If you’re not a jewelry connoisseur, it’s easy to be confused by words like ‘karat’ and ‘carat’. So What Karat Gold Is Best For Necklace? 24 karat gold? or 48 karat gold?
Both are a form of measurement in the jewelry industry, but what’s being measured is very different. Carats are used to describe the weight of diamonds and other precious gemstones. In this case, however, we’ll be delving into the term karat, or the measure of purity when referring to gold, as well as which karat of gold would be best for you.
In its pure form, gold is a very soft metal. It’s too delicate for everyday wear, so it’s often alloyed (or mixed) with other metals such as silver, copper, nickel, and zinc to improve its strength and resilience.
The most common mixtures of gold are 14K, 18K, and 22K, but 14K and 18K are the most ideal for jewelry.
48 karat gold
what karat gold is best for necklace?
Truthfully, there isn’t a clear answer — it depends. Your decision should be influenced by how often you’ll wear the jewelry, what you’ll be doing when you wear it, the coloring you prefer, and your budget. Gold isn’t a one-size-fits-all accessory and there are a few things to consider.
Here’s a quick guide to understanding what karat gold is best for necklace, the different karats of gold you’ll encounter when shopping for the perfect piece:
24 karat gold
Being the highest karat of gold, it’s easy to assume that 24K is the “best” gold to buy, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Pure gold can be easily scratched and bent, so it’s impractical for daily wear (yet the most expensive). You wouldn’t want to do housework while wearing a set of 24K bracelets, but if you’re planning on attending a red-carpet event and want to make a statement, it might be another story.
22K (92% gold and 8% alloyed metals)
Even a modest mixture of only 8% alloyed metal makes 22 karat gold a touch stronger and more durable than pure gold. Nevertheless, care will need to be taken with this blend as it’s still the softest form of mixed metal jewelry.
18K (75% gold and 25% alloyed metals)
This is the most traditional mix of gold and other metals. 18K pieces tend to have a deeper yellow tone than 14K. Because of the higher gold content in 18K pieces, it will also yield a higher price than 14K, and is usually a sign of a higher quality piece of jewelry.
14K (58% gold and 42% alloyed metals)
This alloy offers more resistance to wear and tear than either 18K or 22K. It’s ideal for everyday use and is the most popular choice for engagement rings and wedding bands. If you have an active lifestyle (sports, regular exercise, manual labor, etc.), 14K jewelry would be the best option for you.
Buy anything less than 14K and the line between fine jewelry and costume jewelry becomes blurry. In fact, most fine jewelers don’t even carry 12K or 10K. Pieces of jewelry that are 10K or greater should be stamped with an engraved marker indicating its purity, so be cautious if you can’t locate a stamp.
With these considerations in mind, you should be able to maneuver your next jewelry purchase with ease and confidence. At Brinker’s Jewelers, we’ll help you find the perfect gold piece that matches your style and needs. And if you can’t find the dream piece you’re looking for, we’ll help you create it.
The relative purity of gold maxes out at 24 karats. A metal which is 100% gold and nothing but gold, is said to be ’24 karat’ gold. A metal which is 50% gold is ’12 karat gold’ (this is a common kind used in jewelry). The other 50% of the metal consists of any other chosen metal or metals.
Most jewelry is between 12 and 18 karats, because pure gold is so soft that it can deform under its own weight. So gold is mixed with another metal to give it more strength, or also, sometimes, to modify the color, which is where you get ‘white gold’ (nickel or palladium) or ‘rose gold’ (copper plus a little silver).
The closest most people can get to ‘pure’ gold (24 karat) is in some kinds of collectible coins.
What is a karat?
A karat is a measurement of the fineness of a piece of gold. The fineness of a piece represents the weight of fine metal that it contains in proportion to the total weight, including alloyed metals and any impurities. Diamonds and other gemstones are measured in carats per 200mg, meaning for every 200mg of diamond, the higher the carat.
