Gold Plated vs. Gold Filled… Is One Better Than the Other?

by   |  in Men's Jewelry » Jewelry Basics

So you’re checking out chains online, and you notice it says “Gold Plated” in the product description… but you’re not exactly sure what that means.

No sweat! In this article, we’ll discuss the differences when comparing gold plated vs gold filled jewelry, as well as gold vermeil. These are the three most common alternatives to solid gold you’ll come across when shopping for gold jewelry.

The differences among the three gold alternatives aren’t immediately obvious, even if you’re looking at one of each type in real life.

But of course, it matters which alternative you choose, because it will determine whether your gold-tone jewelry can retain its color in the long run.

If your budget doesn’t permit you to choose solid gold, but you still love the look of gold jewelry, you’re gonna want to know the difference between gold plated, gold filled, and gold vermeil.

So let’s get into it!

What’s The Difference Between Gold Plated vs Gold Filled?

Here’s the short answer:

Gold filled pieces have about 2 or 3 layers of actual gold mixed with other metals.

Gold plated jewelry is made through the electroplating process, taking a base metal—brass, copper, silver—and then applying a thin gold layer on top.

Gold plated and gold filled pieces each have their pros and cons. Moreover, they aren’t the only options!

The Pros and Cons of Gold Plated, Gold Filled, Gold Vermeil, and Solid Gold Jewelry

If durability is what you’re after, then solid gold is your best bet (10k or 14k specifically, read on for why), followed by gold-filled and gold vermeil jewelry. Gold-plated jewelry is by far the least durable or long-lasting option.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Solid Gold

Solid gold is obviously the best. It’s what all these other gold-like variants are trying to be. It’s your best option if you want jewelry pieces that last. 

It’s also the most expensive, since it’s real and a precious metal. So if you have a limited budget, the cost would be your main con.

Gold plated vs gold filled
Photo by Alex Azabache

Another thing to consider is its karat count. Gold with a higher karat count has a deeper color and a more lustrous shine, but it’s also weaker. Also, any metal that isn’t pure gold has the tendency to tarnish with repeated wear.

Developing this patina isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. But if you want your 10k or 14k chain to stay shiny all the time, you have to put in the work to polish it.

So let’s figure out what the best alternative to solid gold is, taking into consideration cost, durability, and quality.  

100% the real thing, precious metalMore expensive
What all the other variants want to beCan tarnish
Long-lasting, will never fadePure 24k gold isn’t practical
More karats = deeper colorMore karats = weaker metal
The pros and cons of solid gold

Gold Plated

The main pro with gold-plated jewelry is that it’s generally cheaper than any other type of gold option. But, as with anything, you get what you pay for. Its main downside is that gold plating doesn’t last very long and tarnishes easily.

If you’ve ever seen a “gold” necklace turn your neck green… that’s what happens when the base metal oxidizes, causing a chemical reaction and leaving a green (or even black) residue on your skin.

With that said, there are varying degrees of quality when it comes to gold-plated jewelry. Opt for a gold-plated piece where the gold layer is at least 0.5 microns thick. The thicker the gold layer, the longer the life span of the gold-plated chain, which means your skin won’t turn green any time soon.

Cheapest gold-looking optionPoor quality plating = Doesn’t last long
Better quality plating = longer-lastingCan tarnish easily
Get the look of gold without the costCan turn your skin green
The pros and cons of gold plated jewelry

Gold Filled

Gold-filled jewelry is made by mechanically bonding solid gold to a base metal, often sterling silver or brass. You may also see this type of jewelry referred to as “gold bonded” or “rolled gold”.

Two big pros with this process:

  1. The gold layer is significant, and is permanently bonded to the base metal with pressure and intense heat. Because of this permanence, you won’t get any flaking or peeling
  2. If taken care of, gold-filled jewelry can last as long as solid gold. And it’s slightly cheaper than solid gold. 

The downside? Most jewelry owners today find this method too expensive and don’t offer gold-filled jewelry at all. Because of this, it can sometimes be so expensive, it might be worth just waiting a little longer and saving up for a solid gold option. 

Mechanically bonds gold to base metalCan be expensive to produce
Can last as long as solid goldNot offered everywhere
Slightly cheaper than solid goldNot as common as plated / vermeil
The pros and cons of gold filled jewelry

Gold Vermeil

Gold vermeil is often confused with gold plating because it also entails adding a thin layer of gold to another metal. However, there are specific differences that make gold vermeil superior.

The base metal of gold vermeil is .925 sterling silver. Inferior / cheaper metals cannot be used. A gold vermeil piece uses a far thicker layer of gold (a minimum of 2.5 microns thickness), and the gold must be at least 12k. 

This also means that gold vermeil is more expensive than gold plating. 

