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Gold filled beads have a layer of 10kt or better gold that is mechanically bonded under heat & pressure to one or more surfaces of supporting base metal, then rolled or drawn to a given thickness. The quantity of gold must be at least 1/20th by weight of the total product. Under FTC regulations, a product may be marked as 14, 12 or 10Kt gold-filled. Karat measurement of the gold content must be part of the marking or designation. The difference in the amount of real gold used is why gold filled beads are always much more expensive than gold plated beads or beads that are labeled gold filled but don't tell you the karat rating.
The value of gold beads is measured in karats. A karat was originally the weight of a seed of the Mediterranean carob tree. Today karat has two meanings: (1) 200 milligrams, or 3,086 grains troy, used for measuring the weight of gemstones; (2) a measure of the amount of gold per 24 parts of gold ally. Thus, 24-karat gold beads are pure, and 18-karat gold is ¾ gold and ¼ other metal. At the bottom of the spectrum are metallic finish glass gold beads.
Gold filled wire and beads are different then gold plated wire and beads. The difference lies in the amount of gold used. Gold-plated products have a thin layer of gold, around seven millionths of an inch. Gold filled products must have at least one-twentieth of their entire weight in 14K gold. That is why it's described as 14k/20. This means that gold-plated items will not last as long as gold filled items. If you are making your necklace for the long haul, you should spend the extra money for gold filled wire or gold filled beads, which will maintain their luster with proper care. This is especially true with gold beads, where the wear will be that much evident as the thin gold plate wears off.
If you love gold jewelry, but you don't want to go with a completely gold look, consider using gold bead caps with your stone or gemstone beads. They set off the colored stone beads but maintain an elegant theme that can match any existing pieces you may have. Along these lines, gold rondelles are also lovely spacer beads that can give a necklace a more cohesive look and feel. If you are trying to integrate your beaded jewelry into your existing collection, using bead caps or spacers, like rondelles, may be the elegant answer you are looking for!