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

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).

gold1

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)

 

14K

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

750

 

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

425 comments on “The difference between Gold, Gold Plated and Gold Filled Jewelry

  1. My daughter has a Baby/Child”s Bracelet that was given to her by her father. He purchased it in Jordan when she was an infant. She is interested in selling the piece… We need to find out what it is worth. There is a stamp on inside of the bracelet GAG 417.

    • Lord was that pretty to watch. I was smiling nearly the entire game. When we want to, we can beat teams down. And that, I think, is where the frustration comes from during slumps — that we know how high our ceiling is, and that as of now that ceiling ha#7s&821n;t even been reached.I can’t think of a better scenario going into Christmas Day.

  2. Hi. Going through my mom’s house and this was very informative. Thank you! I have a question about one ring, though. It is a gold band and I believe it is very old. Inside, it has 18 and a picture of a crown. I read online that the crown was a sign of gold used in England. Tracked the initials through my family tree and it could go back to before 1850 or it could be younger as the same name stretched through a couple of generations. Does the crown mean it is gold? Was there a timeframe where the k wasn’t used yet? Just trying to figure out if it’s real and if crown only could give a better idea of its age. Any ideas please? And again, thank you for all of the info. Very useful!

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  3. I just purchased 2
    “Vintage Sterling Silver Poppins Disney Charm:

    Sterling Silver and 14K gold filled

    Circa: 1970’s

    Weight: 4.8 Grams

    Familiar depiction of Mary Poppins with her signature umbrella and bag.

    Markings: Marked WDR/Ster on her bag”.
    Would these be considered REAL Sterling Silver? There is no 925 marking.

  4. I have a 6mm hibiscus band simply stamped goldshell. Anyone any ideas of a possible date? I know it became law to stamp them 1906…

    • &#hnT6;18a2k you for this blog. That’s all I can say. You most definitely have made this blog into something thats eye opening and important. You clearly know so much about the subject, youve covered so many bases. Great stuff from this part of the internet. Again, thank you for this blog.”

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  6. I have a gold colored bracelet stamped BA 585. I have googled it. And can’t find an exact match. Any help appreciated. TIA.

    • In the article it says that 58.5% gold would be marked 585 and usually has a makers mark … maybe that is what the “B.B.” mark is on your item The article also says that is very close to 14kt marked in the US. I don’t know just trying to help (this is in the beginning of the article right before the 3rd picture)

  7. I have a black metal ring with some sort of pink gemstone. My question is if it has the mark 10kt inside it is it pure 10kt. Also my wedding ring has a 10kt stamped inside but pawn shop declines to take it saying it doesn’t pass their tests.
    Thank you for taking the time to read this and hopefully to answer it.
    KW

    • usually when you go to a pawn shop or jewellers even if it is marked, they test it by acid or testing techniques. because of so many fake markings that are being stamped on jewelry, 9 times of out 10 it is tested especially if it doesn’t pass the professional eye exam. I would take it to another jewellers for a second opinion but if it were me, I would be questioning right now where it was purchased. let me know if you need any other information I might be able to help you with.

      • para anonimo=decis que el servicio de cti móvil no es malo..siempre y cuando tengas señal!!!con respecto al cargo que le haces a los/las telefonistas de la empresa respecto a la mala informacion que puedan dar..bueno para eso estan los supervisores..o no los hay?? es mas yo pedi de hablar con un superior ya que no sabian entender lo que estaba plantenado y me respondieron que ellos me repetirian lo mismo que ellas me dicen ,,creo estan bien adiestrado/a.s. plis no pasemos la bola de las renosspabilidades..que asi no seguiran forreando!!a los consumidores.

  8. I am looking at a piece of jewelry that has a marking inside of “UR”. I have looked on the vintage jewelry site and the UR is fancy. This is just a plain capitalized UR.
    Thank you for any insight.

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  10. Hi there! I bought a chain for my husband and there’s a stamped it say 18Kp made from gold god i don’t know is real gold or not?thanks

  11. Hi. I just want to ask regarding my ring bought last week. There’s a word written inside the ring band. 750 SGR. Is it a real gold? What does SGR means? My ring is a 18k Saudi Gold. Hope you answer my question. Thank you.

  12. HEY EVERYONE!
    I’m new to this, but learned a lot on this amazing website! Just have a bunch of questions ..
    《The more feedback I get the better!! So don’t hold back guys. I’m only 25 & want 2 learn more about the antiques!!》
    ♡ & THANKS A MILLION IN ADVANCE! ♡
    ● I’m looking thru some antique jewelry my late grandmother left me & pretty confused..
    ☆SO:
    #1. “BEZEL” –> I have quite a few w/ Bezel ANYBODY know what that means??
    #2. 10K (or any Karat) GOLD FILLED; that’s better than gold plated right??
    #3. 10K R.G.R.?(possibly”RGP”-hard to see)
    #4. 1/20 12K Gold Filled? (think I know this one; just want to check w u guys 2 be sure!)
    #5. “Lula Faye Bennett” ?? Brand name maybe? I honestly don’t have a clue!
    ◇◇ LEAVE AS MANY COMMENTS AS YOU WANT! SERIOUSLY– I really need help understanding this stuff! That was just one little box that I went through. So many more questions to come if you don’t mind. THANK YOU SO MUCH again in advance!
    ¤♧◇☆♡ GOD BLESS! ♡☆◇¤♧

      • Enfin une remarque intelligente de HABSB:avant 2002 l’euro n’existait pas!!!!Bravo bien vu:et c’est d’ailleurs pour cela que les chiffres des 17 pays (qui constituent maintenant la &ls,oo;&nbap;zone &raquu;)qune fois consolidés pas par moi, mais par le FMI, montrent qu’AVANT l’euro ces pays étaient devant les USAdepuis la chute est dramatique et s’accélère

    • If you bought any type of jewelry that say plated at all meaning it is not real at all.
      Plated means that they have painted a thin layer of 18k sterling silver on to the jewelry over time it will wear off.
      I hope this helps.

