For many jewellery makers, gold filled jewellery is something new and can be daunting for those who are unsure. You may have many questions surrounding this metal and how to use it. That’s why we have put together this blog to hopefully answer all the questions you may have about gold filled jewellery. By the end, you’ll be more comfortable with the alloy and be able to make your own gold filled creations.
What is gold filled jewellery?
You may be wondering, what is gold filled jewellery and how it is different to solid gold or gold plated jewellery? Gold filled is also known as ‘rolled gold’ or ‘gold bonded’, and is created by mechanically bonding a layer of gold to a layer of base metal. Gold filled has a distinct layer of gold and the core is usually brass. The gold is then bonded to the surface of the brass using heat and pressure. This is a permanent bond so the gold won’t flake, peel or fall off.
By law, the total weight of a gold filled item must contain 5% (or 1/20) of gold. If it contains less than 5%, it cannot legally be called gold filled. For comparison, the total amount of gold a gold plated item usually has is under 0.05% of the overall weight of the product.
There are three different possible ways to layer the gold alloy to create gold filled jewellery:
- Single clad – Gold is layered only one side of the brass, the whole 5% is on one side
- Double clad – Splits the gold alloy and layers it on both sides of the brass, 2.5% each side meaning a thinner layer
- Wire clad – the 5% gold alloy content is layered around the entire wire
Gold filled items are perfect if you’re looking for a material that is higher quality than gold plated, but an affordable alternative to solid gold. Unlike gold plated, gold filled can last a lifetime if taken care of properly, and isn’t affected by water or hot weather. It is also tarnish-free under normal conditions. Gold filled findings are ideal for riveting, stamping and light metalwork, such as texturing with a hammer. So, you can create beautiful gold filled creations for friends and family or for your customers.
How do I solder gold filled material?
Since solder itself is an alloy of metals, there is no such thing as a gold filled solder, so a colour match needs to be done. We recommend either 9ct or 14ct yellow gold easy solder as good colour matches.
Use extra care when soldering gold filled material, as overheating the metal can cause irreversible damage and creates ‘restain’, a form of subsurface rescale that can run through the entire thickness of the gold layer.
Another potential issue when soldering gold filled products with a torch is alloying the gold layer with the brass core. This leaves a dark, discoloured solder join and any exposed brass would tarnish quickly. To prevent this, heat your piece just to the point of solder flow between 690-788°C. Avoid overheating to the melting points of the 14ct gold layer at 843°C and the brass core at roughly 900°C.
If the colours don’t match or the brass has been exposed, you can fix this by gold plating the entire piece. This will place a layer of gold across the entire surface creating a uniform colour and protecting the exposed brass from tarnishing. Plating to finish a piece is generally recommended on soldered gold filled creations.
Can you cut gold filled creations?
If your design requires cutting gold-filled material, be very careful not to scratch or damage the gold layer. If exposing the brass core, you must cover it to prevent tarnishing. Gold-plating is a simple way to cover exposed edges. Also, please note that removing the gold alloy layer on the surface changes the ratio of the gold to the brass core, and by law the gold cannot drop below 5% of the total weight of the piece.
How do I store my gold filled creations?
When storing gold filled creations, it is recommended to use tissue paper between each piece to protect against scratches. Scratches can be difficult to remove without exposing the brass. Also, consider covering your work surface with a clean cloth while working with gold filled material to protect against damage from your bench pin or any hard edges. As tarnishing elements act very slowly in the absence of moisture, gold filled jewellery should always be stored in a dry place.
How do I clean and polish my Gold-filled items?
Cleaning your gold filled creations is extremely simple, but ensure you do not use anything that will scratch the surface. To create the best gold filled jewellery, you’ll need to be able to make it sparkle for your friends and family, and customers. Here are four ways you can clean gold filled items:
- Mild soapy water/mild detergent and soft toothbrush: This will effectively remove residue or fingerprints and still leave a bright and shiny finish.
- Soft cotton cloth: Any clean and soft cotton cloth is perfect to polish your gold filled creations to a shiny finish. There are also jewellery polishing cloths specialised for exactly this, such as Towntalk microfibre cloths. However, some may contain chemicals that are not recommended on gold filled jewellery, so ensure that they are suitable. Do not leave chemicals on your gold filled creations, rinse and polish again with a soft cloth.
- Ultrasonic machine: Quickly and effectively cleans items. Don’t leave the pieces in for too long (check every two to three minutes), and always ensure your cleaning solution is safe to use with gold filled jewellery. Rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth when you are finished.
- Tumbler Machine: Tumble finishing can also be done to polish your gold filled creations. We recommend using stainless steel shot, as it’s non-abrasive and will not remove the gold layer.
Gold filled vs. gold plated
So, what’s the difference between gold plated and gold filled? We can help with that. Here are a number of differentiating factors between the two:
- Gold value: Gold plated jewellery has no gold value, whereas gold filled jewellery has 5% gold value.
- Manufacturing process: This is much more complex with gold filled jewellery, where the alloy is bonded to the inner core using heat and pressure.
- Tarnish: Gold plated jewellery is much more likely to tarnish, react with the wearer’s skin and lose its shine before gold filled jewellery.
Looking for jewellery supplies that will last? You’re in luck. If you opt for gold filled jewellery as opposed to gold plated, it should last somewhere between 10 to 30 years. What’s more, it costs a fraction of the price of high carat gold pieces. It’s a win-win!
Does gold filled jewellery tarnish?
Does gold filled jewellery tarnish? In most cases, gold filled jewellery will not tarnish. However, there are a few certain circumstances where it could happen. These rare instances include transit through polluted locations, exposure to chemical sulphide fumes and fire damage.
Things to consider when creating gold filled jewellery
- Filing or cutting into a gold filled product, as it will reveal the brass under layer.
- Over polishing as this will reduce the thickness of the gold layer.
- Wearing next to harder, more abrasive metals (such as steel) for prolonged periods as this will wear away the gold layer.
- Spraying perfumes or hairspray onto your gold filled jewellery as this will increase the risk of tarnishing.
- Trying to cast using gold filled metal.
Things we recommend you do with gold filled jewellery
- Soldering using 9ct or 14ct easy solder.
- Polishing gently to help maintain the gold layer.
- Mixing with similar, softer metal components (e.g. silver) to minimise wear.
- Offering gold-filled options to customers to maximise look but lower the cost.
- Discussing the gold content of the metal with customers because not all gold-filled products are created equally and not everyone will be prepared to disclose this information.