A few months ago, my mom showed me a new pair of earrings she had purchased and wanted me to change a minor detail in it. After examining it, I told her it wasn’t “real gold”.
She insisted that it was. I knew it wasn’t (but I am also trained to know the difference) so to double check, I went unto the website of that brand.
I got the confirmation then that it was indeed not “real gold”, which was clearly stated in the product description.
She didn’t buy the earrings online, she bought them in store. So, the retailer either failed to mention what kind of Gold it was or my mom didn’t understand the description of what type of Gold was used.
There are so many terms to describe gold jewelry, and it can be confusing to know exactly what you’re buying.
I want you to make the right choice. So, I wrote this blog post to help you understand everything you need to know before making a purchase, so you can assess the value of the piece before you buy.
Below l explain the difference between Solid Gold, Gold Filled, Gold Vermeil and Gold Plated jewelry.
1. Solid Gold
Solid Gold, casually referred to as “real gold” is the most valuable form of jewelry you can buy.
When a piece of jewelry is made with solid gold, it means that the piece is made entirely of gold - inside and out.
Solid Gold jewelry pieces can be either 10K, 14K, 18K or 24K. In Europe, a different numbering system is used. Instead of 10K, 14K, 18K and 24K, the numbers are 417, 585, 750 and 999.
The purest form of gold is 24K gold, which is 100% pure gold. However, it is too soft in texture to use in jewelry, which is why it is mixed with other metals to make it more durable.
The karats (K) are percentages of actual gold in the jewelry piece. The higher the proportion of pure gold to other metals, the higher the number of karats the gold is.
In jewelry the most popular types of Solid Gold are 14K and 18K.
Solid gold is the most valuable of all types and is very durable if cared for properly. It will not wear away like gold filled or plated jewelry and can be easily melted down to be re-used and recycled over and over again to create new pieces.
All Lalou Jewelry pieces are handcrafted in Solid Gold (14K and/or 18K)
2. Gold Filled
Gold Filled is not the same as solid gold. It is a fraction of the cost of Solid Gold and consists of 2-3 layers of Solid Gold bonded or pressed to a base metal (brass, silver or other base metal) to give it the appearance of gold.
The layers of Solid Gold can have different karats (10K, 14K, 18K and 24K).
Gold filled jewelry is typically a better alternative to Gold Plated jewelry. It won’t tarnish and it’s much more durable than Gold Plated, but does not last as long as Solid Gold. Gold Filled jewelry is more suited for fast fashion jewelry that has a limited life span.
Over time, the gold layer of Gold Filled jewelry wears away, exposing the base metal underneath.
3. Gold Vermeil / Gold Plated
Gold Plated is the cheapest and lowest quality when it comes to jewelry.
Gold Plated jewelry consists of a very thin layer of gold being electrically charged (called electroplating) onto a base metal. When gold is plated over sterling silver, this is called “Vermeil”.
Since Vermeil is a combination of two precious metals (sterling silver and a layer of Solid Gold on top of it), it’s considered to be of a higher category than Gold Plated jewelry, because for Gold Plated jewelry, the base is usually either copper or brass.
Often, you will see Gold Plated jewelry expressed with either 14K, 18K or 24K.
But, ultimately, it doesn't even really matter what the karat of that Gold Plating is. Even if it’s real gold used in plating, it’s so thin (less that 1% of the total weight of the item) that not only it can be easily scratched off from the base but it’s also only a microscopic level of gold. Essentially, it doesn't have a real gold value.
Gold Plated jewelry has an average lifespan of up to a year, is definitely not waterproof and requires regular re-plating in order to maintain its gold appearance. Any friction will cause the plating to rub off quickly, leaving a dull piece of metal. Most base metals used in Gold Plated jewelry also tend to stain your skin green or cause allergic reactions.
- When you’re purchasing jewelry it’s very important for you to check the labels of what you’re purchasing. For example: any Gold Plated jewelry should be clearly labeled as “14K Gold Plated” or “18K Gold Vermeil”. For Solid Gold, “18K Gold” or “18K Solid Gold” are used for description.
There is a big difference in value (and price) in between the two and unfortunately sometimes, important words are omitted, which can be very misleading.
- Beware of Underkarating for Solid Gold. Underkarating is when merchants advertise or promote sales of gold at a much higher karat level than what the buyer is actually receiving. (For example: advertising something is 14K but is actually 13K or lower.)
Underkarating is ILLEGAL. That being said, it happens a *lot* in the US...
Thankfully, in Canada, the Precious Metals Marking Act, adopted in 1996, proceeds from the buyer’s right to have valid information about the quality of a jewelry article.