Shopping for a piece of jewelry or picking up a fine engagement rings will introduce you to terms you may have heard of before but never really took notice of – karat. You will often come across words like 10K gold, 14K gold, 18K gold, or even 24K gold.
Now that they’ve gotten your attention, you wonder what they mean and why they matter.
This article will discuss what they are and present an in-depth comparison between 10K, 14K, 18K, and 24K gold. By the time you finish reading, you will have the perfect understanding of what they are and why they matter, so you have a better idea of which engagement ring to pick.
Table of Contents
- What Is Karat?
- Are Gold Pieces of Jewelry Made Using Pure Gold?
- 10K, 14K, 18K, and 24K Gold Compared
- 18K Gold: Pros and Cons
- 14K Gold: Pros and Cons
- 10K Gold: Pros and Cons
- 10K vs. 14K: Which Is Better?
- 14K vs. 18K: Which Is Better?
- Is There Anything Lower Than 10K Gold
- Facts About Gold
- Conclusion: Which Gold Should You Buy
- FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
- Related Articles
What Is Karat?
Do not get confused. Karat and carat are two different things. Carat is the unit of weight for diamonds and other gemstones, while karat is gold’s unit of purity. Just remember it’s a C for diamonds and a K for gold.
Gold usually depicts absolute, glorious, and outstanding. It symbolizes success and luxury. But, how do you describe the quality of gold itself? That’s where karat comes in.
Karat amount of gold accounts for not only its prestige and price but coloring as well. The purer the gold is, the better colored it appears. Going back to how karat is defined – gold’s purity is measured because pure gold is too soft. Thus, it is usually mixed with other metals like copper or silver.
Karat indicates 1/24th of a whole gold’s portion. Therefore, a piece of jewelry made of 18 parts gold and six parts copper is an 18K gold.
Are Gold Pieces of Jewelry Made Using Pure Gold?
In contradiction to popular opinion, when you purchase a gold jewelry piece, they are seldom pure gold.
Pure or 24K gold is one that has not been mixed with other metals. Gold jewelry is not always made with 24K gold because of a lot of reasons:
- Pure gold is particularly soft. Its malleability causes bending and warping, making pure gold an inferior metal for jewelry required to retain its shape. It also easily scratches that it won’t take long for any pure gold jewelry to look scuffed and unattractive.
- It is too bright. Pure gold’s color is a lot brighter and more orange than most people associate with the gold used in jewelry. Thus, making it an unattractive metal for rings, watches, or other gold jewelry.
- Pure gold costs a great deal of money. Since 24K gold contains twice as much gold as 14K gold, which is the most popular type used for most jewelry, they cost a lot more to produce. But, it can be the best type if you are looking at selling it for cash in the future.
The ideal gold for jewelry is harder, more durable to work with, and can better withstand daily wear rigors. With the factors mentioned, 24K gold won’t assure that your jewelry will still be as beautiful many years later.
24K gold is a lot more popular in China and other Eastern markets but not for engagement rings. They are mostly used as traditional Chinese wedding jewelry like bangles, gold bars, or material for some collectible items.
10K, 14K, 18K, and 24K Gold Compared
So, what is the significant difference in gold purity?
As hinted above, 24K gold is pure gold consisting of 100% gold. The reasons for them not being commonly used for jewelry are the differences between 10K, 14K, 18K, and 24K.
Pure gold isn’t easy to mold, and it doesn’t hold shape. The metal is soft and is prone to scratch and scuff. Thus, jewelers made it a practice to mix gold with other metals to increase the properties that make for ideal jewelry – durable, strong, and shiny.
