Gold Karat Education

Gold is one of the most precious and valuable metals in the world. Found in bodies of water and the earth’s crust, gold jewelry has been popular for eons. There are many different ways to present the metal in jewelry, and the way that the metal’s color and consistency can be manipulated to match almost any desire.

Because gold can come in so many forms, there is a grading system designed to alert the goldsmith and the buyer how valuable the item is, and what it is made of. Because pure gold is extremely soft, other metals are mixed with the gold to make the piece more durable, less expensive, and to alter it’s color.

All jewelry is required by law to be stamped so consumers will know the quality of gold used. Jewelry made in North America is typically marked with the karat grade (10K, 14K, etc.), and jewelry made in Italy is typically marked with the "fineness" such as (417, 583, etc.). So if your jewelry does not have a karat grade stamped on it, check for a 3-digit fineness number.

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.

24K 100% pure gold:  No other metal has been mixed.

18K 75% gold:  Contains 18 parts gold and 6 parts of one or more additional metals.

14K 58.3% gold:  Contains 14 parts gold and 10 parts of one or more additional metals.

12K 50% gold:  Contains 12 parts gold and 12 parts of one or more additional metals.

10K 41.7% gold:  Contains 10 parts gold and 14 parts of one or additional metals.

10K is the minimum karat that can be called “gold” in the United States.

Metal Alloys
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.

Gold Colors
Pure gold comes in yellow, but it can be produced in shades of rose, white, green, and even two-tone. None of these additional colors are natural, and instead produced by mixing pure 24K yellow gold with various other metals. The percentage of the other metals (copper, silver, zinc, and nickel) produces the different shades of gold.

Rose Gold
Rose gold is also known as pink gold or red gold, and is a mixture of pure yellow gold with a high percentage of copper. It has a very subtle and delicate color that may intensify somewhat with age due to a slight, but commonly regarded as attractive, tarnishing of the copper alloy. Rose gold is created by increasing the copper-colored alloys mixed with the gold, and decreasing the silver-colored alloys. 14K rose gold contains as much pure gold as 14K yellow gold but, because of the increased copper, is slightly pinker in color.

White Gold
White gold is created by increasing the silver-colored alloys (zinc, silver, nickel) normally mixed with gold and decreasing the copper-colored alloys. 14K white gold contains as much gold as 14K yellow gold but is nearly white in color.

Green Gold
Green gold is created by mixing an alloy of pure yellow gold and pure silver. For rings, harder metals such as nickel or zinc are sometimes added to make the gold more durable. The green color, like rose gold, is very subtle and is most noticeable when it is used in a piece of jewelry next to areas of yellow, white, and pink gold.

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--it can be called solid gold.