Gold Metal Guide: Everything You Need To Know

Gold is a chemical element that, aside from its extraordinary luster, has amazing physical characteristics that make it extremely well suited for use in jewellery making. One ounce (28 grams) of gold can be hammered into 187 square feet of extremely thin sheets called gold leaf. Gold does not tarnish or corrode and it can be re-melted and used again to create new designs.

Because 100% pure gold is too soft for prolonged handling, it is mixed with other metals to give it the durability necessary for jewellery. Most gold used in jewellery is alloyed with silver, copper and small amounts of zinc to produce various shades of yellow gold, or with nickel, copper and zinc to produce white gold. The color of these gold alloys goes from yellow to white as the proportion of nickel increases. Alloying gold with copper creates what is known as pink or rose gold. Alloys with platinum or palladium are also used in jewellery. Since nickel is the most popular alloy used in white gold, it is important to note that some people may be allergic to nickel. If that is the case, 18 Karat gold with a higher percentage of pure gold or platinum settings may be viable alternatives.

Gold Metal In Jewellery

Gold metal in jewellery.

The gold content of a piece of jewellery is measured in Karats, which can range from 1 to 24. It is commonly accepted that gold that is not mixed with other metals is referred to as pure. The purity of gold is usually measured in karats. 24 karats is the highest purity possible and corresponds to about 99.9% gold content. Pure gold is very soft and malleable, and has an intense yellow color. The higher the Karat, the greater the gold content. This term should not be confused with "carat", which measures the weight of diamonds.

Gold History

The history of gold goes back at least 6,000 years, with references to it in both Egypt and Mesopotamia. In ancient times, gold was thought to have healing properties when worn or even ingested.

From the time of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World in 1492 to 1600, more than 8,000,000 ounces of gold, or 35 percent of the world's production came from South America. The New World's mines-particularly those in Colombia-continued into the 17th and 18th centuries to account for 61 and 80 percent, respectively, of world production. In the 18th century, 48,000,000 ounces were mined.

Russia became the world's leading producer of gold in 1823, and for 14 years it contributed the bulk of the world's supply. From 1850 to 1875, more gold was produced in the world than in all the years since 1492, primarily because of discoveries in California and Australia. A significant increase in gold production stemmed from discoveries in Alaska, the Yukon Territory and South Africa. Gold production continued to rise throughout the 20th century, partly because of the improvement in recovery methods and partly because of the continual growth and expansion of South Africa's gold-mining operations.

In the late 20th century, South Africa, Russia, the United States and Australia accounted for two-thirds of the gold produced annually throughout the world. South Africa alone produces about one-third of the world's gold.

Gold Buying Guide

Gold pricing is based on a number of factors, including karat amount (called karatage), gram weight, design and craftsmanship. The karatage and gram weight designate how much gold is in a piece, but are not the sole determining price factors. The craftsmanship and level of detail in a piece are also taken into account. Remember, a price based solely on gram weight does not reflect the work that has gone into the piece.

The most critical thing to look for in buying gold jewellery (aside from the style you like!) is the purity of the gold. The higher the gold content, the more valuable it is. The amount of gold in a piece is represented in the karat mark, usually inscribed on the back of the piece (e.g. 24K, 22K, 18K, 14K, etc.). The European system uses numbers representing a fraction of 1000, so "750" would be 75% gold, or the equivalent of 18 Karat. In addition to the karat mark, every piece of gold jewellery should be stamped with a hallmark or trademark of its manufacturer and sometimes its country of origin. In the United States, 14 karat gold, or 583 parts pure gold, is the most common degree of fineness and pieces are marked 14K. Nothing less than 10K can legally be marked or sold as gold jewellery in the U.S. However, lower karat, such as 9 karat gold and 8 karat gold, are popular in other countries.

Gold jewellery karatage

How pure is 22K gold? Let's do a simple mathematical calculation:

24K gold = 100% Pure Gold.

Thus, 1K Gold = 4.167% Pure Gold.

Thus, 22K Gold = (4.167 * 22) = 91.67% Pure Gold.

Let's talk about 22K gold purity and other factors. Out of the 100%, only 91.67% is pure gold in 22K gold. So, what does the other 8.33% consist of? These consist of metals like Silver, Zinc, Nickel and other alloys. The addition of these metals make the overall mixture a little harder and thus helps in making the jewellery more durable. This 22K gold is still not hard enough. Though it can be used for plain gold jewellery, it is not strong enough to hold diamonds & gemstones in studded jewellery. Generally studded jewellery is manufactured in 18K or lower, like 14K, 10K, 8K, etc. Based on the calculations already explained above:

18K Gold = (4.167 * 18) = 75% Pure Gold.

