While we only work with solid gold at Gem Breakfast, we know it’s confusing out there with so many materials to choose from, so we’re here to help! Keep reading for the pros and cons of solid gold, gold filled, gold plated, and vermeil jewelry.
“Solid gold” describes jewelry made entirely of gold or a gold alloy. What's a gold alloy? Because pure 24 karat gold is too soft for jewelry, it’s usually mixed with other materials like copper, silver, nickel, zinc, and palladium for added strength and durability. The gold carat tells you the ratio of gold to other metal alloys:
- 24 Karat gold: 99.9% gold
- 22 Karat gold: 91.7% pure gold
- 18 Karat gold: 75% pure gold
- 14 Karat gold: 58.3% pure gold
14-karat and 18-karat solid gold are the most popular choices for fine jewelry – they're the perfect balance between purity and durability. You can choose from yellow gold, rose gold, Peach Gold,and white gold. The color of gold is determined by which metal alloys it’s mixed with.
For more about each hue of gold (and how to choose between them), read our blog!
Advantages of solid gold
Nothing beats the rich, buttery deliciousness of solid gold. As the most durable and long-lasting option, solid gold will last a lifetime (and often many lifetimes as you can see with antique jewelry).
With demi-fine jewelry options like gold filled, gold plated, or vermeil, you need to limit your wear-time and be very careful to avoid damage and tarnishing. Solid gold on the other hand, can be worn every day without worry of tarnishing or fading. Solid gold will always stay gold, whereas the gold plating will eventually wear off of gold plated, vermeil, and gold filled jewelry.
Solid gold is the most valuable option – it retains its value very well over time. If solid gold does get scratched or dull, it can be easily polished to restore its original shine.
Solid gold can also be infinitely recycled, making it the most sustainable gold choice. Gold-plated, gold filled, and vermeil on the other hand, simply wear away with time and become waste.
Disadvantages of solid gold
The only real disadvantage of solid gold is the cost - it's the most expensive of these options. While it's the most costly, it will also last the longest and retain its value the best. And if we're talking cost-per-wear, solid gold wins by a mile!
what is GOLD FILLED JEWELRY
Gold filled jewelry is made by bonding a layer of gold onto a base metal (usually brass) core. To be considered ‘gold filled’, the gold layer must be at least 5% of the total metal content. Most gold filled jewelry is made with 12 karat or 14 karat gold.
Because this process uses specialized machinery, gold filled jewelry is usually mass-produced as independent jewelers don’t have access to the machinery.
Advantages of gold filled jewelry
Compared to gold plated or vermeil, gold filled has the thickest layer of gold, meaning it will last longer before tarnishing, fading, and wearing down to the base metal underneath the gold. It’s less expensive than solid gold, so if you’re on a budget and don’t need your jewelry to last a lifetime, this can be a good option.
Disadvantages of gold filled jewelry
While it’s more durable than vermeil or gold plated jewelry, gold filled jewelry is still only 1/20th gold and it will eventually wear off over time. Gold filled jewelry also can’t be polished or restored like solid gold can – once it fades or wears through, that's what you’re stuck with. Avoid water, sweat, lotions, chemicals, and any contact with other surfaces to keep the gold layer intact for as long as possible.
If you’re allergic to base metals, you may want to avoid gold fill since it will eventually wear down to its base metal core.
Unlike solid gold, gold filled jewelry won’t hold its value, so while it’s less expensive to begin with, it will eventually deteriorate to its brass core and become waste - not a win in the sustainability department.
gold filled vs gold plated
Both gold filled and gold plated jewelery are made by applying a thin layer of gold over a base metal. Gold filled jewelry is more standardized and must contain at least 5% gold, whereas gold plated jewelry can contain any amount of gold (usually the absolute thinnest layer possible). While gold filled jewelry has a thicker layer of gold on the outside, it is still a microscopically thin layer.
gold filled vs gold vermeil
Gold filled jewelry is made by pressure or heat bonding a thin layer of gold over a base metal like brass, whereas gold vermeil is made by painting a layer of gold over a sterling silver base. The outer gold layer is usually a bit thicker on gold filled jewelry vs gold vermeil. Gold filled items will usually outlast gold vermeil thanks to the heat/pressure bonding method used.
