Gold-fill is a high-quality, more affordable alternative to solid gold. Gold-fill jewelry is made of a thick solid layer of gold that is bonded to a base of another metal such as brass, copper, or sterling silver. In the United States, the gold layer must make up at least 5% of its weight to qualify as gold-fill. The thick layer of gold is what keeps gold-fill jewelry from losing its color and shine, and allows it to last for many years.
No, gold-fill is not the same as gold plated. Gold-plated jewelry is made when a base metal, such as brass or copper is very thinly coated with a layer of gold. The process for plating gold is far less standardized so the amount of gold used can vary. Usually, gold-plated jewelry has less than .05% gold content. That means that with a required 5% gold weight, gold-fill has nearly 100 times the amount of gold as gold plated! At Sunlight Silver Jewelry, we use 14k gold fill to make our hoop earrings, ear wires, and gold extenders. Gold vermeil is a type of gold plating that is also referred to as "heavy gold plating." It is made when solid 925 sterling silver is coated in at least 2.5 microns of gold. We do use some charms that are made of gold vermeil. See our Material Guide below for a brief comparison of gold plating, gold vermeil, gold-fill, and solid gold.
Due to the solid shell of real gold, gold-fill jewelry is very durable. However, it can tarnish from exposure to air, skin, chemicals, and oils. Exposure to harsh chemicals from hairspray, perfume, and lotions may tarnish your gold-fill jewelry. As with all jewelry, proper care will extend the life of your gold-fill jewelry. Try to minimize exposure to these chemicals by putting on your jewelry last, or avoiding wearing it during certain activities like hot tubbing and swimming, when you anticipate sweating a lot, or when using products such as sunscreen, lotion, perfume, cleaning products containing bleach, or nail polish remover.
Whether or not you would have a reaction to gold-fill depends on your sensitivities. Jewelry made with gold-fill is less likely to cause reactions with sensitive skin because of the thick layer of real gold. It is nickel-free and hypoallergenic. If gold-fill items turn green, it is typically a reaction between the metal in the gold-fill item and substances like lotions perfumes, or even body chemistry. There are certain cases where people's body chemistry reacts to gold, oxidizing it, and leaving a green on their skin. This is related to the pH levels in their bodies.
As long as gold-fill items are well cared for, they can last beautifully for many years. The expected lifetime of a piece of gold-fill jewelry is between 10 and 30 years. Gold-plated pieces may last just about a year, while pure gold lasts forever.
There are three main things to consider when caring for your gold-fill jewelry: what touches it, what stays on it for long periods of time, and how you store it.
It is important to be aware of which chemicals can cause tarnish on your pieces. Sunscreen, perfumes, lotions, cleaning products with bleach, nail polish remover, and hairspray can all be harsh on gold-fill. If you choose to shower with your pieces on, be careful with shampoos and soaps. Make sure they are mild enough to prevent a reaction and that you rinse your jewelry well so residue doesn't remain on them.
For day-to-day maintenance, gently remove any makeup or oils that may have rubbed off from your skin onto your jewelry by wiping with a soft cloth. We include a soft polishing cloth with all orders over $20. If you have been extra sweaty or you used lotions, you may want to rinse the jewelry in lukewarm water and dry with a soft cloth. Taking your jewelry off when you sleep can also extend its life.
If you know your jewelry was exposed to a strong substance for a prolonged amount of time, you may want to consider deep cleaning it. To do so, get a bowl of warm water with a touch of gentle soap, such as dawn dish detergent. Let the piece soak for about a minute. Using a soft-bristled tooth brush, gently give it a scrub, making sure to focus on areas that might collect dirt and grime. Rinse in lukewarm water to remove all soap. Dry well afterward and store in an air-tight container, such as the small ziplock bags we ship our products in. Then store in a low-humidity environment.
Storing your clean jewelry in an airtight container is the best way to care for it and ensure a long life.