Basically, gold vermeil is a leveled-up version of gold plating, and will last longer than standard plating. In the battle of gold plated versus gold vermeil, gold vermeil wins every time.

Can gold vermeil pieces turn your skin green? It’s possible, because after time, the consistent exposure to moisture and sweat will oxidize the silver.

However, in general, gold vermeil does last longer than gold plating, so as long as you take care of your gold vermeil jewelry (e.g. take it off before showering, do your best to avoid getting it wet, etc.) it should last for years without any oxidation or tarnishing.

Better quality than gold platingCan be more expensive than gold plated
Base metal = s925 sterling silverCan oxidize / tarnish if not taken care of
Thicker layer of gold (2.5 microns)Can turn skin green, but not as common
Gold layer must be at least 12 karats
The pros and cons of gold vermeil jewelry

Solid Gold Vs the Other Gold Alternatives

If you’re going for a piece of solid gold jewelry, you first need to figure out the level of fineness, or purity, you want. This is measured in karats. (Gold vermeil is also measured in karats, by the way.) 

gold charms on multiple gold necklaces closeup grey v neck

What’s a karat, exactly?

One karat is equal to 1/24 part of the whole (24 karats = pure gold). 

Generally, 10k gold (10/24 parts, or 41.7% purity) is the most durable, yet has the least gold content. 14k gold (58.3% purity) offers an effective balance of strength and aesthetic.

And 18k gold (75% purity) is considered gold’s purest form while still being practical. It is often used for high-end jewelry, engagement rings, etc. However, because of its higher gold content, 18k gold scratches more easily than 14k or 10k gold.

24k gold, while actually the purest, is rarely used for jewelry. Pure 24k gold is very soft (meaning it bends and scratches easily), very intense in color (doesn’t look real, because most people are used to the fainter yellow color of 14k or 18k gold), and very expensive.

Now that you know the differences between 10k, 14k, and 18k gold, you can make the right decision when purchasing solid gold jewelry.

And of course, you have alternative options—namely, gold vermeil and gold plated—if you’re looking for a realistic-looking yet more affordable option.

Gold Plated vs Gold Filled vs Gold Vermeil vs Solid Gold Jewelry: Some FAQs

What’s better: Gold plated or gold filled?

Gold filled jewelry is better than gold plated, simply because of how gold filled jewelry is made.

With gold filled jewelry, the gold is bonded to the base metal, whereas gold plating is simply a thin layer of gold plated on top of the base metal.

How do the four gold options rank from best to worst?

This depends on your criteria. If we’re simply talking about quality / long-lastingness, I would go with: 1.) Solid Gold, 2.) Gold Filled, 3.) Gold Vermeil, 4.) Gold Plated.

And if we’re talking about ranking them based on general cost, you can just flip that list: 1.) Gold Plated, 2.) Gold Vermeil, 3.) Gold Filled, 1.) Solid Gold.

Of course, you get what you pay for, so buy the best you can within your budget range.

Does gold-filled jewelry tarnish?

Gold-filled jewelry specifically can retain its quality and appearance for up to 30 years with proper maintenance. But remember, all gold tarnishes (or develops a patina) to some degree. And all jewelry needs to be properly maintained—cleaned with a solution, wiped down with a polishing cloth, etc. 

Many jewelry enthusiasts suggest that gold-filled jewelry will tarnish more easily if there are higher levels of other metals (like copper and silver). Gold itself is a generally non-reactive metal.

How long does gold jewelry last?

10k-18k gold jewelry can last forever with the proper maintenance. Gold-filled jewelry, also with the right care, can last anywhere between 10 to 30 years or more, depending on the other metals mixed in. 

Can you shower with gold-filled jewelry?

Yes, you can safely shower with gold-filled jewelry. However, many jewelry experts advise you to take your jewelry off before showering—even your solid gold pieces. The rationale behind this is that showering with your jewelry can cause it to tarnish over time. 

Which Gold Option Sounds Best To You?

Solid gold will always be the best option in any lineup. And in our opinion, gold vermeil would be your second best option.

Gold-filled jewelry could be a great option, but because it’s not always easy to find, plus its high cost (often comparable to some solid gold options), we can’t wholeheartedly recommend it.

The most affordable option would be gold-plated jewelry. Just remember there are different quality levels of gold plating, and in general, gold-plated jewelry simply isn’t as long-lasting as the other options. 

Feel free to DM us on Instagram if you want to discuss or have any other questions about gold jewelry for guys!

What’s Changed?

10/11/2022Added “What’s Changed?” section, added pros and cons tables, updated intro, added more answers to FAQ section, changed feature image
10/08/2022Added more content about karats for clarification
02/23/2022Originally published

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