14K Gold = (4.167 * 14) = 58.33% Pure Gold.

10K Gold = (4.167 * 10) = 41.67% Pure Gold.

8K Gold = (4.167 * 8) = 33.33% Pure Gold.

There are two things to be understood here, first, the hardness of the metal keeps increasing as the percentage of gold in the metal compositions goes down. Second and one of the other important aspects, the colour of this metal composition starts getting duller. It must also be understood that purity can sometimes be mentioned as a combination of 3 numerals. For example:

24K = 99.9% Pure = 999 (Hallmark 999).

22K = 91.67% Pure = 916 (Hallmark 916).

18K = 75% Pure = 750 (Hallmark 750).

14K = 58.33% Pure = 585 (Hallmark 585).

10K = 41.67% Pure = 417 (Hallmark 417).

8K = 33.33% Pure = 333 (Hallmark 333).

Gold jewellery karatage used around the world

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USA Europe Asia
24K Practically Never. Practically Never. Used Sometimes.
22K Rarely Used. Rarely Used. Used Sometimes.
18K Used Sometimes. Predominant Use. Predominant Use.
14K Predominant Use. Used Sometimes. Rarely Used.
10K Minimum Accepted Standard. Used Sometimes. Practically Never.
8K Practically Never. Minimum Accepted Standard. Practically Never.

Gold jewellery karatage used around the world.

The jewellery's construction and design are also important factors to consider. The techniques of construction can make a piece more durable and flexible for added comfort. A well-made piece in a classic design provides years of wear and enjoyment. If cared for properly, a well-crafted piece will last a lifetime. Unique design, intricate details, gemstones or a special clasp may also add to the price.

Gold jewellery is produced mainly by machine. Any additional hand finishing or textural interest raises the cost. Depending on this, similar looking pieces may have vastly different price tags. Different pieces may have specific characteristics that make them unique, so look carefully to notice any differences and similarities. Often, it's these small, defining details that give you pleasure through the years. They make your jewellery truly unique and worthy of generations of appreciation in your family.

Gold Karat Marks

Below are descriptions of the most common karats used in fine jewellery and their different characteristics:

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karat Pure Content Alloy Suitable For Fine Jewellery Value Scratch Resistance Popularity
24K 100% 0% Too soft for fine jewellery. Most Expensive. Highest tendency for scratching. Asia.
22K 91.67% 8.33% Too soft for fine jewellery. Less Expensive Than 24K. Lesser resistance to scratching. Asia.
18K 75% 25% Ideal for fine jewellery. More Expensive Than 14K. Average resistance to scratching. Europe, South America & Asia.
14K 58.33% 41.67% Ideal for fine jewellery. Average Value. More resistance to scratching. US.
10K 41.67% 58.33% Affordable for fine jewellery. Least value. Most resistance to scratching. UK.

Descriptions of the most common karats used in fine jewellery and their different characteristics.

24 Karat Gold

24K gold is 100% pure gold without any traces of other metals. There is no higher form of gold than 24K. It is more expensive and prestigious than 22K or 18K or 14K gold. Though you'll rarely find any jewellery made out of 24K, as it is very soft and tends to scratch and bend easily thus making it infeasible for daily wear. It has a deep yellow tone, quite often 24K gold is used for investing purpose in the form of coins or bars and its also used for electronic and medical devices.

22 Karat Gold

22K piece of gold is 91.67% gold, the remaining 8.33% comprises of a mixture of other alloys. The other alloys being, silver, zinc, nickel etc. The addition of alloys makes the mixture little harder and thus helps in making the jewellery durable. It's good for plain gold jewellery and best for naturally enameled jewellery. Although 22K gold is not preferred for diamonds and gemstones studded jewellery. Diamonds require a metal that lays a strong hold on the precious stone so that the stone doesn't fall off, 22K is a soft metal and will not be able to hold on the gemstones and loose the grip. Due to its softness, it gets scratched easily as compared to 14K gold. Although rhodium plating will enhance the jewellery's resistance to scratches, 22K is costlier than 18K and 14K gold.

