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 common misconceptions people have about white/yellow gold settings.
We will also perform indepth comparisons between 10k vs 14k and 14k vs 18k gold. By the end of the article, you will also find out which is the best type of metal to buy based on your needs.
Let’s dive in…
Karat is a term used to describe the purity content of gold in a piece of jewelry. One of the most common mistakes people make is to confuse karat (gold purity) with carat (diamond weight).
Just remember this; one is spelled with a “k” and the other with a “c”.
In the industry, the following gold karat chart is universally used and understood. It represents the fineness of precious metal content (expressed in parts-per-thousand).
Karat Gold Purity Reference 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 jewelry or collectible gold bars that are very popular 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.
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.
The main difference between 18k vs 14k yellow gold is in price. In terms of physical appearance, 18kt yellow gold may appear with a more saturated hue compared to 14kt yellow gold.
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.
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.
From a technical point of view, the differences between 10k vs 14k gold lies in their ratio of gold purity. Here’s a little trivia: 10k gold is 41.7% gold and this is the lowest ratio for a metal to be considered “gold” in the US.
As a consumer, you will probably be more interested about the practical differences between these 2 metals. Obviously, 10kt is going to cost less than 14kt as the alloying metals used are generally cheaper.
If you have owned gold jewelry before or have a keen eye, you might notice that 10k pieces look a tad paler compared to 14k. This is due to the lesser gold content used in 10k. On this note, I also want to point out that 10k jewelry are more likely to cause skin irritation to people with a nickel allergy.
The other key difference between 10 karat and 14 karat gold is their usage in jewelry manufacturing. If you are buying fine jewelry or a diamond ring, the lowest karat metal that most businesses offer for their settings would be 14kt. On the other hand, 10kt gold is usually used in less prestigious jewelry pieces.
There are 2 school of thoughts between consumers when choosing between 18k and 14k gold.
There are jewelry businesses (think of the big brands) and elites who feel that 18k gold is more “prestigious” than 14k gold because of the higher gold content. To these groups of people, any grade lower than 18k gold would be 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 is more susceptible to wear and tear.
Personally, I belong to the other camp of people who think 14k is better. This is because I don’t get bothered by social stigmas and I 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 vulnerable 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.
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 high quality gold wedding rings and diamond jewelry are online retailers like James Allen and Blue Nile.
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. The 360° HD videos in every of their listings enable you to scrutinize diamonds in every angle!
Try them out for yourself and you’ll be amazed at how intuitive the interface is!
The differences between 10k vs 14k vs 18k are very hard to see with the naked eye and most people simply can’t tell them apart. Ultimately, the best type of gold to buy boils down to your personal needs and preferences.
All of them make are great options for engagement ring but my personal pick would be 14kt as it offers an good balance of cost versus usability. And if you can afford the budget, 18kt is an option that offers a little more luxury.
So, which type of metals do you 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.