What is Gold Fill?
Heads up, this isn't going to be short because there is a lot of misinformation about gold in general!
First, gold fill is valuable! It is regulated and can even be recycled for money! You can wear it every day without worrying about flaking, peeling or tarnishing!
I cut all of my pieces by hand out of sheets of 14k Gold Fill or Sterling Silver! Gold fill is the next best thing to solid gold. To start off, "solid" gold is a misnomer. Technically, solid gold is the elemental, chemical form on the table of elements - Au.
Gold it its purest form is too soft to be used for jewellery. For this reason, Gold is often mixed with other metals to create an alloy that is hard enough to withstand being worn every day. An alloy is a fancy word that refers to a solid metal that has been mixed with metals. In the movies, pirates test if gold coins are real by biting into it. This is because if it is indeed real gold, the coin will be soft enough have teeth marks on it from the bite.
Jewellery is not made out of what is technically solid gold! Solid gold are the bars you see in heists in the movie and coins that pirates loot! Solid gold is not really something that is used for jewellery! Even 24-karat gold, which is one of the alloys used for jewellery containing gold, is not pure, solid gold. The higher the number, the more percentage of gold in the alloy. Wedding rings are often 18k or 14k gold.
When we speak about "solid" gold in terms of jewellery, most people are referring to solid 14k gold, or18k gold, NOT the actual element of gold. (Not what is the actual metal that is mined!) The karat portion is often dropped, thus resulting in what we colloquially know as “solid gold.”
It is important to speak about what “solid” gold technically is, and what it is known as to understand what Gold-Fill is. I believe in transparency and honesty, so I want to break down exactly what Gold Fill is instead of simply saying that it is “more valuable.”
So, to clarify, the gold in your rings are not solid gold. They are often 14k or 18k gold, an alloy containing gold. For this reason, when I refer to “solid” gold, I will be marking them in quotations, as “solid” gold is a misnomer when describing jewellery. Solid gold is technically the element in its purest form as found on the Periodic Table of Elements, or simply, gold when it is mined before it is refined or processed.
So, back to the question of what is Gold Fill? Gold fill is made by bonding two thin sheets of “solid” gold onto a core. The sheets of 14k gold are bonded with pressure and heat to become permanent. It does not flake, peel or wear off. The 14k gold sheets bonded onto the core are permanent. The only way to take off the gold is to scrape it with something like hardened steel, or really hard metal like a knife. It does not wear off when being worn, or even in the shower. (More on showering and gold fill later!)
What someone can call Gold Fill is regulated by the government. You cannot just call something gold fill. This assures the consumer that what they are buying, is indeed what the maker says it is. I ethically source all my gold fill sheets. I source all my metals myself as sheets, cut, file, polish, drill and turn sheets into the pieces that you see! It is a labour of love! Read more about what makes our necklaces special here!
In short, Gold Fill is like a sandwich! The bread is the 14-karat gold, and the meat is the core! Now, of course this is just a visualization and the gold is much more permanent than two pieces of bread! I wouldn’t call the bread “solid flour.” This is another great analogy to understand the colloquial use of the term solid gold. Flour in itself would never be used as bread. It is too soft, fluffy, and wouldn’t taste good- it is turned into bread!
When you cut a slice of the bread, you will be able to see the meat from the cross section. When you cut into gold fill, the core is exposed on the sides, but it is NOT very visible! This is industry standard. In fact, this is the very definition of Gold Fill. Gold Fill is basically a sandwich. The core is industry standard, and often, the fact that the side of the piece shows the core, defines that it is Gold-Fill.
The core can oxidize (react to air) but oxidation is simple and easy to clean with just a simple wipe from a jewellery cloth that is provided with your order! However, I reiterate again, that the gold will NOT peel or flake off. You can technically wear it in the shower, though I might suggest to remove it. I will admit, I wear mine in the shower! I suggest not wearing it in the shower because some people use products or their water is hard and is more harsh on the exposed side section of the core that is shown.
But isn’t Gold Fill just plating? NO!! There are SO many differences. First of all, what someone can call Gold Fill is regulated by the government. Gold plating is NOT regulated by the government. Gold plating can simply refer to a metallic solution that a piece is dipped into to give the appearance of being gold. Gold plating is essentially dipping a piece into a metallic solution to coat the piece in gold. Whether or not it contains real gold is something that can’t really be known because gold plating is not regulated by the government and the processes of creating plated pieces is not something that has been standardized. Gold plating can also contain toxic metals.
GOLD PLATED IS NOT GOLD FILL! GOLD FILL IS NOT PLATING! They are different in many, many ways.
Years ago, it was discovered that many plated pieces from big-box accessories stores contained lead. This led to a callback of thousands of products. After that happened, manufacturers made sure that their pieces were lead free. However, in an attempt to make pieces lead free, they replaced it with cadmium. cadmium is a by-product of zinc-mining and is also on the table of elements. Cadmium is very shiny, resilient, and very versatile. However, cadmium is even worse than lead. Cadmium is carcinogenic, toxic and accumulates in the body and can stay for years or indefinitely inside the body. So while pieces are “lead” free, they contain something that is much worse: cadmium.
Why are we talking about cadmium? I bring this up because there is no regulation on gold plating. Gold plating is simply dipping a piece into a metallic solution that may or may not contain gold. This solution also may or may not contain metals that are undisclosed. Plating is not governed or regulated. Pieces that are plated have often come from overseas, through the mail cannot be certified as cadmium or lead free. The only way to do so is through 3rd party testing by an unbiased testing facility.
I am not speaking about this to bash gold plating! Gold plating can be done properly, in the homes and studios of fellow makers. Gold plating can be done well, beautifully, in a safe way! Makers who plate in their own studio have likely done so with skill and valuable materials. However, pieces that are “findings” or purchased that have been plated are something that have a big question mark on it. If you are purchasing something plated, the best thing to ask is to ask if the maker themselves plates the piece that they are selling. It’s kind of taboo to ask a maker for their recipe to their KFC chicken, so to speak. But it is absolutely MORE than okay and important to ask a maker how they are involved with the pieces that they sell.
It is important to ask a maker what their relationship to their goods are.
Gold fill is the next best thing to solid gold. I can recycle my scraps that I don’t use for money because it has real gold content! I can wear it confidently knowing that the gold will not peel, flake or wear off. I have even dumped my pieces into bleach, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, salt water to test the resiliency of the pieces. Each time, the gold did not peel or wear off. With a quick wipe of a jewellery cloth, it was shiny again!
Again, if you have any questions about Gold Fill, please do not hesitate to ask or contact me!