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Gold vs. Gold Plated: Differences, Pros and Cons, and More

Posted on May 28 2021

Purchasing quality gold jewelry should be done with care and consideration. To ensure that you are making a worthwhile investment, you need to understand how your jewelry is made and whether it is pure gold or gold plated. 

Here are some details about gold vs. gold plated jewelry and the benefits and weaknesses of each. 

a 999.9 gram bar of pure gold

Source: ktsdesign/Shutterstock.com

Types of Gold Jewelry

To buy high-quality gold jewelry, you need to know how to identify the different types of gold. Most of the time, even when you’re talking about pure gold, you’re referring to a gold alloy because 100% pure gold is too soft for jewelry making.

Pure Gold

Gold’s purity is measured in karats, and 24k gold is the highest purity used to make jewelry. But 24k gold is generally considered too soft to wear, so the gold must be mixed with other metals, a process known as alloying, to make it stronger. Yellow gold is commonly mixed with copper and silver to retain its luster while increasing its durability. This means that some of the best solid gold jewelry is between 10k-18k.

Gold will never tarnish or fade but will always remain bright yellow and retain its value over time.  

Gold Plated

In gold plated jewelry, gold only makes up about .05% of jewelry’s weight. It has 100x less gold than gold-filled jewelry, making it considerably weaker, less valuable, and less beautiful. Gold plated jewelry usually consists of a base metal, typically nickel, copper, zinc, or brass, that’s negatively charged by transmitting electrical current through water and metal salt.

The negatively charged base metal attracts and bonds with the positively charged gold molecules, creating a thin layer of gold over the metal. But this layer can be rubbed off with wear and time, showing the other metal peeking through it. 

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Gold Filled

Somewhere in between gold-plated and pure gold falls gold filled jewelry. Unlike gold plated jewelry, gold filled has a substantial layer of gold bonded to its base metal. The pressure and heat required to bond gold to metal creates a more valuable and durable piece of jewelry than just gold plating. 

A gold chain neclace

Source: Chanon Wittayanupong/Shutterstock.com

How to Test Gold Jewelry

There are a few ways you can put your gold jewelry to the test to make sure you have the real deal. You can look for markings on the gold, employ the acid test, or use the scratch method.

Metal Stamps

The tiny letters stamped into your gold jewelry may indicate the process by which it’s made and how much gold it contains. If you find markings that read GP or GEP, those stand for gold plated or gold electroplated. 

HGE or HGP refers to the manufacturing process — heavy gold electroplating or heavy gold plating. Finally, a marking that reads RGP refers to a rolled gold plate and indicates that your jewelry is gold plated. 

Acid Test

This is the most reliable way to test if your gold is pure or plated, but it may take a professional to interpret the results successfully. Gold is the only metal that can be dissolved by nitric acid. When it is applied to the jewelry, you should notice fizzing, and any color change indicates how much gold is in it or how many karats it has. 

Scratch Test

The more gold your jewelry has in it, the softer the metal will be. If you want to quickly assess whether jewelry is pure gold, you can scratch it, as unadulterated pieces will dent more rapidly than the base metals used in gold plating. 

However, this test involves marring your jewelry, whether it’s a custom pendant or a gold chain for men. If you have the time and resources, take your jewelry down to a reputable jeweler for an acid test or an X-ray fluorescence test. 

XRF Test

For many types of gold chains, rings, or bracelets, the scratch test or acid test can damage the jewelry’s finish, decreasing its value. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) testing is a non-destructive way to precisely gauge the number of karats in your gold jewelry to determine whether it is plated or pure. 

Professional jewelers use XRF scanners to test the purity of metals. The scanner guns shoot a primary X-ray beam at the jewelry piece, which then excites the electrons in the metal’s molecules. This causes a change in energy that is registered on the device’s display. Different energy levels correspond to various metals, giving you the most accurate measurement of purity.

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Pure Gold Jewelry: Pros and Cons

Some of the main benefits of pure gold are that it will last forever, it won’t tarnish, and it will retain its value remarkably well. You can never go wrong with the classic yellow glow of gold to match any outfit or occasion. 

One of the drawbacks of buying pure gold jewelry is that it is a soft metal, so you should really buy a suitable alloy. To legally be called solid gold, it must have at least 10k gold. 

Whether you’re interested in rings, chains, bracelets, or more ornate pieces like gold pendants, the best choice is always pure gold between 10k-18k. The lower the number of karats, the higher the quantity of alloyed metals, and, consequently, the more durable the piece of jewelry.

Gold Plated Jewelry: Pros and Cons

Gold plated jewelry’s advantage is that it looks like solid gold, but it is only a fraction of the price. Since it isn’t pure gold, the base metal onto which the gold adheres is usually much more robust. 

Gold plated jewelry doesn’t wear well, though, and you often can see hints of the base metal peeking through the gold colors. It also doesn’t have the same authentic glow as solid gold jewelry. 

a man wearing a gold chain with a pendant shirtless

Source: Erich Sacco/Shutterstock

The Final Word

Picking out jewelry is a personal journey, but you should learn the basics so you know what you’re buying. Gold plated jewelry may look nice and only cost a small percentage of what pure gold costs, but it doesn’t last as long, nor does it look as beautiful. 

Frost NYC carries the best range of quality solid gold jewelry in a variety of styles. Choose from our collection of chains, pendants, bracelets, and rings or discuss a custom design with one of our jewelers for a one-of-a-kind piece that perfectly expresses your personality. 

 

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