For many jewellery makers, gold filled is something new and something left to be discovered. There may be many questions surrounding this metal and this is why we have put together a list of answers to the questions you may have about this solid gold alternative
What is gold-filled?
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 that brass using heat and pressure. This is a permanent bond and 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:
- 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
Why choose gold filled?
Gold-filled items are perfect if you’re looking for 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 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.
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 items.
Can you cut Gold-filled?
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 items?
When storing gold-filled pieces, 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 items should always be stored in a dry place.
How do I clean and polish my Gold-filled items?
Cleaning your gold-filled items is extremely simple, but ensure you do not use anything that will scratch the surface. Here are four ways you can clean gold-filled items:
Mild soapy water/mild detergent & a soft toothbrush – this will effectively remove residue or fingerprints, and still leave a bright and shiny finish.
- Soft cotton cloth – any clean, soft cotton cloth is perfect to polish your piece to a shiny finish. There are also jewellery polishing cloths specialised for exactly this, such as Towntalk microfibre cloths. However, some may contain chemicals which are not recommended on gold-filled items so ensure that they are suitable. Do not leave chemicals on your gold-filled item, 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 2-3 minutes), and always ensure your cleaning solution is safe to use with gold-filled. 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 items. We recommend using stainless steel shot, as it’s non-abrasive and will not remove the gold layer.
What’s the difference between gold plated and gold filled?
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?
But 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 sulfide fumes and fire damage.
Key factors to keep in mind:
- File or cut into a gold-filled product, as it will reveal the brass under layer.
- Over polish as this will reduce the thickness of the gold layer.
- Wear next to harder, more abrasive metals (such as steel) for prolonged periods as this will wear away the gold layer.
- Spray perfumes or hairspray onto your gold-filled jewellery as this will increase the risk of tarnishing.
- Try to cast using gold-filled metal.
- Solder using 9ct or 14ct easy solder.
- Polish gently to help maintain the gold layer.
- Mix with similar, softer metal components (e.g. silver) to minimise wear.
- Offer gold-filled options to customers to maximise look but lower the cost.
- Discuss the gold content of the metal with customers because not all gold-filled products are created equal and not everyone will be prepared to disclose this information.