Gold uses karats. With gold, a karat is a fractional measure of purity for gold alloys, measured per 24 parts whole. Pure gold that has not been mixed with any other metals is therefore the highest possible karat, 24 karat (24k) gold.
Whilst more valuable, pure gold is rarely used for jewelry pieces because of its softness and malleability, and tendency to scratch and mark. Therefore, it is usually alloyed with base metals for use in jewelry, altering its malleability, color and other properties.
Which karat is the best?
As mentioned above, 24 karat gold is the highest possible number in pure gold, but it is often mixed with other metals to create alloys that are more durable and more suitable for everyday wear in jewelry. The more an alloy is mixed with pure gold, and therefore the less gold there is, the lower the number of karats.
Gold is most often mixed with either silver, zinc, copper, or palladium, creating a different number of karats and different colors of gold, such as rose gold or white gold.
Traditional karats used in gold jewelry number from pure gold at 24k, 22k, 18k, 14k or 10k.
Below is a chart that explains the conversion figures of gold from percentages and decimals to karats.
Gold Conversion Chart
|Number of Karats||Fraction of Gold||% of Gold Purity||Millesimal fineness|
Does a Higher Karat Mean Higher Quality Gold?
To put it simply, no. Whilst 24k is the purest form of gold available, it does not mean it is of a higher quality. It means that there is more gold in it, and therefore it is more valuable. However, 24 karat gold is rarely used in making jewelry, as pure gold is too soft and can be easily damaged. Gold that is blended with more alloys is stronger. This is preferable especially for jewelry as the lower karats make a piece of jewelry more durable. The lower the karats in a ring, for example, the stronger it will be.
The most common karat used in jewelry and generally the most sought after is 18k gold. This means that 18 out of 24 (3/4) parts of the piece is pure gold, a relatively high number. The one quarter that is not gold will be made up of other alloys, making the jewelry more durable, better for everyday wear and slightly cheaper.
The lower the number of karats, the less amount of pure gold it contains, so the more affordable, more durable and more suited for daily use it will be.
What do the stamps mean?
Whilst it is possible come across some pieces of gold that are not stamped with purity, most gold, especially jewelry, will come stamped with what is known as a “hallmark” as a reference. Most authentic gold jewelry is stamped with some form of number or letter to indicate its karat and gold content. There are some common ones which can be helpful to understand when looking at gold that make up the vast majority of the gold stamps.
Authentic gold jewelry should have a stamp to indicate the purity of the gold in the piece. This mark can be in several different formats. For example: 585, 14kt and 14K all mean 14 karat gold. All of these formats are easy to understand, except possibly the 3 digit number format.
There are also three digit numbers tell how pure the gold is as seen in the table above. They are measured in the thousandth, so if you want to know the purity percentage, just move the decimal point in one space. For example: 750 is 75.0% pure gold (or 18 karat).
Other stamps that can be included on gold pieces can indicate whether a piece has been plated with another metal or not, e.g. GE, which stands for “Gold Electroplate”. This means that the base of a piece is made of one metal, usually brass, and a certain thickness of gold has been deposited on the base, giving it a gold plating.
How can you tell if gold is real?
There are several ways to tell if gold is real. As mentioned above, any genuine gold pieces will be stamped with a hallmark stating the content of pure gold that it contains. Always check for the hallmark. The stamp is usually found on the clasp of a necklace or bracelet, or on the inner band of a ring.
A few hallmarks, such as EPNS, EPBM, and GF, also indicate that a piece is not real gold. As with Gold Electroplate, these symbols indicate that a piece is not actually made of gold but another metal, and has simply been gold plated.
A simple test is one that can be performed at home to check if gold is real. Gold is a heavy metal, and therefore, real gold should sink. Drop your gold item into a jug of water. Any piece of supposed gold jewelry that floats is likely to be fake gold.
Gold Karats in a Nutshell
Let’s start with a basic explanation of what a “karat” is and why it’s an important determining factor when choosing a piece of jewelry.