18 Karat Gold

18K gold refers to an alloy of gold that contains 18 parts of gold or is composed of 75% of gold and mixed with 25% of other metals like silver, copper etc., makes it strong enough for everyday wear. 18 karat gold has been found to be the perfect balance between gold purity and strength. Though it is softer than 14K gold, it is less expensive than 24K and 22K. It is commonly used in fine jewellery. The lower percentage of metals in 18K jewellery makes it less prone to oxidization and is a better choice for people who suffer from metal allergies. 18K jewellery does not need to be rhodium plated due to the alloys present and thus is more cost effective in the long run as it requires less maintenance.

14 Karat Gold

The most popular for jewellery is 14 karat gold. 14K refers to an alloy of gold that contains 14 parts of gold or is composed of at least 58.33% pure gold and 41.67% of other metals. The presence of other metals 14K gold offers more resistance to wear and tear. It is harder and durable, hence it is ideal for daily wear especially for those who lead an active lifestyle. Also, 14K gold is less likely to cause allergy, 14K gold is more durable than 18K gold. This is the most affordable option of gold and this is the most common type of gold used in US jewellery industry.

10 Karat Gold

10K gold refers to an alloy of gold that contains 10 parts of gold or at least 41.67% of gold and the remainder being other alloys such as silver or nickel or zinc. 10K gold are very sturdy, not too soft and don't scratch or bend easily. It is the most cheapest form of gold since it contains less part of gold. While the cost is low, 14K jewellery is harder and stronger. Jewellery has to be at least 10K to be sold in US. Gold tends to be softer and brittle when the karatage is higher. It weighs the least when compared to higher karat gold.

Gold Color

Choosing the right metal for an engagement ring is a crucial part of the ring design process. Once you know a bit about the basics of ring metals, deciding on a metal is a rewarding and simple process. Choosing between white gold, yellow gold, or rose gold is as much as matter of personal preference as it is of budget. Before you make a final decision, it is worth weighing the pros and cons of the various types of engagement ring metals.

White Gold

White gold is an incredibly beautiful and popular choice for engagement ring settings, which is quickly becoming the number one choice in engagement ring metals. 14K gold contains 58.33% gold, while 18K white gold is made up of 75% gold and 25% other metals (nickel, zinc, etc). White gold has the overall look of platinum, but is notably less expensive. White gold beautifully compliments diamonds that are rated D-I on the diamond color scale, as it enhances the brilliance and sparkle of the stone.

White gold is typically alloyed with nickel, zinc, silver, and/or palladium to give it its white color and is often plated with rhodium, a shiny white metal that is a member of the platinum family, to give it an even whiter appearance and protect it from color loss. Although white gold is not subject to tarnish, it may develop a slightly yellow color over time as a result of its 75% yellow gold content. If this happens, white gold's original beauty can be restored by a simple re-plating.

Caring For White Gold Jewellery

Even though white gold is resilient, there are important measures you can take to keep you jewellery looking as good as new. To keep white gold shiny and scratch-free, store it in a soft cloth bag or fabric-lined jewellery box. White gold should be cleaned with mild soap and warm water, using a non-metallic, soft brush (like a toothbrush). To retain white gold's luster, make sure to keep it away from harmful and corrosive chemicals such as bleach, ammonia and chlorine. And always use a soft, lint-free cloth-never paper towels-to dry the jewellery.

Yellow Gold

Yellow gold is the most common of the golds, partly because gold is yellow in its naturally occurring state. The yellow gold used in fine jewellery is typically alloyed with silver and copper; its color depends on the amount of pure gold in the alloy. The advantages of gold are that is does not corrode, tarnish or rust, so it can be counted on to provide lasting beauty. And even though it is strong, gold is more "flexible" than the other precious metals.

Caring For Yellow Gold Jewellery

Even though gold is resilient, there are important measures you can take to keep you jewellery looking as good as new. To keep gold shiny and scratch-free, store it in a soft cloth bag or fabric-lined jewellery box. Gold should be cleaned with mild soap and warm water, using a non-metallic, soft brush (like a toothbrush). To retain gold's luster, make sure to keep it away from harmful and corrosive chemicals such as bleach, ammonia and chlorine. And always use a soft, lint-free cloth-never paper towels-to dry the jewellery.

Rose Gold

Rose gold is a gold and copper alloy commonly used for specialized jewellery and coveted for its warm, reddish color. Rose gold is also known as red gold and pink gold, and sometimes as Russian gold, as a result of its popularity in Russia in the early 19th century. The difference between red, rose and pink gold is their copper content.

