The difference between Gold, Gold Plated and Gold Filled Jewelry

If you’re the type of person who appreciates vintage and antique jewelry, you’ve probably come across jewelry that’s described as “Gold”, “Gold Filled” “Gold Plated” or one of a dozen other phrases with the word Gold in it. When shopping for vintage and antique jewelry, whether on eBay or in your local antique mall, it’s important to know the difference between these common phrases. Not all “Gold” is created equal.

In order to get a real understanding of all these terms, you have to first understand some basics about gold itself.


Gold is an elemental metal. This means that pure gold is made up of nothing but gold atoms. Other examples of elemental metals include copper (made of nothing but copper atoms); iron (made of nothing but iron atoms) and aluminum (made of nothing but aluminum atoms).  In its natural form, gold is orangish-yellow in color (sometimes called “buttery” yellow), has a bright shine (high luster), is very soft (it scratches easily) and is very malleable (it can be hammered and stretched easily with iron tools).


Example of Elemental Gold In Its Natural “Nugget Form”

When people talk about the “Price of Gold” or the “Spot Gold Price” or “Gold Bullion” – they are talking about pure elemental gold. Pure gold is so soft, however, that it is rarely ever used to make jewelry because it cannot hold up to daily use. For example, a pure gold ring would constantly lose its shape and any stones set in it would be at risk of coming loose.  Rather, most jewelry is made from a “gold alloy”.  An alloy is a combination of any two metals. For example – brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Brass is made by melting down copper and zinc and “stirring” them together.

Similarly, gold alloys are made by melting down pure gold and combining it with another metal (usually silver, copper or tin). 99.9% of the gold jewelry on the market today is made from a gold alloy of some type.

Indicating Gold Content

Because gold jewelry is usually sold in alloy form, it is important to know how much pure gold it contains – and thus its inherent value. There are two common systems (known as “Fineness Marking”) for indicating gold content in jewelry – the Karat System and Numeric System.

In the United States, and countries which export heavily to the United States, the Karat system is used. In the Karat System, pure elemental gold is referred to as 24K gold. There is no higher standard in the Karat System than 24K gold (you will sometimes see scams where people claim to be selling 25K, 26K and 28K Gold – this is simply an attempt by a dishonest dealer who is trying to take advantage of an unknowledgeable customer).

24K gold is gold in its purest form without any other metal added (though even most 24K gold usually has minute traces of other metals in it. That’s why even fine gold bullion is labeled 99.999% Gold instead of 100% Gold).  Gold alloys are represented in the Karat System based on the number of “karats” of gold contained in each alloy. For example, in the United States you will commonly see 14 Karat and 10 Karat Gold. 14 Karat Gold consists of 14 parts (aka “karats”) gold and 10 parts (aka “karats”) some other metal (58.3% pure gold). 10K Gold consists of 10 parts gold and 14 parts some other metal (41.6% pure gold). Other common indications are:

  • 18K = 75% Pure Gold
  • 12K = 50% Pure Gold
  • 9K   = 33% Pure Gold (common in British and Antique Pieces. It is technically unlawful to represent 9K gold in the U.S. as being solid gold)



Example of a 14K Gold Mark with the manufacturer’s name “Esemco” beneath. U.S. Law Requires All Manufacturers to include a maker’s mark along with the fineness mark. 

While not very common in the United States, you will sometimes encounter 20K, 21K and 22K Gold items. These are usually of Middle Eastern (e.g. Kuwaiti) or Far Eastern (e.g. Hong Kong) origin.

Outside the United States (and a few other Western Countries), the dominant fineness marking system is a numeric system that indicates the amount of pure gold a basis of parts of one thousand. For example, if something is 18K gold (75% pure gold) then it is 750 parts out of 1000 pure gold. It’s a fraction – 750/1000 = 0.75 or 75%.  In the Numeric Marking System (sometimes called the “European System” or “Convention System”) you use the first number. So an item that was 75% gold (18K in the Karat System) would just be marked 750. Similarly, an item that is 58.5% Gold (very close to 14K in the Karat System) would be marked 585. Other common markings are:

375 = 375/1000 or 9K Gold

875 = 875/1000 of 21K Gold



Example of a 750 Mark with the manufacturer’s mark “RA” above.

