The jewelry industry uses a wide variety of gold-colored metals. You’ve probably seen some of them: “gold tone,” “gold-plated,” “gold-filled,” and “karat gold.” Learning the differences can help you make informed buying decisions.

In this post, I’m going to talk a bit about what karat gold is, and why I choose to use it in my work.

About Karat Gold

Karat gold, also known as solid gold, is any number of alloys containing gold. An alloy is a metal made by combining metallic elements, such as silver, gold, or copper. In the United States. karat gold needs to be at least 10 karat to be sold as gold jewelry. 

What are Karats?

Pure gold is defined to be 24 karat gold. That means that for every 24 parts of the metal, 24 of them are gold. So 10 karat gold has 10 parts of gold per 24 parts, or about 41.6% gold.

Do not confuse karats with carats. Carats are a unit of weight, equal to a fifth of a gram. Adding further to the confusion surrounding this term, karat is spelled with a K in the United States, and it is spelled carat, with a C, in the United Kingdom. Jewelry (jewellery) from the UK may be labeled 18ct, which is what we would call 18K in the US.

Advantages

Perhaps I’m a bit biased as a jeweler, but I think gold is just about one of the best substances in the universe. It has a beautiful yellow color, unlike any other metal. When you think about the metals on the periodic chart, most of them are white. Gold is remarkable not only for its color, but for its malleability, ductility, and its ability to be combined with other metallic elements to make so many beautiful alloys. Unlike sterling silver, gold alloys tend to be fairly tarnish-resistant. Many gold alloys are harder than sterling silver, which means they can be brought to a higher polish.

Disadvantages

The number one disadvantage to karat gold is its cost. As the graph below shows, the price of gold has risen enormously since the 1970s. Prior to the 70s, the gold market was typically around $35-40/ounce. In the present day (2017), gold costs over $1200/ounce. Because of this incredible price hike, we jewelers look for ways to use less gold to make lasting and substantial pieces of jewelry.

Gold Alloys

Gold in nature is a yellow metal, but it can be combined with other metals to create an array of colors. White gold and rose gold are particularly popular right now. Green gold is a lesser-known alloy that makes a great color contrast.

Yellow gold: In the US, yellow gold is commonly available in 10K, 12K, 14K, 18K, and sometimes 22K. As karat value increases, the intensity of the yellow color increases. The higher karat alloys also tend to be softer. In my opinion, 18K yellow gold has a near perfect balance between color and durability. It’s my favorite metal to work with.

White gold: White gold is created by adding white metals such as silver, nickel, or palladium to gold. Because gold is by nature yellow, white gold usually has a yellowish tinge. Often white gold jewelry is plated with rhodium, which is a bright white metal, to give it a brighter appearance. Rhodium-plated jewelry must be re-plated periodically.

Rose gold: Also known as red gold or pink gold, rose gold is enjoying popularity right now, especially in bridal jewelry. The addition of copper to the gold alloy gives it a more reddish appearance. It’s a truly lovely color. Some rose gold alloys are a bit more prone to tarnish, so they must be carefully cleaned from time to time.

Black gold” jewelry is also very popular right now, but it is not actually an alloy. It is gold that has been plated or surface-treated to achieve a black appearance. The surface treatment must be re-applied periodically to keep the black color.

Nickel in Karat Gold

In the United States some gold alloys, most notably white gold, contain nickel. European standards do not allow for nickel in jewelry because it is a very common metal allergen. When buying white gold, I strongly recommend asking for palladium white gold instead of nickel white gold. Even if you’re not allergic to nickel now, it’s not uncommon to develop a sensitivity to it with time. It’s especially important in jewelry you wear every day, such as a wedding band or watch.