Certainly, we often hear the saying, "Not everything that sparkles is gold." This saying holds in the world of jewelry. As the price of high-karat gold continues to rise, jewelry makers and artisans have turned to alternatives that provide the appearance and texture of genuine gold without the hefty price tag.
Gold-filled wire is gaining popularity, yet many individuals find themselves puzzled about what it truly is and how they can incorporate it into their projects. Allow us to demystify it for you.
The term "gold-filled" can be somewhat misleading. At first glance, you might assume it refers to wire filled with gold. This phrasing can indeed be perplexing. In reality, gold-filled wire consists of an outer layer of authentic gold and an inner core of non-precious material, commonly brass. While the exterior is gold, your jewelry will possess the color, appearance, and feel of genuine gold because, on the surface, it essentially is.
Gold Filled and Plated: What's the Difference?
When it comes to comparing gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry, the contrast is significant. Gold-plated items feature an incredibly thin layer of gold, almost microscopic in thickness. In stark contrast, gold-filled jewelry offers a substantial improvement. In this case, the gold is mechanically bonded to the brass core, ensuring it won't shift, migrate, or flake off. You might encounter terms such as "rolled gold," "gold bonded," or simply "GF" when referring to gold-filled pieces. To earn the label "Gold filled," the outer gold layer must represent at least 1/20 of the total weight. Another way to understand it is that a remarkable 5% of the total weight consists of pure gold.
One of the primary benefits of opting for gold-filled wire instead of solid gold wire is the significant cost savings it offers. This advantage becomes especially pronounced when you're working with thicker gauges or extended lengths of wire. The expenses associated with purchasing solid gold wire can escalate rapidly. In contrast, crafting the same project with gold-filled wire proves to be a much more economical choice.
A 12-foot length of solid gold wire with a 1mm diameter will weigh approximately 1 ounce (32g). In contrast, the same 1mm gold-filled wire weighs in at 25.5g. Gold is an exceptionally dense material, and the higher its karat value, the denser it becomes. This is why the gold-filled wire is considerably lighter. Although the core of gold-filled wire is solid brass, it doesn't possess the same density as pure gold. This characteristic can be advantageous for larger pieces, as an equivalent item crafted with gold-filled wire will be slightly less weighty. On the flip side, if your goal is to create a 1-ounce bracelet, a gold-filled piece may need to be slightly larger in comparison to a solid gold piece of the same weight.
Despite the attractive cost savings, many individuals still find gold-filled wire somewhat daunting and are uncertain about how to work with it. Thus, here are some key considerations to keep in mind.
First, let's delve into the wire itself. Gold envelops the wire seamlessly from all angles, forming a 360-degree coating. However, should you decide to cut the wire, the exposed ends will reveal the underlying brass core. If you intend to solder the ends together, perhaps for creating soldered jump rings, once the soldering is complete, the final jump ring will exhibit only pure gold. However, in cases where your design necessitates exposed wire ends, it's essential to contemplate how you will finish or solder them. Consider, for instance, crafting prongs to secure a cut stone. If you were to cut grooves into the wire's sides, this action would expose the brass core, as would trimming the wire's tips. Therefore, gold-filled wire might not be the ideal choice for this particular scenario. Ideally, you'd want the gold cladding to remain intact along the entire length of the wire, with cut ends hidden, covered, or soldered.
Similar deliberations apply to gold-filled sheets. Irrespective of how you slice it, the edges will consistently expose the brass core. The gold cladding adorns solely the top and bottom surfaces. Consequently, you'll have to contemplate strategies for concealing those exposed edges.
Given that the outer surface is gold, when it comes to soldering, you should handle it just like gold. Utilize traditional gold solders that match both the karat and color of your wire.
It is highly recommended to employ lower-temperature solders. Approach soldering cautiously with a small, gentle flame, ensuring only the soldering area is heated. Even if you're using syringe solder paste, it's still a good idea to apply flux to the rest of the piece to prevent oxidation. Avoid excessive overheating, as this can cause copper to permeate through the gold layer. This is somewhat akin to firescale that can develop on silver and can be challenging to remove. The thin gold layer conducts heat rapidly, and excessive heat concentrated in a small area could result in the melting of the surface gold, which is irreversible. Flux the entire piece, use low-temperature solder, and heat it gently. Then, pickle as usual.
A crucial aspect to bear in mind when working with gold filled is to avoid over-polishing it. The gold can endure a bit of delicate buffing, but it's essential to minimize this, particularly if you're using abrasives like emery paper or harsh cutting compounds such as Tripoli. It's quite simple to wear away the gold layer, exposing the brass core. A light tumble in a barreling machine or a magnetic polisher at low speed should be more than adequate. Alternatively, you can gently clean it with a soft brass brush and soapy water to burnish the surface without removing any material. Opting for a specialized gold polishing cloth would be a safer choice than employing a buffing wheel.
What this implies is that gold filled material is less forgiving since it's not readily polished to eliminate tool marks afterward. If you're using wire, you might discover that nylon jaw tools are quite useful in preventing tool marks on the wire. When working with sheet material, if it arrives from the manufacturer with a plastic cover, leave it on for as long as you can. Alternatively, shield the surface using paper masking tape to preserve it while you work on the remaining part of your project. Maintain a neat workspace and remain cautious of any filings or debris on your workbench peg that could potentially scratch the gold surface. It's just good practice in any case.