Consequently, white gold is composed of palladium and yellow gold, while rose gold of copper and a mixture of silver metal. In some cases, rhodium plating is to achieve a brilliant white color. Here’s breaking down the gold purity:
|Karat||Parts Gold||Purity Percentage||Amalgam||Millesimal Fineness|
|24K||24/24||99.99||99% gold – 0.1% filler metals||999|
|18K||18/24||75||75% gold – 25% filler metals||750|
|14K||14/24||58.3||58% gold – 42% filler metals||583/585|
|10K||10/24||41.7||42% gold – 58% filler metals||416/417|
Each gold type has a different purity level. There’s no telling which is the best type for every application. But, every purity level has its own series of advantages and advantages such as:
|Karat||Advantages||Disadvantages||Types of Jewelry|
|24K||Purest gold (100% gold)||Expensive; Easily bendable||coins, electronics, and medical devices|
|18K||Very pure (75% gold); Affordable||It may be dull in color||engagement rings and wedding bands|
|14K||Timeless; High quality||Maintenance required||earrings, engagement rings, and wedding bands|
|10K||Affordable; Durable||May cause allergies||any type|
One of the most noticeable differences between these karat options is the gold color. Since pure gold is innately yellow, the more yellow it appears, the higher the karat. In the yellow gold case, 18K has the richest yellow color. 14K and 10K yellow gold may look slightly lighter or whiter.
There is not much distinguishable color difference in white gold at first glance. This appearance is because most white gold is rhodium plated. This plating is per industry standard to achieve a brilliant white color.
The longtime effect of rhodium is what a lot of white gold customers enjoy about them. This gold seemingly wears into its natural and slightly yellow color over time. Still, others want to re-plate their rings every so often.
Rose gold is another variation. The 10k option appears the most pinkish, while 18K gives off a slightly warmer and more subtle pink gold shade.
18K Gold: Pros and Cons
- Pros: Rich gold-tone, hardly/doesn’t irritate the skin
- Cons: Scratches nearly as easy as 24K gold, more expensive than 14K and 10K
- Best for: very sensitive skin
18K gold means it is 18 parts gold and six parts alloy. Since it is mostly real gold, it can get easily scratched than 14K. Although they can be pretty strong for daily wear, you may want to decide on something more durable if you are an active person.
Its rich and yellow appearance makes 18K gold an attractive material for engagement rings and other jewelry pieces. Since they are almost pure, there is a little to virtually no chance that the wearer gets skin irritation.
Blue Nile’s Classic Four Prong Solitaire Engagement Ring is a perfect example of an 18K gold engagement ring. The diamond shines brilliantly in the band’s rich yellow tone.
The downside with 18K gold comes from its purity. The high amount of gold makes it relatively easy to scratch that a slight bump into a hard surface may bend or scuff it. They can be quite expensive, too.
All things considered, 18K gold is a good option if you are looking for a piece of jewelry that is as pure as possible but not as pricey. In short, they are refined and practical.
14K Gold: Pros and Cons
- Pros: Good balance of price and quality, durable
- Cons: Possible allergic reactions
- Best for: Active wearers
14K gold means it is 14 parts gold and ten parts alloy. This type is the most popular choice for gold rings and other wearable jewelry in the US and other Western countries.
The reason for its popularity is that it is hardy and can withstand moderate abuse during wear. This metal that is considered the best of both worlds may look exactly the same as a piece of 18K gold jewelry. Plus, if compared to 18K gold, it is way durable and won’t easily show wear signs.
This 18K gold eternity band from James Allen is the perfect example of what most customers look for in rings – slightly saturated and less intense but still rich and attractive.
14K gold is a lot more durable than 14K. Rings, chains, or watches made using this type of karat are significantly more robust than those made with 18K gold. It is an excellent choice if you are looking for something durable and affordable.
10K Gold: Pros and Cons
- Pros: Practical choice, very durable
- Cons: High amount of alloys may cause skin irritation
- Best for: very active wearers, buyers on a tight budget
10K gold means it is ten parts gold and 14 parts alloy. This type is the lowest gold content you can have for the metal to be deemed “gold” in the US.
The high amount of alloys makes 10K gold the most durable, making it the perfect choice for active wearers. Also, since it has the lowest amount of gold, it is the cheapest. 10K is your practical choice if you are on a limited budget.
10K gold is widely used in earrings and other affordable jewelry. However, they are not the first choice as the metal for engagement rings and other fine jewelry. Many luxury jewelry dealers don’t offer 10K gold because of its relatively low gold content.
