What Is the Difference Between Solid Gold and Plated Gold?

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What Is the Difference Between Solid Gold and Plated Gold?

When purchasing jewelry, shoppers will notice two main types of gold items: gold jewelry and gold-plated jewelry. Shoppers will also notice a large price difference between the two categories; it is worthwhile to learn about the difference between these two materials in order to make an informed shopping decision.

Solid Gold

Gold is an element, which means that truly solid gold is made up of just gold metal. This level of purity is referred to as 24 karat gold, which is usually denoted by a "24k" marking. Unfortunately, pure gold can be extremely soft for a metal, so it is often mixed with other metals, creating an alloy that is stronger than the pure gold. The softness of pure gold, however, also makes is easy for artists and jewelry-makers to work with it to create elaborate designs. Gold also will not tarnish, which is another reason that it is so highly prized for jewelry and other ornaments.

Gold Alloys

When gold is blended with other metals, it is called an alloy. Most commonly, gold is mixed with silver, copper, and palladium. While some gold alloys still have gold's characteristic yellow color, some alloys are mixed to create specific colors. White gold, which can range from a silver color to a soft yellow-white, is made when gold is mixed with silver, nickel, or other white metals. Rose gold is created from a blend of gold and copper to create a soft pink color. Generally, alloys range in gold purity from 22 karats to 10 karats. These alloys still retain most of gold's desirable properties: They will not tarnish, they are still usually soft enough for elaborate metalwork, and they are hypoallergenic, which makes them a good choice for jewelry.

Plated Gold

Gold plating is a process that uses electricity or chemicals to deposit and bond an extremely thin layer of gold onto another metal. Most often, the base metal is silver or copper. This will give a piece of jewelry the look of gold even though it is primarily made up of another, more affordable metal. This is why most gold-plated items are significantly less expensive than pure gold or gold alloy items. While gold's ability to resist tarnishing is still present, copper and silver, unfortunately, do break down with age. The effects of this process can slowly work through the thin gold plating, causing the piece to change in appearance over time. Higher-quality gold plating processes use many different layers of metal to prolong the life of the piece and keep the gold layer intact and shining for as long as possible.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Buying Pure Gold Jewelry

Gold jewelry is very valuable. One clear benefit of buying pure gold is that it will also hold its value the best over the years. If a person wants to buy jewelry as an accessory as well as an investment, then pure gold is the best option. However, because pure gold can be so delicate, jewelry made from pure gold can be scratched or marred with regular use. Some people may feel that the monetary investment in purchasing pure gold jewelry is not worth it if the jewelry cannot be worn regularly. Many people may also find it difficult to find pure gold jewelry. Many jewelers prefer to work with gold alloys, and not all designers will even offer pure gold items. For a truly luxurious jewelry item or gift, pure gold is a good option, but for everyday use at a more affordable price, it is best to look for another gold option.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Gold Alloy Jewelry

Gold alloys have many positive traits: Since there is a wide range of levels of gold purities in different items, a person can opt for an item containing a higher percentage of gold, for example, a 22 karat piece, and still have a piece of jewelry with the luster and shine of pure gold. Gold alloys are stronger than pure gold, so they are better suited to everyday wear. Items like wedding bands and engagement rings, which many people wear all day, should be made from a gold alloy so that they can better resist scratches and nicks. Gold alloys are also somewhat more affordable than pure gold, since the added metals are generally cheaper than gold. A general rule is that as the purity of the gold drops, the price of the item will also drop. This can make a wider range of jewelry affordable for those who are not interested in using gold jewelry as an investment. An added benefit to gold alloy jewelry is the wider range of colors. While gold's value and characteristics are desirable, its bright yellow hue may not be. Gold alloys allow shoppers to find jewelry pieces that may be more flattering or in line with personal tastes. White gold looks similar to silver, but it won't tarnish. Rose gold resembles copper, but it won't develop a patina. While more rare, some gold blends even resemble bronze or have a blue or green tone. If affordability, quality, and a range of choice are desired when choosing jewelry, then gold alloys are the best option.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Gold Plated Jewelry

Since the layer of gold used on gold plate is such a thin one, gold-plated jewelry does not carry the high price tag of pure gold or gold alloy jewelry. Silver that has been plated with gold will carry a slightly higher cost than gold-plated copper, however. With its low price tag also comes a lower life span: As the base metal molecules slowly transfer into the gold, the gold surface can tarnish or break down. This may take months or even years, depending on the thickness of the gold plate and whether or not other layers of metal were used between the gold and the base metal. Although these items will eventually lose their shine, it is important to remember that this is a long process. While gold plate jewelry is not appropriate for investment since it will not hold its value, it is an excellent choice for statement pieces of jewelry or jewelry items that will be worn every day. If a person wants to build a large selection of accessories but does not have a large budget, then buying gold plate jewelry will allow him or her to purchase many pieces without breaking the bank. Gold-plated jewelry is also a great choice for purchasing pieces that are momentarily trendy, for they will not cost as much, and, if the trend happens to fall out of fashion in the next season, the buyer will not have spent too much money on an item that was only worn for a few months.

Which Type of Gold Is Best for Gifts?

It is important to determine what type of gift is being given. Romantic gifts, as long as the budget allows, should generally be gold or gold alloy. Some people view gold plate items as of a lesser quality and will not appreciate this type of jewelry as a gift. In this case, it is better to buy a very small piece of gold jewelry than a larger, flashier piece of gold-plated jewelry. However, for casual gifts between friends, gold plate jewelry is a great option. Sets of matching gold plate earrings and necklaces are a great gift.

Finding Gold Items on eBay

From eBay's main page, select the Jewelry & Watches link from the list of categories. Generally, the Fine Jewelry category will contain pure gold and gold alloy items. Using the navigation menu on the left of the page, simply check the boxes that correspond to the type of gold alloy that is desired. Options include yellow gold,, white gold,, and rose gold.. For plated gold items, more choices will be available in the Fashion Jewelry category. Again, items can be sorted by material, so simply check the box for gold-plated,, and eBay will automatically winnow down the results.


When shopping for gold jewelry, first evaluate how and by whom the jewelry will be worn and how long it needs to last. This is the best way to determine whether or not gold or gold-plated items are the best option.

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