A karat is a measure of the fineness, or purity, of gold. To be specific, a gold karat is approximately 4.1667 percent of a pure gold alloy – in other words, 1/24 of pure gold. A piece with 24-karat gold, therefore, contains gold that is totally pure.
So what about golds that are rated at 18k, 14k, and 10k?
10K vs 14K vs 18K and 24K Gold
These measurements indicate that the material contains 18/24, 14/24, and 10/24 parts gold, respectively. How pure is the gold that is used in your gold engagement ring (or any other piece of jewelry for that matter):
Gold Karat Scale – Gold Purity Chart
|Gold Karats||Gold Purity %||Millesimal Fineness|
But what are the other parts?
The remaining material is an alloying metal of some sort. A secondary metal is often included not to dilute the purity of gold intentionally, but rather to make the overall substance harder.
This system emerged in the Medieval era with a coin known as a mark. Marks were weighed in terms of carats (a system of weight still used to weigh gems). A full, pure mark was 24 carats/karats – pure gold. But pure marks were nearly impossible to produce because gold is too soft a substance. Harder metals like copper had to be added to produce a more durable alloy; marks were then evaluated based on what percentage of their core material was made of gold.
Karat vs. Carat
Note that karats, a system for measuring the purity of gold, are different than carats, which are commonly used to measure the weight of a diamond. Not only are they used to evaluate different jewelry elements (gold vs. diamonds), but they measure entirely different things. The karat rating of a gold item tells you nothing about the weight, and the carat size of a diamond tells you nothing about its purity.
On top of the above, while carat is used to price diamonds, karat, while does have an affect on pricing, is not part of gold’s pricing system.
Is 24k Gold the Best?
After understanding the karat system, you’ll understand that 24 karat gold is “pure” gold. Initially, you may believe this means 24k gold is the best possible option. After all, purity seems to be a good thing – not only will the piece be more attractive and more sought-after, but it will also carry bragging rights, correct?
Not necessarily. While it is the highest karat gold possible and while gold is a beautiful substance, it comes with a lot of disadvantages.
For starters, gold is soft. Despite being dense, and therefore considered a “heavy metal,” gold is remarkably malleable and easy to work with. This makes it an ideal material for jewelry in some respects, because it can be fashioned into any shape easily, but it can also result in weakness. Wearing 24k gold jewelry can leave it vulnerable to scratching, bending, warping, and other forms of damage. For a piece of jewelry to be practical, it needs to be able to retain its shape and remain attractive for a long period of time.
Malleability and softness are just the beginning. Pure gold is also very bright. If you picture “pure gold” in your head, you’re probably thinking of a gold alloy. The true color of pure gold is both brighter and more orange than what most people picture. Accordingly, it makes for unattractive jewelry in many cases.
On top of that, pure gold is much more expensive. One of the reasons why jewelers mix gold with an alloying metal is to reduce the cost. The price increase isn’t exactly linear, either; a 24k gold ring is usually at least twice as expensive as its 14k counterpart.
There is one advantage of 24k gold, however. 24k gold tends to have much higher resale value. If you’re looking to invest in gold, or if you want a family heirloom that will retain its value for many generations, 24k may be the ideal option.
That said, 24k gold is possibly the worst option for an engagement ring or other piece of jewelry; it’s too soft, too bright, and too expensive to be worthwhile.
So if 24k gold isn’t a good option, what’s a better alternative?
18K Gold: A Breakdown
Let’s start by taking a look at the purest option that’s still commonly used in jewelry: 18k gold. 18k gold is 75 percent gold by purity, with the remaining 25 percent coming from a combination of alloyed metal.
You can recognize 18k gold by its bright, yellow appearance. It’s commonly associated with rings, necklaces, and other forms of popular jewelry because of its balanced purity.
There are many advantages to purchasing 18k gold. For example:
- The highest practical purity. If you want something pure, 18k gold is about as good as you’re going to get for a practical piece of jewelry. 24k gold is untenable, so 18k gold is the next best thing.
