When choosing a piece of jewelry, not only do you need to consider the quality of the diamond or gemstone but also the precious metal that makes up the setting or band. One of the most common metals used for jewelry is gold in either 10k, 14k, 18k, or 24k variants. If you're in the market for a new piece of jewelry, it's helpful to learn a bit about the differences between these types of gold to ensure you make the best decision for your lifestyle and budget.
What Are the Most Common Gold Purity Levels?
Gold and gold alloys are measured by the percentage of pure gold per other elements. The purest gold is 24k, which has 24 out of 24 parts gold with no other metals present. The next purest gold is 18k, which has 18 out of 24 parts gold, and 14k and 10k follow the same standards. While jewelers can make gold alloys in any karat amount, 10k, 14k, 18k, and 24k are the most common for their appearance and suitability to specific types of gold jewelry.
What's the Difference Between a Karat and a Carat?
While karat and carat are pronounced the same, they refer to different measurements. Karats (k) are used to measure the solid gold content of a gold alloy while carats (c) are used to measure the weight of diamonds.
10k gold is the lowest solid gold alloy used for jewelry. It's composed of 41.7% gold and 58.3% alloy.
- Appearance: 10k gold is pale yellow in color. It's the least yellow of all the karat types since it contains the least amount of gold.
- Advantages: The primary advantage of 10k gold is its durability. Since it's more alloy than gold, it stands up well to wear and tear. It's also the least expensive option out of all the most frequently used gold alloys.
- Disadvantages: Some people might be allergic to the alloy used with this gold. Additionally, the pale color is not as robust as the higher karat levels of gold.
- Common uses: 10k gold is commonly used for affordable jewelry of all types, but specifically earrings.
14k gold is the most commonly used gold for jewelry settings. It's composed of 58.3% gold and 41.7% alloy.
- Appearance: 14k gold has a yellow hue brighter than 10k gold, but not nearly as vibrant as 24k gold.
- Advantages: Most jewelers and consumers love 14k gold for its perfect balance of durability, affordability, and appearance. It's a bright gold that can handle everyday wear.
- Disadvantages: There is the potential for allergic reactions to the alloy like with 10k gold.
- Common uses: 14k gold is the most common type of gold used for engagement and wedding rings. It's also regularly used in other types of wearable fine jewelry.
18k gold is one of the less commonly used types of gold since it costs more than 14k gold but doesn't offer many additional benefits. It's composed of 75% gold and 25% alloy.
- Appearance: 18k gold is slightly brighter than 14k gold. When you think of gold, the 18k hue is probably what you imagine. It's a rich yellow color that contrasts beautifully with diamonds.
- Advantages: Due to its high gold content, it's unlikely to cause any allergic reactions.
- Disadvantages: 18k gold carries a higher price tag than 10k or 14k gold and is far less durable. You might end up scratching or scuffing it just through normal daily wear. For this reason, it's not frequently used for rings.
- Common uses: 18k gold is a nice choice for earrings, necklaces, or other fine jewelry that won't receive much contact.
24k gold is pure gold. It has absolutely no alloy added to it. Its bright yellow color is not common in the U.S. or other western countries. However, it's very popular in China, India, and other Asian countries.
- Appearance: 24k gold is an extremely bright yellow. Since it's used so infrequently for jewelry in the United States, it's easy to tell when a piece is 24-karat gold.
- Advantages: It's extremely valuable. It's best for family heirlooms or pieces only worn for special occasions.
- Disadvantages: 24k gold is very soft, so it can bend extremely easily.
- Common uses: 24k gold is not used for jewelry very often. Instead, it's used more for collecting wealth.
Are There Other Karat Levels Used for Jewelry Making?
Some other variants of gold alloy include 22k gold and 1k gold. Like 24k gold, 22k is rarely used since it's expensive and not very durable. It might be used for pieces only worn on extremely special occasions. 1k gold has the lowest possible gold content to still be called gold. It has very little yellow in its color and is rarely used by fine jewelers.
Why Isn't Pure Gold Used to Make All Jewelry?
Since gold is relatively malleable, 24k gold is rarely used for jewelry that you might wear every day, like a wedding or engagement ring, since it's likely it would become misshapen. Adding an alloy like copper, iron, silver, zinc, or nickel makes it more affordable and much more durable and suitable for daily wear.
How Do I Know Which Type of Gold Is Best for Me?
To help you select the best type of gold for you or your partner, consider the following:
- Budget: 10k gold is your least expensive option, while 18k gold is the most expensive.
- Type of jewelry: Earrings, necklaces, or special occasion jewelry often receive less wear and tear than items like rings, watches, and bracelets, and thus are more suitable for the higher karat contents.
- Aesthetic: Think about the intensity of the gold and what you prefer. If you like a lighter, more understated look, consider 10k. If you want something with a brighter yellow look, think about 18k.
Selecting the right type of gold for your jewelry is no easy feat, but with a little education and help from the knowledgeable staff at Martin Busch Jewelers, you'll have the confidence to make the right choice that will keep you happy for years to come.