It's a question I'm frequently asked by women (and men!) who value jewelry. Let's explore the differences between gold, gold filled and gold plated jewelry.
Pure gold is too soft for everyday wear, so it is alloyed with a mixture of metals like silver, copper, nickel, and zinc to give it strength and durability. Karatage, denoted by a number followed by "k" indicates purity, or how much of the metal in a piece of jewelry is gold. Karatage is expressed in 24ths, making 24k gold, 100% gold. Fine jewelry is usually 14 kt gold or 24 kt gold.
Gold-filled is constructed in two or three layers. The core metal is jewelers’ brass. A gold alloy is then bonded to one or both surfaces of the brass core with heat and pressure. Unlike plated (aka electroplated or "dipped") metals, Gold-filled is legally required to contain 5% or 1/20 gold by weight. This 5% is then described by the karatage of the gold alloy. Our Gold-filled items are 14kt gold-filled. 14k Gold-filled products are identified as 14/20 Gold-filled; alternatively, 14kt Gold-Filled is also acceptable.
Gold plating is a miniscule layer of solid gold applied to a brass base. The plating does not compose any measurable proportion of the products total weight. It is estimated to be 0.05% or less of the metal product. Gold plating will generally wear off rather quickly and expose the brass base product. It does not stand up to heat, water or wear over time.
(Bonus note: Gold Plate is not to be confused with "Vermeil" (pronounced vehr-MAY), which is a thicker level of gold plating over sterling silver rather than a base metal. To truly qualify as Vermeil, the plating should be a minimum of 2.5 microns thick and always over sterling silver.)
Generally speaking, gold filled is better quality and will have a much longer lasting color than plated jewelry.