Firstly, what is Karat? Karat is a measure of the purity of gold, originating from Arabic, Greek and Italian ancient words to describe a measuring unit. The proportion of gold in a metal alloy (mix) will give it it’s fineness or karat, with 24K gold being it’s purest form. This “fineness” is expressed as 1000 parts, so to calculate say the fineness of 18K gold you would divide 18 by 24 and multiply it by 1000 which will give you 0.750 fineness. Recognise that number? 18K gold jewellery will normally have 750 stamped on it to declare it’s fineness.

24K gold is the purest form of gold, and hence the most expensive. It is a rather soft metal and isn’t suited for the practical wearing of jewellery as it will get bent and scratched far too easily. It is sold as coins or bars as an investment or used for ceremonial purposes. Because it is so soft, it is alloyed with other metals, and it’s colour will be determined by what it is mixed with.

The next general karat after 24K is 22K. If you divide the mass by 24, this means 22 parts out of 24 will be pure gold, and the other 2 parts will be comprised of metals like silver, zinc, nickel and other alloys. Although this mix will make it more durable than 24K, and has a bright rich yellow tone to it, it is usually used for simple gold jewellery because it’s still a bit too soft to set stones in.

18K gold is the most popular, especially in the West, and is made up of 18 parts gold to 6 parts mix of metals, or another way to put it is 75% gold to 25% mix. Therefore it has a fineness of 750 and will be stamped with said number.

I am often asked what the difference between 18K yellow, rose and white gold is. They all have the same amount of gold (75%) but it is the mix of their alloy that sets them apart. 18K rose gold will have more copper in it’s alloy to give it that pretty pink warmth, and 18K white gold will have more silver in it as well as palladium. It is worth noting that 18K white gold actually has a honey tone to it and will need white rhodium plating to make it white. Many people become alarmed when their white gold jewellery becomes yellowish, this is just the gold showing through and means it is time to replate it.  Palladium and rhodium are part of the platinum family which is very precious; this, alongside the higher silver content, is why 18K white gold is more expensive than 18K rose or yellow gold.

14K is popular in the US, it looks just like 18K gold, however it is less expensive yet over half of the mix is gold. It is a bit more durable than 18K gold so it is a good choice for bangles for example, as they may get knocked often.

9K is great value for money, however it doesn’t have much gold in it so can tarnish easily due to the high metal mix, and is not considered to be anywhere near as precious as it’s higher karat alternatives.

I hope I’ve explained it well, I think it is important to be aware of the value of gold and to purchase your gold jewellery well-informed.

* Credit to My Gold Guide and picture credit to Peloton Minerals.

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