The higher the amount of copper in gold, the more pronounced the red color. Pure gold is a deep yellow color and pure copper is reddish. The color of rose gold is somewhere on the spectrum between the two, depending on its individual composition. A common alloy for Rose gold is composed of 75% gold and 25% copper by mass.

Caring For Rose Gold Jewellery

Even though gold is resilient, there are important measures you can take to keep you jewellery looking as good as new. To keep rose gold shiny and scratch-free, store it in a soft cloth bag or fabric-lined jewellery box. Rose gold should be cleaned with mild soap and warm water, using a non-metallic, soft brush (like a toothbrush). To retain rose gold's luster, make sure to keep it away from harmful and corrosive chemicals such as bleach, ammonia and chlorine. And always use a soft, lint-free cloth-never paper towels-to dry the jewellery.

Gold Types

To know what type of gold coating the jewellery has, look for the quality stamp on the metal. Without a quality stamp on the item, you will not be able to know the type of gold used; if the jewelelry is gold plated, rolled gold plated, gold filled etc. There are several types of gold plating options that you may come across when buying gold jewellery. Below is a short description on what the different types of gold plating options actually mean:

Gold Types

Gold types.

Gold Leaf

Gold leaf is gold that has been hammered by hand into extremely thin layers and been wrapped (or glided) around the metal. Usually 22K or 24K gold is used as thin gold layers/sheets to decorate art work and jewellery. You can recognize gold leaf jewellery by its irregularities of the foil surrounding the item.

Gold Plated

Also called "Gold Electroplated", means that the jewellery has a very thin layer of gold onto the surface of the metal. The base metal can be stainless steel or brass dipped into gold. Gold plating is a process known as electroplating that gives the jewel a gold-like appearance. To be named "gold plated" or "gold electroplated", the gold layer needs to be at least 7 millionths of an inch thick and of at least 10k gold quality. Since the gold layer is quite thin, it can wear off over time. The metal must have a stamp indicating plated quality: "GP", "G.P", "GEP", or "G.E.P". Examples: "10K GP", "10K GEP".



Gold Vermeil

Gold Vermeil (pronounced ver-may) simply means "gold plated sterling silver". The difference between "vermeil" and "gold plated/filled", is that gold vermeil jewellery has a thicker gold layer and uses sterling silver as its base metal. This is why vermeil is a better choice (compared to other gold plated jewellery items) for those with skin allergy. Vermeil is usually not marked, but if a gold jewellery is marked with a "925" stamp, it probably means that it is a gold vermeil. (The stamp for sterling silver is 925, .925, or the modern stamp S925. It stands for 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% alloyed metals.)



Gold Overlay

Also called "Rolled Gold Plated", has a thicker gold coating and is thus more durable over time. The gold content must be of at lest 10K gold quality but can be lower than 1/20 of the total weight. The base metal can be brass, stainless steel, or copper. It uses heat and pressure process to mix and bond the metals. Rolled gold has thin sheets of gold alloy fixed to a brass core. This gold layering technique is common in watchmaking. The method is similar to gold filling, but as it only needs half the gold alloy by weight, it usually has much lower gold content. A gold overlay or rolled gold plated jewellery must have a stamp indicating plated quality: "GO", "G.O", "RGP" or "R.G.P". Examples: "1/40 10K GO", "1/40 10K RGP".

Gold Filled

A gold filled jewellery is not actually filled with gold. Usually, its base metals are brass or copper covered by sheets of gold. It uses a heat and pressure process (bonding process) to mix and bond the metals together. You can get single-clad gold-filled jewellery, with the gold finish on the side that shows out, and double-clad gold-filled jewellery which has an all-over gold finish. Most gold-filled jewellery uses 12K or 14K gold. The gold content must be of at least 10K gold quality and the gold content must be at least 1/20 (5%) of the total weight. The gold layer will not flake or peel off with reasonable care. A gold filled jewellery is safe for most people with sensitive skin. The metal must have a stamp indicating filled/plated quality: "GF" or "G.F". Example: "1/20 10K GF".



Solid Gold

Solid gold jewellery is just as the name suggests - the whole jewellery piece is made entirely of gold (no base metal). As explained above, there are many different karats of gold, which determines the amount of gold vs alloy. Pure gold (24K) is too soft and malleable to wear in jewellery, so the gold must be alloyed with other metals to give it strength and durability. 14K solid gold means 14 parts gold (58.3%) and 10 parts alloys (41.7%), while 18K solid gold means 18 parts gold (75%) and 6 parts alloys (25%). The lower the karat, the less expensive it is because it is using less gold.



