What Does Gold Filled Mean—and How Can It Be Identified?

The term gold filled is commonly misunderstood in the antique jewelry industry. Actually, gold filled jewelry is much more valuable than gold plated jewelry. When something is gold filled, it means the item has a thick gold sheet applied to a base metal, and that gold sheet is 50 to 100,000 times thicker than gold plating. For something to be considered gold filled, it must have a gold content of at least 1/20th the total weight of the item. Want to learn more and how gold filled differs from other types of gold? Keep reading.

History

Antique Victorian Gold Filled Crescent Locket, c. 1890
Antique Victorian Gold Filled Crescent Locket, c. 1890

During the mid to late Victorian period, gold filled jewelry was very prevalent. The scarcity of gold and the rise of commodities through the industrial revolution drove this demand. These pieces are so durable that the gold can last well over 5 – 30 years, depending on the wear. Pricewise, antique gold filled jewelry (which tends to have the thickest sheets of gold and thus larger gold content) prices out similar to solid 10k gold.

Also known as: Rolled Gold, GF, 1/20 12K GF.

How to Identify Gold Filled Jewelry

Recognizing gold filled antique jewelry involves a keen eye and a bit of knowledge about hallmarks and construction. Gold filled pieces sometimes have specific marks that distinguish them from solid gold or gold-plated items. These marks typically include “GF,” “Gold Filled”, “1/20” or a fraction denoting the proportion of gold to the base metal, and the karatage of the gold used, such as “12K” or “14K.” Keep in mind that a lot of antique gold filled jewelry is unmarked.

In addition to hallmarks, the overall quality and craftsmanship of the piece can provide clues. Gold filled antique jewelry, particularly from the Victorian era, often exhibits superior construction compared to gold plated items. As mentioned, the gold layer in gold filled jewelry is significantly thicker and more durable, which often results in less wear and tear visible, even on antique pieces.

Furthermore, gold filled jewelry has a certain heft to it due to the thicker layer of gold and the base metal. It feels heavier than gold plated pieces and lighter than solid gold of the same size.

Lastly, consider the piece’s color and wear. Gold filled items tend to have a richer color than gold plated pieces, which can sometimes look overly shiny or artificial.

Important Definitions

Antique Gold GF Civil War Black Enamel Sterling Star Screw Back Earrings, c. 1860
Antique Gold FIlled Black Enamel Screw Back Earrings, c. 1860
  • Solid Gold: Pure gold is mixed with alloys to create solid gold with different karat values: 10k having the least amount of gold – 20k having the highest. Gold is very soft, so alloys are added to add strength.
  • Gold Filled: Solid gold is rolled out into a sheet and then applied to a base metal through heat – applying a thick plate of gold.
  • Electroplated Gold: A thin layer of solid gold added to a base metal through the use of electricity, slightly thicker than gold plate.
  • Gold Plate: A thin layer of solid gold added to jewelry, usually in 12K – can be rubbed off easily.
  • Gold Vermeil: A light gilt of gold on a piece of jewelry, usually done with 14k yellow gold on sterling silver.

How to Care for Gold Filled Jewelry

Due to its construction, gold filled jewelry is more resistant to tarnishing than gold plated pieces. However, it still requires proper care to maintain its luster and extend its lifespan. Here are some tips:

  • Regular Cleaning: Use a soft cloth to gently wipe off oils and dirt after each wear. Use warm water with a mild soap for a deeper clean, but avoid harsh chemicals.
  • Proper Storage: Store your gold filled jewelry in a dry, cool place. A jewelry box with a soft lining can help prevent scratches.
  • Avoiding Damage: Remove your jewelry when swimming, bathing, or doing activities that may cause physical damage. Chemicals in pools and natural water bodies can also tarnish the gold.

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