This type of gold shows a pale appearance. It is significantly less yellowish than 14K and 18K gold. Its paleness is something you may or may not like – some like it for its subtle details, while others want a richer tone.
Its most significant advantages are cost and durability. It is the cheapest yet the strongest. But, along with it comes the risk of skin irritation from certain metals, especially if you are allergic to them.
10K vs. 14K: Which Is Better?
Technically, the difference between 10K and 14K gold lies in their purity ratio. As a consumer, you may be more drawn to the practical differences between the two. Clearly, 10K is cheaper than 14K. But, for anyone with a keen eye, 10K is noticeably paler compared to 14K.
The usage in manufacturing of both golds is also another thing to compare. Most fine jewelry uses 14K as the lowest karat metal, while less prestigious pieces use 10K. Between the two, 14K sounds practical as it represents the balance for money and practicality.
14K vs. 18K: Which Is Better?
Both 14K and 18K gold are the most common metals used for engagement rings. But, their unique pros and cons make one better than the other.
14K gold is affordable, durable, ubiquitous, and widely available in the engagement rings world. It is undoubtedly the most popular type of gold, which makes it an easy option to find. 18K is purer than 14k. It is gorgeous and more vibrant than 14K.
But, 18K gold’s purity is also its main drawback. Metal with a higher amount of gold is highly malleable, making it softer and easier to scratch or dent than 14K. 14K gold is a lot more durable than 18K but is not as aesthetically pleasing as 18K.
Which is better? You can decide on that. If you aren’t bothered by social stigmas and value practicality, 14K is your best bet. But, if you are looking for something more stunning, then you should pick 18K.
Is There Anything Lower Than 10K Gold
In 2018, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) decided to remove the traditional thresholds on what can be defined as gold introducing a new line based on 1K gold jewelry. But, this ruling also states that the karatage must be clearly and visibly disclosed.
Many jewelers and critics called this move a mistake since 1K gold won’t be anything that can live up to the consumer’s expectations. Indeed, 1K gold is the cheapest. But, we don’t have any reason to find it worth pursuing.
Facts About Gold
Did you know that gold, listed on the periodic table as AU is the only genuinely yellow metal on Earth? Yes, it is. Aside from that, here are other facts you may have fun learning.
- Almost all gold on the Earth’s surface came from meteorites that showered our planet over 200 million years after it formed.
- It is exceptionally ductile. One ounce can be stretched into a thread of 5 miles.
- It is a heavy and dense metal but is generally nontoxic. Gold metal flakes are included in some foods or drinks. Although it is nontoxic, it can be an allergen.
- It is a noble metal. It is unresponsive and defies degradation by air, moisture, or acidic conditions. Most metals dissolve in acids, but it only takes a special mixture of acid call aqua regia to dissolve gold.
Conclusion: Which Gold Should You Buy
10k, 14k, 18k, and 24k gold all possess differences. But, these differences are very hard to see with the naked eye. The majority of people can’t even tell them apart. The bottom line is – the best type of gold to buy depends on your personal needs and preference.
All types can be an option for engagement rings, but the most practical pick is 14K as it offers the perfect balance of cost and usableness. If you are leaning towards a more luxurious choice and have the budget, go for the 18K option.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: How can I tell if my gold jewelry is real?
A: The most accurate method of knowing whether your item is pure gold is to take it to a jeweler for an appraisal. But, here are some tests you can try at home.
- Look for the stamp. Some real gold has any of the stamps typically on its inner sleeve. This stamp represents the karat of gold – 16, 417, 10ct, 10kt, 10K, 10KP = 10 Karat, 583, 585, 14ct, 14kt, 14K, 14KP = 14 Karat, 750, 18ct, 18kt, 18K, 18KP = 18 Karat, 916, 917, 22ct, 22kt, 22K = 22 Karat 999, 24K = 24 Karat. Please note that some designers do not add stamps, so if you don’t see any on your piece, it does not automatically translate to it not being gold.
- A black streak on ceramic. Strike it on an unfinished ceramic. If it makes a gold mark, it is real. Otherwise, it will leave a black mark.
- Is it heavy? Real gold is always heavier than any piece of non-gold jewelry that is of the same size.