GOLD VERMEIL meaning
Gold vermeil jewelry has a sterling silver core and is plated with gold. To be considered gold vermeil, the plating must be at least 10 karat gold and 2.5 microns thick. How thick is 2.5 microns? A human hair is about 70 microns in thickness, so vermeil plating is about 28 times thinner than a single strand of hair.
Advantages of gold vermeil
The biggest draw of gold vermeil is the cost – it’s less expensive than solid gold jewelry. The plating is thicker than regular gold plating so it will last longer before wearing down to its sterling silver core.
When the gold plating does wear down, there's sterling silver underneath, making it more hypoallergenic than gold filled or gold plated jewelry which use copper or brass as a core.
Disadvantages of gold vermeil
Like the other plated options, gold vermeil still only uses a thin outer layer of gold and will eventually wear down to metal underneath - it’s not suitable for everyday, long-term wear. Like the other gold plated options, gold vermeil can't be recycled or reused - if sustainability is important to you, steer clear of anything plated.
Like all gold plated jewelry, you’ll want to avoid anything that can accelerate tarnishing – think sweat, humidity, water, pollution, lotions, and chemicals.
gold vermeil vs gold filled
Vermeil jewelry is made by painting or dipping a thin layer of gold over a sterling silver base, whereas gold filled jewelry is made by pressure or heat bonding a thin layer of gold over a base metal like brass. Gold filled jewelry usually has a slightly thicker layer of gold than gold vermeil, though still very thin at 5% of the total weight. While the thin gold layer will eventually wear off both types, gold filled items will usually last longer than gold vermeil thanks to the manufacturing method.
gold vermeil vs gold plated
Both gold vermeil and gold plated jewelry are made by applying a thin layer of gold over another metal. The difference: gold vermeil uses sterling silver as its base, whereas gold plated jewelery uses a base metal like brass or copper. As a result, vermeil is more hypoallergenic once the thin outer gold layer inevitably wears down. Gold vermeil is also regulated in terms of thickness - it must be at least 2.5 microns in thickness, whereas gold plating can be any thickness. How thick is 2.5 microns? Like we shared above, it's about 28 times thinner than a strand of your hair!
GOLD PLATED JEWELRY
Gold plated jewelry is made by applying a very thin layer of gold onto a base metal. Gold plating isn't regulated so the thickness can vary widely – it’s usually between 0.175 microns to 2.5 microns thick (a microscopically thin layer).
Advantages of gold plated jewelry
Gold plated jewelry is the least expensive type of gold - a budget-friendly, better quality alternative to costume jewelry.
Disadvantages of gold plated jewelry
Because it’s coated with such a thin layer of gold, gold plated jewelry will tarnish and wear down to the base metal quickly and easily. You’ll want to wear it only occasionally and remove it when washing your hands, showering, putting on lotion, exercising, and sweating to keep the gold layer intact for as long as possible.
If you’re allergic to base metals, avoid gold plated jewelry as it will wear down to the copper or brass core fairly quickly. With the shortest lifespan, gold plated jewelry is the least sustainable choice.
gold plated vs gold filled
Both gold plated and gold filled jewelery are made by applying a thin layer of gold over a base metal. Gold plated jewelry has a much thinner layer of gold than gold filled jewelry which is regulated to contain at least 5% gold.
The cliffsnotes: If you’re shopping for jewelry that will last forever, can be worn every day solid gold is your friend. If you’re looking for more budget-friendly fashion jewels, take a look at gold-filled, gold vermeil, and gold plated jewelry. If you have metal allergies, opt for solid gold first and gold vermeil as a less expensive alternative.