At shows, I am often asked what "gold-filled" means. There are many online resources that explain this in more technical detail, but there are two key differences between gold-filled and gold-plated metal.Â
1) Gold-filled has considerably more gold (usually 14k) content, and is required to be a minimum of 5% gold. Gold-plated metal has a very thin coating with no U.S. standards for content.
2) Gold-filled metal consists of a heavily bonded outer layer of gold, which is attached to the "fill" metal (usually brass) using a process of heat and pressure. The metals are physically attached, creating a very strong bond. Gold-plated metal goes through an electroplating process that creates a thin surface layer, which can chip or flake off and does not stand up to wear in the same way.
In my experience making jewelry, there are very obvious advantages to using 14k gold-filled wire/sheet. Gold-filled is quite durable for me to work with. I am able to sand, hammer, polish, and tumble 14k gold-filled as I would any other solid metal. On the other hand, even light polishing of gold-plated metal can strip the thin electroplated layer. When I give away the little polishing pads with jewelry items, I let people know not to use them on plated metals as I know first-hand how easily that plated coating is removed.
For the jewelry that I create, I use only 14k gold-filled or 14k rose gold-filled wire. I will sometimes use gold-plated charms if they are of high quality and will not be put under a lot of friction, such as in earrings. My ArtFire descriptions include details about the components in each piece.
As for using gold that is not filled, I am happy to create any piece in 14k gold by custom order. For affordability, I'll typically work with gold-filled to strike a nice balance between quality and customer price.
For further information on the meaning of gold-filled: