Shopping for gold jewelry can be an intimidating task. Gold jewelry is not only beautiful, but is also resistant to rust, tarnish, and corrosion. When well cared for, gold jewelry can passed down from generation to generation as heirloom treasures. Given that all that glitters is not gold, we've compiled a list of characteristics you may wish to consider when purchasing gold jewelry.
Purity: The monetary value of gold is determined, in part, by its purity or fineness. In the United States, gold purity is measured in karats. U.S. law requires the karat purity trademark to be stamped on all gold jewelry produced in the United States. The karat measurement divides the purity of gold into 24ths. The karat number you see stamped on gold jewelry tells you how many parts gold it contains out of a total of 24.
Gold is the most malleable of all precious metals,with a rating of 2.5 - 3 on the Moh’s Scale of Hardness. Pure gold in its natural element form is much too soft to be used to create jewelry for everyday wear, so it is alloyed with other metals like silver, platinum, palladium, zinc, and copper to help increase its strength and durability. Without the addition of alloys, pure gold jewelry would easily bend, dent, stretch and wear down quickly.
The common gold karat hallmarks in USA are 10k, 14k, 18k, and 24k, with 14k and 18k being the most common purity used to create fine jewelry. The gold karat hallmark is usually found in an inconspicuous place so as not to distract from the design. Do not be afraid to ask your jeweler where the gold karat hallmark is located if you’re having trouble finding it.
24k gold is 100% pure natural gold.
18k gold is 75% pure gold combined with 25% of additional metal alloys.
14k gold is 58.3% pure gold combined with 41.7% of additional metal alloys.
10k gold is 41.7% pure gold combined with 58.3% of additional metal alloys.
Color: The color of gold is determined by two factors: The type of metal alloys that are combined with pure 24k gold as well as the ratio of each metal alloy used to create the finished piece. In it's purest form, 24k gold has a rich, deeply saturated yellow hue.
Yellow gold is created by alloying pure 24k gold with copper and silver. Yellow gold has the sunny, warm appearance commonly associated with gold jewelry.
White gold has a silver/platinum appearance and is created by alloying pure 24k gold with platinum or palladium, zinc, and copper. White gold is frequently plated with rhodium. While rhodium is an extremely hard element, the plating may wear away over time. White gold jewelry can be replated with rhodium to restore the silver whiteness to your jewelry.
Rose gold has a distinctly pink hue and is created by alloying pure 24k gold solely with copper.
Composition: The composition of gold jewelry, whether solid gold, gold filled, rolled gold, vermeil, or gold plated is a key indicator in quality.
Solid - Solid gold jewelry is created using the same karat material throughout the entire piece. There are no hollow or plated parts. Simply stated, this is as good as it gets.
Gold Filled (GF) - Gold fill is similar to the gold plating process described below, but the gold is heat fused and pressure bonded to the base metal, rather than simply being dipped in gold. Gold filled jewelry must have a minimum purity of 10K gold and the gold content must be at least 1/20th of the weight of the metal piece. Gold filled jewelry is an affordable alternative to solid gold, with greater durability than gold plated jewelry.
Rolled Gold (RG) - The same process as gold filled but without the 1/20th weight requirement. Rolled gold jewelry is usually made by rolling out sheets from which the jewelry is then molded or “formed.” Rolled gold contains 100 times more gold than average gold plated jewelry. Rolled gold jewelry is ideal for those who wish to save on costs or those who are worried about losing or misplacing very expensive jewelry.
Vermeil - The industry standard definition of vermeil is sterling silver that has been plated with gold with a minimum of 2.5 microns in thickness (1 micron is 1 millionth of an inch). While vermeil jewelry will be considerable less expensive, it is also more prone to wear.
Gold Plated (GP) - Sometimes referred to as Electroplate (EP), gold plated jewelry is similar to vermeil in that it is dipped in gold, but gold plated jewelry is crafted using steel or brass, rather than sterling silver, as the base metal. Gold plating has no legal regulatory requirements on how thick the gold layer must be, so the durability and quality of gold plated jewelry can widely vary as the thickness of the plating will determine how long a piece will retain its golden shine.