Sometimes it can be tough to tell if jewelry is solid gold or simply gold plated. Even when you can read the markings on jewelry, they can be confusing and sometimes downright deceptive. This makes the task of telling the difference between solid gold jewelry and gold-plated jewelry difficult, but there are some common letters and markings used that can help.
In this article, we'll look at the most common marks used on gold-plated jewelry and dig deeper into what those marks mean.
GF - Gold Filled
Jewelry pieces marked "GF" are not "filled with gold" as the name seems to imply, rather, they are made from a solid gold shell that is bonded (or "filled") with another metal. Some vintage pieces use sterling silver as the "core" while most modern pieces use base metals in order to cut costs.
When it comes to gold-plated jewelry, "Gold Filled" platings are usually higher quality meaning they use more gold and the plating will last longer before wearing off.
To comply with US trade laws, gold filled jewelry must contain a certain amount of gold depending on the purity of the gold used for the plating process.
For gold filled jewelry with a 10k plating (41.7% pure), the amount of 10k gold used must be at least 1/10th (10%) of the item's total weight.
For gold filled jewelry with at least a 12k plating (50% pure), the amount of solid gold used must be equal to at least 1/20th (5%) of the total item weight.
GP - Gold Plate
RGP - Rolled Gold Plate
When the amount of gold used to plate jewelry is less than 5% of the item's total weight (less than 10% for 10k), the markings "GP", "RGP", or "Gold Overlay" are sometimes used. This is the next thickest plating process so while the gold-plating won't last as long as GF (Gold Filled) jewelry, it will definitely last longer than electroplating gold.
The plating on GOLD PLATED jewelry is 5 to 10 times thinner than on GOLD FILLED jewelry.
EP - Electroplate
HGP - Heavy Gold Plate
HGE - Heavy Gold Electroplate
Electroplating is a process using electricity to coax gold out of a solution and onto the surface of jewelry and while it is a great way to provide an even, uniform coating of gold, the amount of gold used pales in comparison to other gold plating processes. With electroplating, gold particles are given a positive charge, which is attracted to the item being plated as soon as a negative charge is given to it. The process has become quite advanced, and some electroplating processes can give you a gold plating as thin as a human hair.
The main advantage of electroplated gold jewelry is cheaper costs, but be sure that it won't take long for this gold plating to wear through.
The word "Heavy" (or letter "H") is added to some electroplated jewelry, signifying a slightly thicker plating of gold, yet still much thinner than Gold Plate or Gold Filled.
The plating on ELECTROPLATED GOLD jewelry is 15 to 25 times thinner than on GOLD FILLED jewelry.
Fractions w/Purity Mark (ex: 1/10 10k, 1/20 12k, 1/20 14k GF, etc)
When you see a fraction along with a gold purity marking, the jewelry can be viewed the same as GOLD FILLED mentioned above, and sometimes the markings will even include the letters "GF" at the end.
The fraction refers to the amount of solid gold used to plate the item, in relation to the item's total weight. So if a necklace is marked "1/10 10k" and weighs 10 grams, 1 gram of 10k gold was used in the plating. With gold prices where they are, these types of gold plated jewelry are starting to get more attention from gold scrappers and refiners.
NOTE: Sometimes the fraction is simplified and comes AFTER the purity marking... ex: "14k/20" is the same as "1/20 14k" and "1/20 14k GF".
When you see a piece of jewelry with a fraction and purity mark, the gold plating will be 5-10 times thicker than jewelry marked "Gold Plated" and 15 to 25 thicker than electroplated jewelry.