Recognizing Gold

Recognizing Gold

Published On: 10-17-2013 09:45pm

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Category: Precious Metals

GOLD is probably the most popular metal used in jewelry, at least in vintage and costume jewelry, because it can be used in a variety of purity percentages (affecting cost) and colors. Solis gold is usually marked, but sometimes finding or understand the marks can be a challenge. Below is a simple guide to the most common uses of gold in vintage jewelry.

Gold markings in the USA are based on 24 parts, with 24 parts being 100%. In Europe they often use the percentage numbers instead.
24K gold – 24 parts or 100% pure gold, but really too soft for use in jewelry
18K gold - 18 parts gold or 75% gold, marked 750 in Europe
14K gold = 14 parts gold, or 58.3% gold, marked 585 in Europe
12K gold = 12 parts gold, or 50% gold, marked 500 in Europe
10K gold = 10 parts gold, or 41.7% gold, marked 471 in Europe. 
10K is the minimum karat designation used in the US. 

In addition to the purity of the gold used, jewelry items can be sold gold, gold filled or gold plated. Gold Filled and Gold Plated jewelry became popular in the Depression years to satisfy the desired look of gold, but at a fraction of the price.


GOLD FILLED is the next best thing to solid gold. Gold Filled is a process of using heat & pressure to bond a thin layer of actual gold (usually a hollow tube of gold) to a base metal core (often brass). Gold Filled items have markings that indicate how much and what type of gold was used for the layer. A marking of “1/20 12K GF” means that the jewelry is at least 1/20th 12K gold by weight. Gold Filled wears, looks, and lasts like solid gold because its outer surface is gold. (Another name of Gold Filled is Rolled Gold.) Gold filled jewelry is usually not deeply sculpted or heavy.
GOLD PLATED items are created by an electro-chemical process that places a thin layer of gold onto a base metal such as copper or brass. The thickness of the gold plating helps determine the value of the piece. Gold-Plated jewelry is much less expensive than Gold-filled, as the gold layer is thinner and will more easily wear off.
ROLLED GOLD PLATE (RGP) or GOLD ELECTROPLATE (GE) is the thinnest of all gold plating. HEAVY GOLD PLATE (HGE) is thicker with a higher gold layer and value. By law, to use the term gold plate, the layer of gold plating must be at least 7/1,000,000-inch thick.
VERMEIL is a type of sterling silver electroplated with gold; it is less expensive than gold-plating over silver jewelry as it can be applied a finish on already cast jewelry.
GOLD TONE jewelry has NO gold at all, just another metal treated to have the color of gold

The color of gold depends on its purity and the other metals mixed in to create a different color.
YELLOW GOLD – the shade varies from a dark or light golden yellow depending on the karat; usually the higher the karat, the deeper the gold color
RED OR PINK GOLD (18K) – 75% Gold, plus Copper (and a little Silver gives a look of more pink than red)
WHITE GOLD (18K) – Gold mixed with Nickel or Palladium, sometimes a small amount of zinc, copper, tin, or manganese
GREEN GOLD (18K) - Gold mixed with about equal parts Silver, and sometimes a little Cadmium
BLUE-WHITE OR BLUE GOLD (18K) - Gold with Iron
PURPLE GOLD - Gold mixed with Aluminum
BLACK HILLS GOLD – using an assortment of yellow, pink and green gold in the same piece

  • Look for the mark - often tiny on the back or inside such as the clasp or inside the ring band
  • Gold is 'soft' – the higher the content, the softer
  • Gold does NOT tarnish - if it's green it is not gold
  • Gold is NOT magnetic
A good way to tell if something is solid gold is to look at the edges - if you can see another color/metal peeking through, it is usually gold plated, or not gold at all.

In Europe, older pieces often have a shape around the purity number hallmark to designate the material type - A rectangular with the corners cut off is for gold, an oval is for silver (see photo below), and a house shape is for platinum.

CARE/CLEANING – Soak in a mixture of warm water and a few drops of liquid dish soap. You can also use sodium-free club soda. You can scrub lightly with a soft toothbrush – but not too hard to avoid scratches. Polish or blot dry with soft cloth. If the piece does not have any gemstones, you can remove stubborn dirt with rubbing alcohol or a mixture of 1:7 ammonia to water.

See my outline on Recognizing Silver on my new website

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