Overview of Gold-Filled Wire

26 08 2012

Gold is too expensive to buy casually, but gold-filled wire is do-able. Gold-filled wire has the same look and feel as gold wire, and it will last and last and last. Unlike plated wire, which has a super-thin layer of gold or silver electroplated to a base metal core, filled wire has a thick layer.

Gold-filled wire is made by using heat and pressure to add a layer of gold to the core. The result resembles a thick tube of gold filled with a base metal, usually brass. It won’t wear away to reveal the base metal underneath, which is what happens with plated wire. Silver-filled wire and sterling silver-filled wire are made the same way.

First Number: Gold-filled wire comes in a variety of specifications, usually described as ##/##. The first number is the gold karat, so 14/20 is 14-karat (14Kt) gold, and 12/20 is 12 karat (12Kt) gold. The 14Kt gold-filled wire has a brighter, more gold-like appearance than 12Kt because the alloy has more gold. I haven’t seen any 18Kt gold-filled wire and don’t know if it exists. I have seen 10Kt gold-filled wire, and it’s ugly.

Pure gold is 24Kt, meaning it has 24 of 24 parts gold. Pure gold is too soft for jewelry making. 18 Kt is 18/24 parts gold, 14Kt is 14/24 parts gold, etc. Less gold parts per 24 means less gold appearance, which is why 14Kt gold is much more attractive than 12Kt or 10Kt.

Second Number: The second number (e.g., 20) is the ratio of karat gold weight to total weight. So, if the bottom number is 20, the karat gold is 1/20, or 5%, of the total weight. (1/20 = 5/100 = 5%). If the bottom number is 10, the karat gold is 1/10, or 10%, of the total weight (1/10 = 10/100 = 10%).

So, 14/20 is 5% 14Kt gold, and 12/10 is 10% 12Kt gold. Of course, because this is gold-filled wire, all that karat gold is on the outside. Most gold-filled wire is 1/20, or 5%, gold by total weight. This is more than enough gold on the surface to endure years of wear without fading or rubbing away. Unlike gold or silver plated wire, gold-filled wire can be tumble polished.

Two Suppliers

You can get gold-filled wire from many sources. Here are two well-known jewelers’ supply sources for comparison.

Fire Mountain Gems: Just moments ago, I was browsing the Fire Mountain Gems website, looking at their selection of gold-filled wire. They only have 12Kt gold-filled wire, which, as I have said, isn’t as pretty as 14Kt gold. They don’t give the second specification, but I assume it’s 1/20 gold. They also sell it by pre-packaged 5-foot coils. This means I would likely have a lot of unused wire after finishing a project.

For example, if I need 21 feet of wire, I will need to buy 5 packages to equal 25 feet, and I will have 4 feet left over–a big waste of money. Also, let’s say I’m coiling the wire for cutting. The mandrel may be full when I have 6 or 12 inches left over. That last bit is too short for coiling and will go in the scrap pile–another big waste of money.

Current price for 12kt gold-filled wire, 20 gauge, half-hard round: $36.25 per package, or $7.25 per foot.

Summary:

  • 12Kt, which isn’t as pretty as 14Kt
  • pre-determined quantities
  • higher price

Rio Grande Jewelry Supply: On the other hand, I was at Rio Grande Jewelry on Wednesday this week (very nice and helpful people there). They have 14/20 gold-filled wire, and they sell it by both weight and length, with no pre-measured quantities. This means I can order exactly the quantity I think I’ll need. I will buy from Rio Grande. I can get the higher-quality material, and I can get it in the right quantity to minimize waste.

Current price for 14/20 gold-filled wire, 20 gauge, half-hard round: $63.23 per ounce, which yields 21.68 feet of wire, or $2.91/foot.

Summary

  • 14Kt, which is more attractive than 12Kt
  • no-predetermined quantities…I select the quantity
  • lower price (about 60% lower)
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