We've been working with gold filled wire and parts for 10 years now and have always loved it for it's subtle gold color...not too yellow and not too shiny. We're the subtle and minimal bling kinda types, yeah!
Ten years ago, before the 'Big Bang' of minimalist jewelry labels, gold filled was quite unknown at this side of the Atlantic. Originally an American invention during the big depression of last century, it is still a very economic way of wearing precious, long lasting gold jewelry. And a pretty environmentally friendly one at that.
WHAT IS GOLD FILLED?
Gold filled is a material with a thick layer of 12 or 14kt gold mechanically fused onto a brass core with pressure and heat. Sort of a laminate. By law the amount of gold is 5% of the total weight of the item. This layer will not chip and will often take anywhere between several months to a lifetime to wear off. In comparison: most gold plated items have less than 0.01% of gold and might wear off in a matter of weeks.
For all you visually talented people out there, this is what that looks like (not to scale):
HOW SUSTAINABLE IS GOLD FILLED JEWELRY?
Most of our gold filled materials and parts are manufactured in the USA, therefore adhering to American laws for environment and production processes. No child-labor and unfair working conditions, we may assume.
On top of that...we've been digging in our suppliers' manufacturing info and were delighted to find out that our two biggest suppliers use mostly* recycled gold for the manufacturing of their parts, chain, wire etc. YAY! And to add some more excitement to that, both of them are completely solar powered and have been working on reducing their impact on the environment for many years. We love the example they're giving!
*it varies from 85-99%
Looking at the life span of gold filled jewelry makes us feel extra sparkly: it can last for many years! A lot of our pieces, like our rings and earrings will easily last you a lifetime (when handled properly). The gold layer on some of the finer chains will not last decades. But because the core of the material is brass, it will only darken over time and keep some of that warm brass glow. Brass is a very common material used in jewelry making and can be polished if tarnished.
Please do take into account that most of our jewelry is quite fine. Taking good care of it is important for the life expectancy of your items. That means, better take off when showering/swimming/moving house/etc.
WILL MY SKIN REACT TO IT?
99% of sensitive people react well, or better said not at all to gold filled jewelry. Because the layer of gold is so much thicker than with gold plated items, wearing gold filled feels like full gold to the skin. However: the finer the material, the thinner the layer of full gold. The links of a necklace are hundreds of times thinner than an earring or a ring and will expose the brass underneath sooner.
This might mean that a super sensitive person could react to a chain earring or a necklace, but maybe not at all to a ring. A matter of trial and error, but you might think it's worth finding out for economic reasons: a fraction of gold means a fraction of the price of full gold.
Another skin matter is acidity. A small percentage of people have skin with a relatively high acidity, which unfortunately means that metals (including gold and gold filled) could change color. This too will mostly be with the finer items; ear chains and necklaces. Discoloration will probably show at the soldered spots first. At the clasp of a necklace, or the part of an ear chain that is sitting in the earlobe.
WHY IS NOT EVERYONE USING IT?
Well, I'm assuming it's because of the soldering limitation. It is hard and will take a lot of time and skill to be done in a way that not too much discoloration will show at the soldering seam. Besides, because of the soldering seam the piece should be gold plated after, so that the seam will have the same color as the item...doesn't make any sense to me.
That means if you want to work with gold filled you are stuck with the beads and parts available at the supplier (which are all laser-soldered by machines and therefore leave much less of a nasty seam). In that sense I'm so grateful that all these minimalist jewelry brands popped up in the last decade. It made the variety in small parts and charms sooo much better!
It's been a really nice challenge for me from the start to work around the soldering issue and find ways to connect parts. We use a little 8 shaped connection in most of our necklaces and bracelets, for instance to connect the clasp with the chain. Another good example is our wire ring. No soldering but coiling and crimping to fasten the bead in place.
You might have guessed, but it is also not possible to design your own pendants or charms and have them gold filled, like you can do with making a cast in full gold or silver. Again, we work with what we can find ready-made and be as creative as possible to assemble something that is worthy to be on your precious skin!