Rhodium Plated

Rhodium plating is a finish put white gold fine jewellery pieces. Rhodium is a beautiful reflective white metal that gives your white gold jewellery that dazzling ultra white look. Rhodium holds the distinction of being the world's most expensive precious metal. So why not make rings out of rhodium? A ring made entirely out of rhodium would be very expensive, currently valued at about 21 times as much as platinum!, and difficult to work with. Rhodium's higher melting temperature and low malleability would pose a risk to gemstones and diamonds that may get burnt when repairing rhodium jewellery.

Rhodium Metal In Jewellery

Rhodium metal in jewellery.

Rhodium is a very rare, extremely white platinum group metal that, in the jewellery industry, is used only for electroplating. This works by suspending a piece of jewellery in a liquid rhodium solution and passing an electric current through it, which electrically bonds a very thin layer of rhodium to the jewellery.

Electroplating is probably familiar to anyone who has bought white gold jewellery in recent years. That's because nearly all white gold jewellery is now plated with rhodium. This is done to make it whiter, by covering up the natural yellow tinge inherent to white gold.

Sterling silver is also sometimes rhodium-plated, and even platinum can get a coat of rhodium before hitting a store's jewellery display. As these metals are both already naturally white, rhodium plating may not necessarily improve their appearance, but it will still protect them against discoloration and scratching.

Rhodium plating can also be dark instead of light. "Black rhodium" is achieved by mixing powdered rhodium with darkening additives. When electroplated onto jewellery, this darkened rhodium coating can appear from medium gray to almost-black in color. This is often described as a gunmetal finish, or sometimes as "black gold".

Rhodium plating is a personal preference. It's a great service you can do for your ring to keep it looking like the first day you got it. Fortunately, rhodium plating does not significantly increase the price of jewellery, since the coating is microscopically thin. But the downside of that thinness is that the rhodium will wear off over time.

How long the rhodium plating lasts depends on whether you wear the ring constantly, and also what the underlying metal is. The rhodium plating typically lasts the longest on white gold jewellery. You can also have other color golds plated as well like rose gold and yellow gold. The yellow gold jewellery will turn a bright shiny white. However if the piece experiences significant wear, the good appearance may last only a fairly short time even if the rhodium plating quality is good, and almost no time if the plating is poor. Generally rhodium will come off of rings the quickest. Most people will have their white gold rings re-rhodium plated about once a year and for their yellow or rose gold rings it could be anywhere from a few months to a year, depending upon usage.

To rhodium plate your white gold piece can be done the same day, and will take about an hour to finish, from most reputable jewellers. The cost can vary depending on the piece of jewellery. For instance, a ring subjected to daily wear will need to be replated every one to two years, at a cost of around $60 to $120 per treatment.

Gold Pricing

Gold is generally an expensive metal, due to its rarity and excess of demand. The price of the metal is determined by its fineness, or by the karat purity that marks the ratio of pure gold to other metals. Another factor that comes into play when determining the price of jewellery is the aesthetic design and the method of craftsmanship. As a general rule, a carefully handmade piece will be more expensive than a mass-produced version.

Gold Jewellery & It's Characteristics

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18K White Gold 14K Rose Gold 18K Yellow Gold
Appearance 18K white gold has a similar silvery white appearance to platinum, making it another stunning choice for jewellery. It is generally not suggested for those with a nickel allergy. Rose gold is a lovely alloy of gold and copper, with a lustrous blush-pink tone. 18K yellow gold boasts the rich hue for which gold is famous, and its luster is beautiful.
Durability Because it features rhodium plating, white gold must be re-plated with some regularity to maintain its color. The copper in the alloy lends strength to 14K rose gold, so it is a durable choice which does not require extra maintenance. 18K yellow gold is 75% fine gold and 25% alloys added to strengthen the metal, making it suitably durable for everyday wear.
Price White gold is more affordable than platinum, but requires more maintenance, so it may accrue more cost in the long run. Rose gold is more affordable than platinum, and has approximately the same price point as white gold and yellow gold. 18K yellow gold is more affordable than platinum, and at the same price point as white gold and rose gold.

Gold jewellery & it's characteristics.

Precious Metals Comparison

Platinum - White Gold Palladium - Yellow Gold Sterling Silver - Rose Gold

Precious metals comparison.