can take it to a local jeweler and ask if you want to.
As a general rule, if it's not stamped and you want to make sure it's definitely solid gold, it's better to pass on a piece rather than take the risk.

Gold Filled

Gold filled jewelry has an outer layer of gold but is filled with a core of another metal. The core is usually brass. Gold-filled jewelry looks beautiful, but isn't worth as much as solid gold.

Sometimes known as 'gold bonded' or 'rolled gold' gold filled jewelry is made slightly differently than plated gold.

The gold is bonded to the brass using a combination of pressure and heat, and this creates a durable, robust piece that you can wear without worrying too much about jewelry care, unlike real gold.

As a bare minimum, a gold fill piece must have at least 5% gold, otherwise it shouldn't be listed as gold filled at all. Some have a thicker layer of gold, while others have a thinner gold layer which isn't going to last as long.

One of the main pros of gold filled jewelry is that it's easy to take care of, especially compared to solid gold, and it's more affordable.

Hobbyists love to use gold filled as a material for experimenting with, as the surface is nice for metalwork. However, the downside is that a gold filled piece won't be worth as much if you want to sell it later on and the gold content can be pretty low.

Gold Plated

Last up, there's plated gold.

Gold plated jewelry is made via a process known as 'electroplating,' which involves three layers:

  • Base layer: a metal like brass or copper
  • Buffer layer: nickel
  • Top player: a layer of gold plating

The three layers fuse together, creating a smooth-looking finish that looks good. Gold-plated jewelry has the least actual gold and may have a very thin gold layer of coating, which may get scratched or damaged, showing the base metal underneath.

The other downside to gold plating is that pieces have limited resale value due to the low amount of gold; this means you won't be able to sell it in the same way you can sell solid gold pieces, and you definitely don't want to be paying too much for a plated piece.

But the upside is that gold-plated jewelry is cheaper, and it's a good option for fun, bold costume jewelry that you can swap around and change as your personal style develops over time: sometimes statement, super-trendy pieces don't date as well, so some people prefer to spend less for those by going for a gold plated piece instead.

Gold-Filled, Solid Gold, Plated Gold: Which is Better?

In terms of value, solid gold jewelry is a great choice. Solid gold is beautiful, timeless, and makes for a lovely heirloom to pass down through the generations.

Having said that, you can't really put a price on sentimental value. If you have gold-filled or gold plated jewelry already that you love, there's nothing wrong with that.

But if you want to make an investment, we'd recommend solid gold, although it's worth being aware that the higher the karat, the harder it will be to keep it pristine, which is really important if you want to wear a piece every day. Proper jewelry care takes a little time, but is really worth it.

For a statement jewelry piece like striking earrings or a beautiful bracelet, however, this shouldn't be too much of a problem as they won't be worn as often.

How to Tell the Difference?

It can be tricky to tell if a piece is gold-filled, gold-plated, or solid gold; the most obvious but damaging way is to cut into it to see if there is a distinct gold layer but of course, you probably don't want to do that with a piece of jewelry you love!

Technicians can tell by electronic testing or by performing an acid test (neither of which we recommend doing at home). There are other tests, too: for example, we test our gold jewelry using an X-ray to check the karat quality of each piece.

Luxury brands are likely to use solid gold, but it's always a good idea to shop wisely when looking for higher-end designers.

Final Thoughts On Shopping for Gold

It's fun to shop for fine jewelry online; there's nothing like window shopping from the comfort of your couch. But whether you're looking for gold pieces online or IRL, knowing the difference between sold gold, gold filled, and plated gold can be really helpful.

Plus, if you're buying for someone else, real gold is less likely to irritate someone with sensitive skin, which is why it's important to know the difference.

While solid gold is generally more expensive, vintage gold can be more affordable, and it's fun to find a unique, preloved ring, necklace, or bracelet that suits you perfectly.


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