- Minimal allergic reactions. Some alloying metals produce an allergic reaction in the wearer; for example, nickel can sometimes produce skin irritation. Because 18k gold only contains a minimal amount of alloying metal, the risk of skin irritation is almost zero.
- A beautiful yellow shine. Many people love the visual appearance of 18k gold because of its bright yellow shine. This makes it perfect for engagement rings and wedding rings.
However, there are also some disadvantages to consider, including:
- Vulnerability. Despite the presence of some alloys, 18k gold is still relatively easy to damage. It can scratch easily and may warp under some situations.
- Expensiveness. Because of its purity, 18k gold is also one of the most expensive types of gold available. If you’re trying to buy jewelry on a budget, this isn’t a realistic option. In some cases, an 18k piece of jewelry can be twice as expensive as a 14k version.
18 karat gold ring
14K Gold: A Breakdown
14k gold isn’t as pure as 18k gold; it contains 58.3 percent gold, with 41.7 percent alloying material. It remains one of the most popular options for gold jewelry due to its ability to combine the advantages of pure gold and alloying metals together. In fact, more than 90 percent of all wedding and engagement rings in the United States are made from 14k gold.
Depending on what alloying materials are used, 14k gold usually retains the shiny yellow appearance associated with traditional gold – though it will be less intense than 18k gold. For some purchasers, this is actually an advantage; the saturated yellow color makes it ideal for some skin tones.
Let’s look at some of the advantages:
- Solid durability. 14k gold is quite strong compared to 18k gold or 24k gold. It’s much more resilient to scratches, though it can still be damaged if you’re not careful.
- A rich, gold-like appearance. You won’t get the vibrant shininess of 18k gold, but 14k gold still has a rich, gold appearance that can make any piece of jewelry beautiful.
- Relative inexpensiveness. 14k gold is one of the best options in terms of value. It’s inexpensive, but still carries many advantages.
So, are there disadvantages?
- Still more expensive than 10k gold. When comparing 10k gold with 14k gold, 14k gold is still somewhat expensive, making it less ideal for the budget-conscious consumer.
- Skin irritation possibilities. The high alloy content in 14k gold means there’s a possibility it could trigger skin irritation or an allergic reaction.
14k gold ring vs 18k gold ring, can you guess which karat is each of the rings? also in white gold – can you guess which is 14 karat gold and which ring is 18 karat gold?
As you can see in the above examples from James Allen, 14k and 18k gold both commonly used both in white gold and in yellow. the preference is not only a matter of price. One of the above rings was sold for close to $40,000 yet it was still made of 14 karat gold.
10K Gold: A Breakdown
Now let’s look at 10k gold. This material is 41.7 percent gold, with 58.3 percent alloying metal. This is the least pure option that’s still commonly used in jewelry in the United States. In fact, this is the lowest purity of gold that can be legally marketed as “gold” in most countries.
This is a popular choice for many forms of gold jewelry, such as earrings, but it’s less common for engagement rings and other high-end pieces. Some jewelers don’t even offer 10k gold as an option because of this. 10k gold has a paler appearance than its 14k or 18k counterparts, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; some people actively prefer this softer, subtler tone.
There are some big advantages with 10k gold:
- Total inexpensiveness. 10k gold is the cheapest form of gold that’s still commonly used in jewelry. If you’re looking for the least expensive option, this is your best bet.
- Supreme toughness. Because of the high alloy content, most 10k gold rings don’t have the same vulnerabilities as their 18k counterparts. It’s much tougher to scratch or warp this type of material.
However, there are disadvantages as well:
- Pale coloration. While some may find it subtle and charming, most jewelry aficionados dislike the pale coloration of 10k gold.
- Higher likelihood of skin irritation. The high alloy content increases the likelihood of an allergic reaction – especially if the alloy used is nickel or zinc.
1K Gold: A Breakdown
Though rare, it’s possible to find some items sporting 1k gold, which is only 4.1667 percent gold by purity. This type of gold barely qualifies as “gold,” despite being marketed as such. It’s not recommended for any type of jewelry.
