Guide to Working with Gold-Filled Metals

Handling your gold-filled properly is essential to maintaining its good looks and its bright finish.

Last edited: 4/19/2019

A variety of gold-filled findings

Gold-filled materials are an excellent alternative to solid gold, offering gold's characteristic warm yellow or blushing rose tones at a fraction of the cost. At the same time, gold-filled is more durable and retains more value than gold-plated pieces. Incorporating gold-filled metals and gold-filled findings into your jewelry can differ from using solid gold; use this guide to familiarize yourself with gold-filled's properties, and you'll reap the benefits of this popular and economical metal.

Gold-Filled: What's in a Name?

Despite how it sounds, gold-filled metal is not actually filled with gold. "Gold-filled" is simply an age-old term that became accepted in the jewelry industry. Today, gold-filled is a quality designation that's regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. To merit a "GF" stamp, the material must have a layer of gold that is at least 10-karat mechanically applied to a base metal; the karat gold layer must also be at least 1/20 (5%) of the item's total weight. All of Rio's gold-filled products have a 12-karat or a 14-karat gold layer and meet the federal quality standards established by the FTC.

How Gold-Filled is Made and Labeled

Gold-filled is made by heat- and pressure-bonding a thin layer of karat gold to a brass (or other base metal) core. The value of gold-filled is greater than gold-plated because gold-filled has an actual layer of karat gold, not just a microscopic film, as is the case with gold-plated items. The karat gold covering also significantly increases the tarnish resistance of the base metal substrate. Please note that gold-filled materials cannot be cast, and gold-filled casting grain does not exist.

The "14/20" or "12/20" notation refers to the industry shorthand describing the resulting material. The first number is the karat purity of the gold used; the second number is the amount, by weight, of gold to the substrate material. "14/20" gold-filled material is made with 14-karat gold, and the gold represents 1/20th (or 5%) of the total weight of the material. You may occasionally see other notations, too; each will inform you about the material's make-up.

Single-Clad vs. Double-Clad Sheet

Diagram of gold-filled fabrication metals

Gold-filled sheet and discs are available in single-clad and double-clad varieties. In single-clad, a gold layer is bonded to one side of brass (or base metal) sheet. In double-clad, the bonded gold is distributed to both sides of the brass (or base metal) sheet. For most double-clad findings, gold-filled sheet stock is punched out or coined; the findings may need additional gold plating where the underlying base metal is exposed around the edges.

The weight of the gold relative to the substrate will be the same in both single-clad and double-clad. On the single-clad sheet, all of the gold is bonded to one side; on the double-clad sheet, the gold is distributed so that half is bonded to one side and half to the other side. That means the thickness of the gold layer on each side will be half what it would be on single clad sheet.

Tips on Working with Gold-Filled Metals

Gold-filled fabrication metals and findings allow you to design with the rich color of gold at a fraction of the cost of solid gold, while offering higher quality than is available from gold-plated pieces. But because gold-filled presents a layer of gold over a substrate—rather than solid gold all the way through the metal—working with gold-filled requires some special care to keep the gold layer intact and unmarred for your designs. Keep these things in mind when you're working with gold-filled material.

Storing and Protecting Gold-Filled

  • When storing your gold-filled stock, use tissue paper between each piece to protect against scratches. Scratches can be difficult to remove without exposing the underlying base metal layer.
  • Cover your work surfaces with a clean flannel cloth while working on gold-filled material to protect the gold surface layer from your bench pin or hard edges on your working area. Handle gold-filled material with a clean flannel cloth.
  • The outside layer is karat gold, so it will not tarnish as quickly as sterling silver. Regardless, gold-filled stock should always be stored in a dry place, and gold-filled jewelry should not be worn in the bath or shower, in swimming pools or in seawater. Tarnishing elements act very slowly in the absence of moisture.

Cutting Gold-Filled

  • Maintaining the condition of your tools is important. Keep cutters sharp; bending tools should be smooth and non-marring.
  • Be very careful not to scratch or damage the gold layer if your design requires cutting gold-filled material.
  • If your design will leave cut edges of sheet or wire exposed, consider how you will cover the brass core. Leaving the brass exposed can cause the substrate layer to tarnish more quickly. Pen or bath plating is a simple way to cover exposed edges.

Soldering Gold-Filled

  • Use extra care when soldering gold-filled material. Be careful not to overheat the metal, which can damage the material beyond repair. Overheating creates "restain", a form of subsurface rescale that can run through the entire thickness of the gold layer. Any firestain, blemishes or scratches will need to be sanded out with great care to avoid exposing the brass core.
  • We recommend 14K plumb yellow gold easy solder as a good color match for yellow gold-filled material.
  • It's best to avoid having to do heavy finishing to remove firescale. A firescale retardant such as Stop- Ox II™, Cupronil®, Firescoff® or a prepared solution of boric acid is a must for any soldering operation, but it's especially important for gold-filled material.

Polishing Gold-Filled

  • If handled properly, gold-filled pieces should require only light polishing with a final-finish compound and a soft buff.
  • Tumble finishing is also acceptable for gold-filled material. We recommend using steel shot when tumbling, as it's non-abrasive and will not remove the gold layer. (Keep in mind that tumbling in steel shot will not remove scratches.)
  • We recommend a blue Sunshine® Soft Cloth for general cleaning and brightening up the surface of a finished gold-filled piece. (Its non-scratch microabrasive is less aggressive than the original yellow Sunshine Cloth.)

Do you have a question about working with gold-filled metals? Give us a call at 800-545-6566 and talk to one of our experts.