Gold: ‘Karat’, ‘Filled’, ‘Plated’ And ‘Vermeil’

When purchasing gold, it’s always important to be familiar with some of the jewelry terms so you can be wisely aware of what you are buying.  No one wants to discover he or she paid far more for that gold piece than what it was worth.  There are four terms, here, that will be clarified:  ‘Gold Karat’, ‘Gold Filled’, ‘Gold Plated’, and ‘Gold Vermeil’.


The fineness of gold is defined by ‘karats’.  Gold that is free of alloys is considered pure and is labeled ’24 Karat’.  This pure gold would not work well with commercial jewelry since it, by nature, is very soft and its durability would be compromised.  Pure, 24 Karat gold is used, mainly, for investment purposes.  In order for gold to serve the jewelry industry well, it must be mixed with some type of other metal to increase the strength of the gold for everyday use.

The information, below, will give you an idea of how much pure gold would actually be present within each karat group:

24 Karats  ………………   pure gold content is:   99.90%

18 Karats  ………………   pure gold content is:   75.00%

14 Karats  ………………   pure gold content is:   58.30%

10 Karats  ………………   pure gold content is:   41.75%

Anything marked less than 10K is considered trash gold.

Gold Filled:

This is an affordable alternative to pure gold.  Gold filled refers to gold being pressure-bonded onto a base metal.   The gleaming appearance of any piece that is gold filled will possess the exact beauty as pure gold, at a fraction of the cost.  Gold-filled jewelry pieces are considered life-time products since the gold layering never wears off.

The layer that is applied must be a minimum of 10K gold; and the total weight of the gold must be at least 1/20 of the total weight of all the metals, combined.  Any gold filled article will display an official stamp that would indicated the gold content.  If a piece has been filled with 14K gold, the stamp, or etching would look like this:  ‘1/20 14K G.F.’.   The ‘G.F.’ being the abbreviation for ‘Gold Filled’.


Gold Plated:

Jewelry pieces that are ‘gold-plated’ are similar to ‘gold-filled’ in that a thin layer of gold is applied to base metals.  Again, U.S. minimum requirements necessitate that the gold content must be a minimum of 10K.

There are a couple terms, within the gold-plated grouping, that are worth mentioning:

–Gold Electroplate:  The plating layer must be at least 7 millionths of an inch of fine gold.

–Heavy Electroplate:  The plating layer must be at least 100 millionths of an inch—the same as the width of a human hair.

These types of coatings are far thinner than the layers used in gold-filled jewelry; and, additionally, durability is compromised due to the layers’ thinness.  One should, also, be aware that tiny pores can develop with gold plating, which can expose the base metal, opening opportunities for corrosion or discoloration.

Gold-plated jewelry pieces tend to tarnish; and if the plating wears away, the exposed base metal can discolor one’s skin.  As a side note:  Gold will not discolor one’s skin.  It is the base metal, under the plating, that would be the culprit.


Here, an extremely thin layer of at least 10K gold is deposited over pure sterling silver. Though not highly durable, with proper care , gold vermeil can last many years without tarnishing or showing signs of the wearing away of the gold.

Never expose vermeil to water, such as with swimming or showering, nor allow the pieces to be machine polished since all of these activities would cause a thinning of the gold layering.

May your gold-shopping experience be exciting and fun-filled—just be aware of what you are buying!

K.C. likes to write from her home in the midwest.  When she writes, she covers a variety of topics like custom jewelry like the kind offered by Love My Swag.

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