This is a question I am asked often. It's also one of the most important explanations I can give, because 14 karat gold filled wire is my favorite material to work with.
Yes, all of my jewelry is also available (and looks great) in sterling silver, but I make it all in gold first. Why? Because I love gold. I love it's warmth. I love it's richness. I love how it catches the light, and I love the smooth feeling of it as I shape in to my pieces.
So, what is gold filled? Well, the best explanation I ever got came from Myron Toback, my wholesale supplier in New York City. Having been in business in the jewelry district of Manhattan for over 50 years, they are truly experts in all things metal.
Here's how it was explained to me:
Gold filled is like a solid gold tube that's filled with a base metal, usually a jewelers brass or nickel free copper.
It actually starts as a base metal and then through a process involving high heat, the solid gold is bonded to the metal in several layers.
The gold added must make up at least 5% of the weight to be called gold filled. For comparison, gold plating contributes less that .05% to the weight of the product.
The end result is a material that stays true to its original finish for a lifetime. It can get wet, it can endure wear and tear. It usually does not require any cleaning or polishing but can be rinsed in soapy water if your jewelry gets dirty or dull. It's not recommended to rub or polish gold filled jewelry, as that might eventually cause discoloration.
I like that because when I buy (or make) a piece of gold jewelry for myself, I want it to stay gold. Also, I'm lazy and I tend to wear the same necklace for months at a time. I sleep in it, shower in it, etc. I think I've been wearing these bracelets for like 6 years, I lost track. I just never take them off.
This heart necklace has been on for about a month now. It will stay put at least through the end of the summer. Through swimming, sweating and sunscreen.
What's the difference between gold filled and gold plated? Gold plated jewelry is base metal that is dipped to coat it with a very thin layer of gold. With wear and tear the gold will eventually rub off and you're left with the metal underneath, sometimes its pinkish or copper-y looking, has this ever happened to you?
Vermeil "ver-may" is the same process but with sterling silver underneath, adding value to the piece. So, when your gold rubs off, you have silver. But like I said, I like my my gold jewelry to stay gold. To each his own.
Hopefully this clears up any confusion you might have had. As always, feel free to ask more questions or add something I might have missed.