When you are shopping for fine jewelry or engagement rings, you will often come across the terms 10k gold, 14k gold, 18k gold or even 24k gold.
So, what do they mean and why should it matter to you?
In this article, we will address some of the differences between karat values and most common misconceptions people have about white/yellow gold settings.
In the industry, the following karat marking system is universally used and understood. It represents the fineness of precious metal content (expressed in parts-per-thousand).
Karat Gold Purity Relationship Table
Pure gold (100%), is sometimes referred to as 24 karat or 24k. It is free from other impurities and is a highly valued metal. Even though 24k gold doesn’t degrade or tarnish, it is very soft and malleable.
As a result, it is unsuitable for usage in many jewelry applications. After all, you don’t want to see an expensive diamond ring deform or severely scratched after wearing it only a couple of times.
Apart from traditional Chinese wedding day jewelry or collectible gold bars in the Asian markets, you will hardly see them being sold in other parts of the world.
The solution to making long lasting gold jewelry is to alloy it with other metals like silver, zinc, nickel (increase hardness), copper (to change its color). The percentage of alloying metals is reflected by the karat level and the most popular grades used are: 14k and 18k.
Many consumers often get the terms mixed up because of pronunciation and spelling mistakes. It’s amusing at times because the terms “carrot” and “carot” also get thrown in for confusion.
Karat (denoted as k or kt) is the indication of how pure a piece of gold jewelry is. The higher the karat number, the higher the composition of gold in it. The highest karat value is 24k which indicates a 99.99% (or 100%) gold purity.
Carat is a unit of weight measurement for gemstones. 1 carat is equivalent to 0.2 grams.
Carrot is a root vegetable. It has nothing to do with jewelry.
18 karat (18k or 18kt ) gold consists of 75% gold and 25% alloy. In its raw form, 18k gold has a richer yellow tone compared to 14k due to the higher gold content. Although 18k gold is relatively softer than 14k gold, it is suitable for use in jewelry with proper care and some common sense.
Comparison of the same ring setting in 18 karat (left) vs 14 karat (right) gold.
14 karat (14k or 14kt) gold consists of 58.3% gold and 41.7% alloy. In essence, the chemical composition is made up of 14 parts gold and 10 parts alloy. It is hardy and able to withstand moderate abuse during wear.
10 karat (10k or 10kt) gold consists of 41.7% gold and 58.3% alloy. Interestingly, I find it funny that people label 10k as gold when the make up of gold is less than half the entire composition.
Because of the higher composition of alloys, 10k yellow gold jewelry is more susceptible to tarnishing compared to higher karat grades. This is one of the reasons why jewelers with stricter quality standards won’t use 10 karat gold or lower grades.
In terms of pricing, the discount you get with 10k gold is minimal when compared to 14k gold. However, the overall quality of the ring does take a significant hit when you go to lower karat grades.
As you probably know, gold is traded as a commodity around the world. The price of a gold setting is largely determined by the current market value of gold. Obviously, the higher the gold purity used, the more expensive the piece of jewelry is going to be worth.
There are 2 school of thoughts between consumers when choosing between 18k and 14k gold.
Some jewelry businesses (think of the big brands) and individuals feel that 18k gold is more “prestigious” than 14k gold because of the higher gold content. To this group of people, any grade lower than 18k gold is generally frowned upon as “cheap”.
Having higher gold content means the wedding ring or jewelry item is going to cost much more. Besides being more expensive, 18 karat white/yellow gold is also softer than 14 karat gold. This means it undergoes wear and tear at a faster pace.
Personally, I belong to the other camp of people who don’t get bothered by social stigmas and value practicality over what others think. The truth is, most people will never be able to tell 14k jewelry apart from 18k gold jewelry.
One of the downsides of 14k and 18k gold is that a small group of people may be allergic to the alloy materials. Nickel, a metal used to strengthen the material, can cause allergies or skin irritations (like red rashes).
The other downside of adding a higher composition of alloys is that the jewelry piece is more susceptible to tarnishing overtime. This affects both types of 14k and 18k gold. The severity of tarnishing also depends on body chemistry and the environment the jewelry is worn in.
That said, don’t let this information turn you off from 14 karat and 18 karat gold. The benefits far outweigh the cons of using 14k or 18k gold for your wedding band or engagement ring.
White gold was developed to imitate platinum (because platinum is very expensive!). Basically, it has similar properties to yellow gold and the same principles stated above are also applicable to them.
|18K White Gold||14K White Gold|
|75% Gold||59% gold|
|10% Palladium||25.5% Copper|
|10% Nickel||12.3% nickel|
|5% Zinc||3.2% Zinc|
White Gold Metal Composition Table
The main difference is that 14k and 18k white gold jewelry are electroplated to deposit a thin layer of rhodium onto their surface. This coating gives the finished jewelry a shiny, white protective coating that’s pleasing to the eye.
Click here to browse more 14 karat white gold ring designs…
Note: the rhodium coating may wear off overtime and require a simple 30 minute maintenance routine (redipping) once every few years. This will make the engagement ring look as good as new.
Rose gold is very versatile and considered to be a romantic metal because of its pinkish color. Due to the mechanical properties of the alloyed copper, rose gold yields a tougher material compared to white and yellow gold.
|18K Rose Gold||14K RoseGold|
|75% Gold||59% gold|
|22% copper||31% copper|
|10% Nickel||3% silver|
The specific recipe used is usually varied between vendors.
By fine tuning the composition (sometimes to even include zinc), light peachy pink to dark rose gold wedding bands can be obtained. In essence, different tones of colors can be tailored to a consumer’s preferences.
Click here to browse more 14 karat rose gold ring designs…
Now that you have a better understanding of the various types of gold, it’s time to go shopping. In my opinion, the best places to buy gold wedding rings and diamond rings are James Allen and Enchanted Diamonds.
Both vendors offer huge selections of setting designs to choose from and showcase great craftsmanship on their finished rings. More importantly, the shopping process is convenient and the prices are very competitive.
Here’s a screenshot to show you what you can expect on James Allen’s website.
With video technology, you can see exactly what you are buying!
If you are shopping for an diamond engagement ring, James Allen is one of the best places to start browsing for diamonds. In fact, they offer 360° videos in HD that enables you to examine diamonds in every angle!
Try them out for yourself and you’ll be amazed at how intuitive the interface is!
So, which type of metals do you personally like the most?
Feel free to leave a comment below to let us know why. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Lastly, if you have any further questions on the different types of ring metals, you can also drop them below and I’ll help you out in a jiffy.