When it comes to gold jewelry, you’ve likely heard classifications bandied about: 24 karat, 14 karat, and more. But what does that mean?

Right Karat for You

(Pixabay / SuradechK)

Let’s start with the definition:

karat—a measure of the purity of gold

So when it comes to gold, the higher the karat value, the purer the gold. The highest rating for gold is 24K (24 karats). This means that all 24 parts of the gold are pure gold and free from any other metal. You might think that 24K gold is the perfect choice for luxury jewelry, but it is not.

Here are a few drawbacks of 24 karat gold for jewelry:

  • It is too soft. Pure gold is very susceptible to scratches, dents, and bending.
  • It is very yellow—almost orange-hued. Most people prefer a lighter shade of yellow for their jewelry.
  • It is too expensive. Most people don’t want to pay a fortune for 24 karat jewelry that is less durable and may not be as desirable of a color.

So why would anyone buy 24 karat gold jewelry? Some people still love this pure gold for necklaces, bracelets, and more, even with its drawbacks. In India, for example, people tend to think of jewelry as an investment rather than just an accessory. And though the yellowy-gold of 24 karat products is not as desirable in some countries, it is very popular in India.

For investment purposes, 24 karat gold is in high demand for coins and bars. Gold currency has proven to hold its value, even when the dollar wavers. Gold is also an outstanding conductor of electricity in its purest form. Thus, gold is a mainstay in the electronics industry. It’s also used for dental and medical applications.

For jewelry, 18K gold is commonly used. It is 75 percent gold, with the other 25 percent comprising copper, silver, or other metals. This gold will be a duller shade—not as boldly yellow. It will be more durable than 24K gold, making it a better choice for rings and other jewelry pieces.

Other popular choices for jewelry include 14K and 10K gold. For value and durability, it’s hard to beat 10K gold. It’s a great choice for jewelry (such as a ring) that may take a beating when it comes in contact with external forces. 10K jewelry is also a good choice for buyers on a budget. One drawback is that the color will be quite pale—though most people won’t be able to tell a big difference between the appearance of 10K and 14K jewelry. Another pitfall of 10K jewelry is that it contains a significant amount of other metals that may not react well with sensitive skin. Reactions are not as common with jewelry made from 14K gold and up.

Today, many jewelry makers are experimenting with different shades of gold. Gold can be mixed with different alloys to change the color of the jewelry. For example, if you add copper alloy to the gold, you can produce a pinkish gold known as rose gold. Zinc and silver make green gold. Nickel and palladium can be added to create white gold.

If your budget can’t accommodate solid gold jewelry, gold-plated jewelry is a smart option. A process called plating allows a thin layer of gold to be deposited on other metals for the appearance of solid gold jewelry at a fraction of the price. Hobbyists and artists can gold plate jewelry and other items at home with the help of a gold plating kit.