While most countries will use either the Karat System, Numeric System or a combination of both, a few countries still use a pictorial hallmarking system. Hallmarks are slightly different from fineness marks because they indicate that the fineness of the metal has been approved by a governmental or quasi-governmental entity. Under a pictorial hallmarking system, the amount of pure gold contained in a piece of jewelry is indicated by a specific picture or symbol – for example – a common animal or the profile of a person. Modern jewelry will almost always also have a numeric marking in addition to the pictorial hallmark. Antique pieces, however, will often have just a pictorial mark or no mark at all.

If there is no marking, how can you tell whether or not something is really gold?

The first thing to keep in mind here is that a fineness mark or hallmark is just a label put on something by a person or machine. While these marks are a good indication that something is actually gold, the mark is only as valuable as the person who put it there. Anyone can order a set of hallmarking stamps off a website and stamp non-gold with 14K, 18K, 750 or any other mark. The only way to know you are getting real gold is to buy from a trusted dealer or test it yourself.

Gold can be tested in several different ways. In our store, we use two methods – Acid Testing and X-Ray Fluorescence. They both have advantages and disadvantages. For more information on gold testing – see our article “Gold Testing Basics”.

Gold Plated and Gold Filled Jewelry

Now that we know what gold and gold alloys are, it’s time to talk about gold plated and gold filled jewelry.

Gold Plated Jewelry:

Gold plated jewelry is NOT gold jewelry. Gold plated jewelry is jewelry made of a base metal (e.g. copper) or silver that has a very thin layer of gold applied to the top. The layer is so thin, that it can usually be rubbed off with a coarse pencil eraser in a few swipes. Some plated jewelry has a “thicker” layer of gold than other plated jewelry, but the difference is insignificant on the grand scale of things. When buying gold plated jewelry, you should consider the gold plating as nothing more than a coloring (an aesthetic attribute) – there is almost no inherent value to the gold applied. It doesn’t matter if it’s 24K, 14K or 18K.

Example of a Designer Gold Plated Bracelet with Natural Agate

This doesn’t mean gold plated jewelry is “junk” or “uncollectible”. To the contrary, much of the vintage and modern gold plated jewelry on the market is very desirable and a pleasure to wear. Common marks for gold plated jewelry include:

  • 14KGP — (Note: don’t confuse 14KGP with just 14KP. 14KGP means 14K Gold Plate. 14KP means 14K Plumb – which is “dead on exactly” aka “plumb”  solid 14K Gold) The “14” can be substituted with 10, 12, 18, 24 etc.
  • 14K HGE  — 14K Heavy Gold Electroplate. This means the gold plating layer was applied using electrolysis. The “14” can be substituted with 10, 12, 18, 24 etc.
  • 24K Gold Plated — This means the plating layer is 24K gold. It usually indicates electroplating.
  • Vermeil — Means gold plated sterling silver or fine silver. It’s regular old gold plating – except the underlying metal is sterling silver of fine silver instead of a base metal.
  • Gold Over Sterling Silver —Same as vermeil.
  • Gold Wash — Regular old gold plating with a nicer name.
  • Gold Clad / Karat Clad — In a technical sense – clad means that gold layer was pressure bound to the underlying base metal. However, “gold clad” is a common synonym for any type of gold plating.
  • Bonded Gold — Here again – this just means gold plated. As with all gold plated jewelry, some bonded gold jewelry has a thicker layer of gold plating than others – but the difference is negligible.
  • 10 Microns / or another number followed by the word microns or the symbol for micron “µ” – this means that the layer of gold plating is 10 microns thick
  • Plaque Or – usually followed by a number of Microns. This is seen on French / Swiss pieces, especially watch cases. It means gold plated.

Gold Filled Jewelry

Gold filled jewelry is NOT gold jewelry. Gold filled jewelry is made by taking one or more sheets of solid gold (14K, 12K, 18K, etc) and wrapping them around a base metal under intense pressure. The gold sheets are effectively “filled” with something other than gold. Unlike gold plated jewelry, gold filled jewelry has a commonly measurable amount of actual gold in it. Like gold plated jewelry, some gold filled jewelry has a thicker layer of gold than other gold filled jewelry. In some instances, the weight of the gold is actually marked on the gold filled jewelry.