  13. I have a brooch which belonged to my nan it looks quite yellow/gold iv always assumed it’s not real but I did notice a stamp on it 9990, any idea?? Please

    • Hi Donna did you ever get an answer on what this 9990 stamp on your brooch meant? I have a single large hoop earring that has the same stamp 9990 inside and nothing else to identify the material so I was hoping you had some luck and could help me out. Thank you in advance.

      • . 9990 is the same as 999 which is the numerical system number for 24kt gold. It sounds as if you have a solid piece of 24kt gold which is worth the most of any kt available. NICE :)

    • See below for my reply to the lady who had similar question…. Your brooch sounds like it is 24kt gold as 9990 is . 9990 on the numerical system…

  14. Hi, I have come across an antique gold bracelet marked DC 14. I can’t find any information on this marking anywhere! Any idea what this means? Thank you!

    • NB: learners on wider benefits who we7Úre giving free courses to will still count as fails if they leave to get jobs… This change only applies to JSA and ESA.

  15. My boyfriend bought this me some jewellery blue sapphire earrings and a ring. The ring has a stamp inside that says 40k G F the earrings have a stamp on the back of them but can’t make out what it says.

    • GF= Gold filled
      Better than gold plated..
      ● JUST Google~ “Gold Filled Jewelry” & that will explain everything you need to know in detail!
      ☆☆HOPE THIS HELPS YOU OUT! ☆☆

  16. Have a necklace that is marked 1/40 12k. It’s stamped make in Germany. It is really light and looks like it was made with gold rubbing. What does anyone think the value of it is?

    • I believe it means that is gold plated.. Which means that has a thin layer of gold on the outside of it, and the rest underneath the gold plated (very thin layer of gold) is made of whatever it is that you bought.. Something like maybe sterling silver or some metal or something.. Hope this helps

    • Its not actually gold plated… the answer to your question is right here in this article right above all the questions and answers that have been posted. It’s at the end of the article and although yours is a different number, the answer is the same answer.

  17. Does all gold plated jewelry have a stamp on it? I dont know much about gold, silver, & stamps & i lost a charm on my 18KGP bangle. The brand is Swavoski Elements. Do you think the stamp was on the charm that I lost or did it not have a stamp?

    • 18KGP — (Note: don’t confuse 18KGP with just 18KP. 18KGP means 18K Gold Plate. 18KP means 18K Plumb – which is “dead on exactly” aka “plumb” solid 18K Gold) The “18” can be substituted with 10, 12, 14, 24 etc.
      ☆ HOPE THIS HELPS YOU OUT! ☆
      This is very true and very valid information for you! I found it on an incredible website.. This one actually LOL.
      ◇◇ but seriously, this is true for sure!◇◇

  18. I was given a bracelet to check for marking to see if it was real gold. It says it’s 1/20 12K, but nothing else follows it. I am guessing it is still a gold filled braclet. Am I correct?

  19. Great,Great,Great article by Hunter Ridge Jewelry, posted 4/15. “Difference between Gold, Gold plated etc.” I learned some things I had not encountered before, such as 14k GC (Gold Clad?) Again, great article.

  20. I recently purchased a Miami Cuban chain It says 14 K with the box around it and right underneath it it says GS with the box around it.. it doesn’t say 14 KGS all together. We were told that it was solid gold is there a chance that this is gold shell or could the GS mean something else like the makers stamp ?

  21. I have a charm my late mother gave me, which I believe to be genuine turquoise, and the setting it’s in has a mark on back that I’m having a hard time identifying. It has the mark SX825 stamped on it on one side, and the other side is stamped Thailand. Do you know what the SX825 stamp means?

  22. I bought a link bracelet which I was told had two white gold links but the other links were yellow gold. I’m guessing it is a sterling lobster clasp. Inside one of the “gold” links is a small “silver/white gold disc imprinted w/ G C 14k.
    What is the meaning of “G C”?

    • G.C. means “Gold Clad ” which is plating , wash or dipped . Could be any type of plating used . Very vague but the name of manufacturer would be a big hint.

    • GC = GOLD CLAD!
      ● 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…

      ☆☆HOPE THIS HELPS YOU OUT!☆☆

  23. Thank YOU!!! THATS WHAT I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO TELL PEOPLE , TOOK THE WORDS ROGHT OUTTA MY MOUTH!! THANK YOU!!!!! NOT all real gold is marked especially antique pieces, but no matter the person they always stop an give a sort of attitude, ‘ by law all jewelry has to be mark’ ? no, wrong! But always get the same reaction. Like I’m the crazy one full of it. Lol ? I just say Ya and by law no one under 21 is supposed to drink but I’m betting u have had a few teenage hang overs yes?!?!….. Loved it thanks again

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