All That Glitters
All That Glitters
The word gold, used by itself, means all gold or 24 karat (24K) gold. Because 24K gold is soft, it’s usually mixed with other metals to increase its hardness and durability. If a piece of jewelry is not 24 karat gold, the karat quality should accompany any claim that the item is gold.
The karat quality marking tells you what proportion of gold is mixed with the other metals. Fourteen-karat (14K) jewelry contains 14 parts of gold, mixed in throughout with 10 parts of an alloy metal. The higher the karat rating, the higher the proportion of gold in the piece of jewelry.
Most jewelry is marked with its karat quality, although marking is not required by law. Near the karat quality mark, you should see the name or the U.S. registered trademark of the company that will stand behind the mark. The trademark may be in the form of a name, symbol or initials. If you don’t see a trademark accompanying a quality mark on a piece of jewelry, look for another piece.
Chances are the ring on your finger is marked 18K, 14K, or 10K, with the K standing for karat, the system used to describe the percentage of pure gold an item contains. The higher the karat number, the higher the percentage of gold in your gold jewelry.
Karat Numbers and Conversions To % of Gold
- 24K gold is pure gold.
- 18K gold contains 18 parts gold and 6 parts of one or more additional metals, making it 75% gold.
- 14K gold contains 14 parts gold and 10 parts of one or more additional metals, making it 58.3% gold.
- 12K gold contains 12 parts gold and 12 parts of one or more additional metals, making it 50% gold.
- 10K gold contains 10 parts gold and 14 parts of one or more additional metals, making it 41.7% gold.
[10K gold is the minimum karat that can be called "gold" in the United States.]
European gold jewelry is marked with numbers that indicate their percentage of gold, such as:
- 18K gold is marked 750 to indicate 75% gold
- 14K gold is marked 585 for 58.5%
- 10K gold is marked 417 for 41.7%
The karat marking on your gold jewelry should be accompanied by a hallmark or trademark that identifies its maker. The item’s country of origin might also be included.
You’ll find examples of pure gold jewelry, but pure gold is soft and isn’t practical for daily wear. Other metals are mixed with it to make it more durable (and to lower its cost).
Adding other metals to the mix also allows metallurgists to change the color of gold. Palladium or nickel can be added to create white gold. Adding copper produces a rose or pink tint, while silver gives gold a greenish cast.
When metals are added to the gold the result is an alloy, a blended mixture of the metals that you can think of as a very expensive cake batter. Solid gold is a term that can be used to describe an item that’s at least 10K (in the US) gold all the way through. Even though it’s a gold alloy–18K, 14K, or anything down to 10K—can still be called solid gold.
There are many ways to mechanically apply a coating of gold onto a much less expensive metal, reducing the item’s cost. The thicker the layer of gold, the less likely it is to wear away easily and expose the metal underneath.
Gold Filled Jewelry
Newer gold filled items have markings that indicate how much and what type of gold was used for the layer. A marking that says 1/20 12K G.F. means that the jewelry is at least 1/20th 12K gold by weight.
Gold Plated Jewelry
The gold layer in gold plated jewelry is typically thinner than the gold in gold filled jewelry, so it usually wears away more quickly. Plating is done in different ways.
Then… What Should I Buy?
Good question. Now that you have discovered that the term “gold” can be used to describe products having major differences in quality, you should now select what best suits your needs…and budget!
Solid gold is durable, so it is a better choice for jewelry you’ll wear regularly. If you have allergies to nickel or other metals, choose items that have high gold content, such as 18K or 22K gold jewelry.
Gold filled or plated jewelry is suitable for jewelry that you wear occasionally. Everyday use would eventually diminish the gold layer, exposing the metal below, which might stain your skin or cause an allergic reaction.
For pieces that will last a lifetime and beyond, your personal VMB jeweler recommends buying the highest quality gold you can afford.
Platinum is a rare precious metal that’s used to create fine jewelry. Its heavy weight and durability make platinum a metal that will not wear away with constant use. Platinum holds fine gemstones firmly in place for the life of the jewelry when used as prongs and other setting components.
Platinum is a precious metal that costs more than gold. It usually is mixed with other similar metals, known as the platinum group metals: iridium, palladium, ruthenium, rhodium and osmium.
Different markings are used on platinum jewelry as compared with gold jewelry, based on the amount of pure platinum in the piece. The quality markings for platinum are based on parts per thousand. For example, the marking 900 Platinum means that 900 parts out of 1000 are pure platinum, or in other words, the item is 90% platinum and 10% other metals. The abbreviations for platinum – Plat. or Pt. – also can be used in marking jewelry.
Platinum’s natural white luster provides a rich backdrop for diamonds, but it’s a metal that’s just as elegant when used all by itself to create a piece of jewelry, either a simple polished item or a design with engraved motifs. Platinum looks stunning when combined with contrasting touches of 18K yellow gold.
Silver has been used to make jewelry since ancient times, but the exploration of continents in the western hemisphere uncovered more productive silver mines than Europeans had ever seen. More silver has been mined and used since the late 1700′s than in all prior centuries combined.
What is Sterling Silver?
Silver is a soft metal in its pure form, too soft to be used for jewelry and other items, so it’s mixed with other metals to make it more durable. A popular silver mixture, called an alloy, is known as sterling silver.
Silver or sterling silver describes a product that contains 92.5% silver. Silver products sometimes may be marked 925 which means that 925 parts per thousand are pure silver. Some jewelry may be described as silver plate: a layer of silver is bonded to a base metal. The mark coin silver is used for compounds that contain 90% silver. According to the law, quality-marked silver also must bear the name or a U.S. registered trademark of the company or person that will stand behind the mark. The US Federal Trade Commission, the FTC, stipulates that jewelry sold in the US cannot be marked or described as silver, solid silver, sterling silver, sterling, or using the abbreviation Ster. unless it contains at least 92.5 percent pure silver.
Copper is the most common metal used to round out the 7.5 percent alloy balance in sterling silver. It adds hardness to pure silver, but brings with it a tendency to tarnish–a darkening that occurs when sterling silver reacts with gases in the air or with other substances that it comes in contact with.