For example – mid 20th century and later pieces are very often marked 1/20 12K Gold Filled. This means that 1/20 of the metal weight of the item consists of 12K Gold (remember that 12K gold itself is an alloy consisting of only 50% gold – thus a 1/20 12K Gold Filled item is 1/20 12K gold and 1/40 pure gold).  Common gold filled marks include:

example of 12kt

Example of the 12KT. G.F. mark on a rose brooch   

  • G.F. (stands for Gold Filled – U.S. Law requires that items marked this way be at least 1/20th gold by weight )
  • 1/20 12K G.F. (this is one of the most common marks)
  • 1/10 12K Gold Filled (The “12K” can be substituted with 10K, 14K, 18K etc.) (1/10 of the piece is gold weight).
  • 12KT G.F. (The “12” can be substituted with 10, 14, 18 etc.).
  • 20/12  — This is shorthand for 1/20 12K Gold Filled (you will also sometimes see 14/20, 12/10 etc.)
  • Gold Filled — (same as “G.F”)
  • 14K Rolled Gold; 14K Rolled Gold Plate; R.G.P.; 1/30 R.G.P.; 1/40 R.G.P.  – all of these markings stand for “Rolled Gold Plate” which is usually, but not always 1/30th or less solid gold.
  • ¼ 14K Shell — This means ¼ of the metal weight of the item is solid 14K gold. (The “14” can be substituted with 10, 12, 18, 24 etc.)
  • 1/5 14K Shell  — This means 1/5 of the metal weight of the item is solid 14K gold. (The “14” can be substituted with 10, 12, 18, 24 etc.)
  • Guaranteed 10 Years; Guaranteed 20 years; Warranted – seen on watch cases. This means the watch is supposed to have a thick enough gold layer to last 10 or 20 years of normal handling before wearing off. Gold weight values – but the 20 year watches are usually at least 1/10 10K gold by weight.
  • 1/20 14K G.F. Sterling Silver — This means that instead of a base metal, the gold layer is wrapped around solid sterling silver. Common on pieces from the 1940’s and 1950’s and also in new studio jewelry.

Mixed Metals

Occasionally you will encounter jewelry that is made of Solid Gold and another precious metal. This jewelry will often be marked with a gold fineness mark and a fineness mark for the other metal (e.g. Silver, Platinum, Palladium).

The example below is a U.S. Marine Corps Ring. The Marines emblem on the ring is solid 14K Gold. The remainder of the ring is sterling silver. The ring is thus marked 14K and also .925, which is the numerical marking for Sterling Silver (925/1000 silver). See our article on silver for more info on Sterling Silver.

U.S marine corp ring1 U.S marine corp ring2

222 Responses to The difference between Gold, Gold Plated and Gold Filled Jewelry

  1. Each individual has its own decision. Somebody like Earrings, Rings, Bracelets. Be that as it may, i like Diamond Jewelry most.

  2. So people have been saying gold plated is basically no gold but I don’t want to hear basically I want the real truth , I don’t care if it’s a little itty bitty bit of gold but my question is , does gold plated jewelry have any gold in it or on it at all ???

    • Chris Schwab says:

      Yes hence the name “gold plated” this jewelry has gold on it …. it’s just a very thin layer of gold that in most cases can be rubbed off as easily as rubbing an eraser on it with a few swiped presto gold is gone…. but none the less it’s still gold that’s on there even if it’s a real thin layer…. hope this answered your question bud

  3. Maria Torres says:

    This article is very interesting and serves as very useful information for people that buy jewelry and such. Thank you very much.

  4. Reed Webster says:

    I recently purchased a gold band that is marked 18K=. What is the significance of the equal mark after the 18K. I’ve looked everywhere with no results.
    Thank you,

    • Jahangir_Pakistan says:

      Perhaps it is there to make no one writes at the end to illegally change the value. Like we say $500/= in our country. Like when write check you write ‘only’ in words at the end.
      Like “Dollar Five Hundred Only”. If you only write ‘Dollar Five Hundred” it can be changed to ‘Dollar Five Hundred and Ninety.

  5. Vogue Crafts says:

    This article is very interesting and content a useful information. if your have interest in new trend and designs in gold jewelry then check with Vogue Crafts and Designs

  6. Bobbi California 92637 says:

    What about electro form gold marked 14 karat. Is that real?

