Why do I use 14 kt Gold filled metals and not gold plated?

I am often asked why I use gold filled components in my jewelry instead of gold plated or gold vermeil (pronounced “vermay”), which is gold plated silver.  I find there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding regarding gold filled and gold plated  jewelry.  Let me take a moment to help clarify this confusion.

Gold-filled metals are presently regulated by the Federal Trade Commission.  They are made by mechanically bonding a solid layer of gold to a base metal core by heat and pressure during manufacturing.  The solid layer of gold is officially 12 kt or higher and referred to as karat gold in my blogs. That bonded layer of karat gold must be at least 5%, or 1/20th of the total weight of the metal, by law. 14 kt gold filled is often referred to as 14/20 gold

But why gold filled instead of gold plated?  Because gold plating is merely a thin layer of chemically attached karat gold covering a base material. Unlike the regulated gold filled manufacturing process, gold plating is a simple process that can be performed in a home studio.  To effectively gold plate, a base material is submerging in a liquid solution containing microscopic pieces (atoms) of karat gold metal. Then the liquids are electronically “charged” by electroplating, forcing the karat metal atoms in the liquid to attach to the base material.  The longer the base materials are “charged” in the liquid, the thicker the electroplated overlay will be.  However, over plating can result in darkening the plated gold, so the karat gold layer is usually very thin, even in “heavily plated” jewelry. Eventually, often sooner than later, the underlying silver and copper molecules in the base metal migrate into the plated gold, causing it to discolor, tarnish, dull, and it can even discolor the skin over time.  That is why many fashion jewelry suppliers that offer higher end plated jewelry use gold filled clasps, neck chains and ear wires where the item comes into direct contact with the skin.  Karat gold in gold filled metals is 15 – 25 % thicker than karat gold in plated gold.  But most important to me is that karat gold in gold filled metals is mechanically bonded during the strictly regulated manufacturing process, assuring I am providing the very best alternative to karat gold.  I purchase my gold filled materials from the same supplier where I purchase 14, 18, and 22 karat gold materials.

I appreciate that gold filled jewelry is financially approachable. It wears like karat gold jewelry and retains the polish, color and finish of comparable karat gold, even with heavy use. I have some 14 and 18 kt gold filled vintage jewelry pieces from the 50’s that are still beautiful. Most of them have a lovely patina from heavy wear, especially the charms, and I cannot tell the difference between the gold filled and the solid gold charms by just touching or looking at them. Occasionally, I use gold or silver plating to accent non metal objects, like shells or found objects, but I avoid plated metals.  I take pride in my jewelry and want it become a special accessory that is worn often, yet is long-lived, establishing a provenance for future owners.

Hopefully this has been an interesting and educational post. I welcome your feedback!

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