Thread Spun Blog on the different types of jewelry quality

Jewelry Quality 101: A Crash Course On What It All Means

If you’re looking at a sparkly lil gold ring priced at $48, and you think “this must be too good to be true!”, well that’s because it is. For solid gold anyways.

Jewelry makers utilize a variety of metal ratios and techniques to produce a spectrum of quality and price ranges. If you've ever wondered about the differences, we're here to share what we've learned since we started carrying a wide array of jewelry a few years ago. 

Give us all the shiny things

Gold plated is the most affordable, but won’t last you too long after exposure to moisture and everyday wear. This is because gold plated jewelry is typically only 0.5 microns thick, coated on top of a base metal, like nickel for example, without a bonding process, leading to tarnishing and green fingers from the cheaper metals within. 

Agapé Studio, based in Paris, France, produces beautiful 24k gold plated pieces with a 2 year water-resistance guarantee.

Agape Studio available at Thread SpunThe Luna Necklace from Agapé Studio,
made with recycled materials and plated with 24k gold.


A higher quality gold plate is referred to as gold vermeil (you pronounce it like vermay, I learned that after calling it vermeal for years) meaning the base metal is sterling silver. These pieces have a yellow-gold finish, which will last a little bit longer, but once worn you’re left with a higher value metal that makers can easily melt down again and reuse. Sterling silver doesn’t tarnish like alloys do either. Mountainside is a wonderful, woman owned brand that creates pieces inspired by the surrounding nature of the Santa Cruz Mountains. If you ever find yourself in Felton, their shop is definitely worth checking out!


Mountainside available at Thread Spun
The Crag Cuff, she drapes around the wrist like a jagged rock path in the mountains. 

Mountainside jewelry available at Thread Spun
The Empire Earrings, hand carved stud earrings reminiscent of ancient empires, amulets and totems.


Next up is gold filled, still affordable but withstands a longer period of time. Contrary to plated jewelry, gold filled is made by compressing sheets and sheets of 14k or 18k gold on top of a base metal through a heating process, creating a wire. This results in a layer not only 5x thicker, but stronger too. Filled jewelry withstands moisture and everyday wear because of this bonding process. The one downside to gold filled wire is it limits makers to their designs, since wire cannot be melted down again and again to cast into a shape. Simple designs like hoop earrings and stacking rings work well with gold fill, and most often chains on necklaces are gold fill as well.

Sarah Safavi jewelry available at Thread SpunSarah Safavi's signature Token Necklaces, featuring ethically sourced stones and fixed onto a 14k gold fill figaro chain.

Jewelry makers lean towards gold plated and vermeil because of the cheaper cost, unlimited designs that can be made with casting and the ability to reuse those base metals in future creations. Though, with gold filled's reputation of lasting longer, some makers strictly use that form of gold.

“Solid” gold has it’s own spectrum of quality, too. Karats refer to how many parts out of 24 are gold. So, 18K is 18 parts gold out of 24. The other 6 parts are mixed metals, often copper, zinc or silver to strengthen it since gold is naturally a softer material.

Young in the Mountains available at Thread SpunYoung in the Mountains 14k gold rings featuring
gorgeous varieties of turquoise and ethical white diamonds.

Therefore, solid gold isn’t really solid unless it’s 24K, but 14k and 18k pieces are stronger for everyday while still remaining luxurious. Our semi-fine jewelry collection includes 14k gold pieces from Young in the Mountains and Miarante, featuring ethically mined stones and diamonds.

Miarante jewelry available at Thread Spun
The Staffa Ring with its beautiful blue green tourmaline and two black diamonds paired with the Cairn Crown Ring to make quite the little set on your finger.

Alternatives to gold pieces are made from bronze and brass. These alloys are made from two metals mixed together; Bronze being copper and tin, and brass is copper and zinc. These metals leave a different finish than gold, and instead of tarnishing, they patina - a weathering of sorts that shifts the undertone and finish which gives an aged look. At Thread Spun, we love the added character, but you can easily polish back to a shiny finish if that's your vibe.

Bronze Equinox Ring by Amanda Hunt available at Thread SpunThe Bronze Equinox Ring by Amanda Hunt, a reminder of the balance 
between the sun & moon, day & night, dark & light. 

Goldeluxe jewelry available at Thread Spun

The Relic Ring by Goldeluxe Jewelry is lovingly
hand-carved in wax, then cast in brass.

These pieces typically will still leave your skin a little green, depending on how your body chemistry reacts, but they will not flake off or tarnish like plated jewelry. From my personal experience with bronze jewelry, I've noticed that after a little while my skin gets used to the alloy and stops turning green when I wear it on the same finger. Bronze and brass jewelry is made of just that – bronze and brass. No base metals are being coated. Often the most unique pieces in our shop are made from these alloys, because of their ability to be cast in organic shapes and original designs. Typically they run in the same price range as gold fill, it’s just about preference of finish and design. Amanda Hunt, a designer based in Santa Cruz, uses recycled metals in her creations, often being bronze. She's well known for her organic shapes and designs, and bronze allows her to do this with casting techniques.

Bronze Tarot Necklaces by Amanda Hunt available at Thread SpunHand cast bronze Tarot Necklaces by Amanda Hunt and
stamped with original drawings by
 Arwyn Moonrise.

Lastly, there is sterling silver, aka .925 silver. For silver to be sterling, it must be 92.5% silver, the remaining 7.5% is most likely copper or zinc for strength.

These pieces are usually stamped for authenticity, but not all of the artists we feature in the shop choose to do so.

Sterling silver Muse hoops by Amanda Hunt available at Thread Spun
The Muse Hoops by Amanda Hunt, made with .925 Sterling Silver

Silver seems to have lost it's popularity within recent years, but sterling will forever be a classic look. Silver is resistant to everyday wear- showers, sweat, ocean water, and easily polishes if it's overexposed.

Mesa Ring by Halcyon available at Thread SpunThe Mesa Ring handmade by Halcyon with a large cabochon Persian Turquoise stone set in a 14k yellow Gold bezel on a wide Sterling Silver band.


Welp, thanks for attending our crash course on all the different kinds of jewelry qualities out there, there's a lot and each are special in their own little way. We love being able to carry a wide array of different pieces with varying price points for everyone's budget. Stop by the shop one of these days to try something on or shop our ethical and sustainably made jewelry selection online.

Shop ethical and sustainably made jewelry at Thread Spun

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