    • Dru says:

      Electroform would be the equivalent of a thin solid gold sheet wrapped around a weighted or cardboard-like interior. It is NOT plated. It is a solid piece of gold. It’s just not solid all of the way through.

  7. Nikki Buchanan says:

    Very interesting information. I do have 1 question. I’m using Kay Jewelers for the sole purpose of giving an example (just saw a Kay commercial).

    If I wanted to buy a 14K gold link bracelet or chain, I would want gold filled vs gold plated? Or would a bracelet/chain be solid gold/24k?

    • Susan says:

      The 14K bracelet would be just that. Gold filled is not the same but a very good piece. Gold filled will last for many years. Gold Plated well I don’t think Kay’s would sell this. Solid gold is very soft and really wouldn’t be practical as a jewelry piece as it would scratch easily as well as bend and lose it’s shape. 10K and 14K are very sturdy and will last a life time and beyond.

  8. Sofia says:

    I bought a gold ring Is marked with MGL I don’t know what it mean I just hope is not fake.

  9. michael angelo alburo says:


  10. Would gold filled jewelry have a magnetic quality to it?

  11. Buy unique Italian gold Jewelry at Vaskia online store – discover a great choice of individual products like 18KT gold sphere earrings, love notes gold necklace and many more. Shop our online jewelry store for Italian gold jewelry.

  12. Toney says:

    I bought a 14kb mariner chain. I can see the base metal in between the chain links. Dose that mean it’s just gold plated, or is it gold bonded? I read in you message that gold bonded is the same as gold plated but I’ve read that gold bonded is just like gold filled? The stamp is 14kb

  13. Sarah Draven says:

    Well, first off, i do have a question… But i would like to say THANK YOU for posting a very well written informative article. Its easy to understand & only states facts without any personal comments or biast opinions. Its VERY MUCH APPRECIATED. Now, for my question… I have a necklace stamped company initials then 14kt GF
    ..but no ratio. I have read now, several articles on gold filled jewelry but have yet to come across anything that specifies the significance of there NOT being a ratio. It’s not dire that i get s response quickly. It’s just an old necklace i happen to come across & was curious what it was (as far as value). I thank you for your time.

  14. Justin Patterson says:

    My earrings say bronze then China 10 on inside what does that mean

  15. ashleypozefskyadams says:

    I found a ring that is marked “10k Gold Filled”. There is then a symbol that looks like the capital letter U with a horizontal line going through it. May I assume it is 1/20 10k Gold?

  16. Florence Durden says:

    I bought a ring from jc penney it cost 599.98 before sale and clearence but its 10kt over silver how can they make a ring for that price and its not real has diamonds over it and one fitfh of a carta.

  17. Randolph Johnson says:

    I have a solid round bangle that has a Asian stamp on the inside of looks like Chinese
    Scratched the piece on a piece of honed marble it left a gold line … I’m still not sure if it’s gold.
    Feels like, looks like, did the ancient bite test it’s soft. ???

  18. Metal Man says:

    Great article. I had to laugh when you mentioned the pure gold ring and the gemstones almost falling out. It was a funny mental picture. In addition, that’s an interesting point about the pencil eraser being able to rub off the gold electroplated layer.

    I wrote a guide to gold plated jewelry too. Maybe you’d be interested in checking it out?

  19. Vicki Olson says:

    I have come across a tie bar that has a gold mark I have never seen before I think it says OB14/19 ….or OB14/10….or GB14/19 or GB14/10 The first and last digits are hard to decipher. I’m assuming that this is just another type of gold plated or gold filled jewelry but I can usually figure out what the letters and numbers mean. I have never seen either OB or GB with a gold marking before. Could that refer to the maker? Any help you could give me would be appreciated. I do have a photo available. Thanks, Vicki

  20. NBOB says:

    I found a chain in the bike path I ride on, it says 10ktGFM, what does the M stand for?

  21. What does Gold Plated gold bullion? You didn’t go into that part or I didn’t see it.

  22. What does Gold Plated gold bullion mean?You didn’t go into that part or I didn’t see it.

  23. Buzz says:

    Does 20/000 14 kt indicate that an item is gold filled?

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