Note that there are also different karat ratings between the ones we’ve listed here, though they aren’t especially common.
Gold Alloys and Gold Colors (Yellow, White, and Rose)
Illustration of wedding rings showing the differences between white, yellow and rose gold in different Karat scales
When choosing a gold ring, karats aren’t your only consideration. Much of your ring will likely be made of an alloying metal – and your choice of metal can make a big difference in how the ring ultimately looks and functions. Some of the most commonly used alloys in gold jewelry include silver, copper, zinc, nickel, palladium, and platinum.
There are four main ways the alloying metal affects the jewelry:
- Coloration. First, the alloying metal can change the color of the ring. With purer gold jewelry pieces, this isn’t much of an issue; at 18k, most materials will still leave you with a bright, yellow, traditionally gold-looking ring. But at 14k and especially 10k, you might end up with a different shade altogether. If you include metals like palladium or platinum, you can end up with a paler finished product – often called “white gold” by jewelers. If you include copper, you can tint the gold to look rosier, leading it to be called “rose gold.”
Color is an important considering factor. Someone who likes traditional jewelry might strongly prefer a bright yellow ring. Someone who wants something more romantic or unique-looking might prefer a rose gold ring. Someone with a fair or rosy skin tone might prefer white gold to complement their skin.
- Durability. Different alloying metals offer different levels of strength. For example, platinum is one of the toughest options available. Alloying a ring with platinum can instantly make it more resistant to scratching and warping. Nickel can still confer some strength, but it isn’t on the same level.
- Skin sensitivity. You may also need to consider allergies and skin sensitivity. Nickel is one of the usual suspects in terms of triggering skin irritation; somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the population experiences an allergic reaction in response to nickel. Zinc is also known as a common allergic trigger. However, platinum and palladium are often safe bets. Make sure you find out about a person’s potential allergic triggers before buying jewelry for them.
- Price. Finally, you’ll need to think about price. Some alloying metals are rarer and/or harder to work with than others, driving up the price. Copper, zinc, and nickel are all relatively inexpensive, driving down the price of the finished piece. By contrast, rings that contain silver, palladium, and/or platinum tend to be more expensive.
Determining Your Priorities – 24k gold? 18k gold? 14k gold? 10k gold?
So which type of gold should you choose for your jewelry?
That depends on your priorities. You’ll need to consider the importance of the following, at minimum:
- Appearance and color. One of your top considerations will likely be the appearance and the color of the ring. For the most part, this is subjective. A person’s skin tone, personal taste, and history with jewelry will often dictate their preferences. For example, bright yellow is preferred by people who like a traditional or classical look; it’s also preferred by people with darker skin tones. 18k gold is the top option here, or you could choose 14k gold with the right alloying metal. If you’re looking for white gold, you’ll need a lower karat rating and an alloying metal like palladium or platinum. And for rose gold, you’ll need a 14k or 10k ring with copper as an alloying material.
- Tactile feel and skin irritation. You’ll also need to consider how it feels to wear the ring and whether it’s capable of producing skin irritation. For millions of people, allergies stand in the way of enjoying certain types of metal. Gold itself isn’t usually a problem; no matter the purity of the gold you’re working with, the gold shouldn’t present an issue. Accordingly, higher purities are less likely to result in irritation. Issues arise with certain types of alloying metals. Zinc and nickel are the biggest culprits here, but you may also experience skin irritation issues with copper or silver. Palladium and platinum are the safest bets if you want to be sure, with the highest karat ring you can afford.
- Durability. Many people think that gold is incredibly durable, but in reality, it’s soft and easy to damage. This is why 24k gold jewelry options are hard to find; they would be ridiculously easy to scratch and warp. 18k gold may be beautiful and pure, but it’s also the most susceptible option to damage over time. Lower karat gold options offer more strength and durability. They become even stronger when they’re alloyed with metals that confer additional durability, such as platinum, though this may increase the cost.
- Expensiveness. Engagement rings, wedding rings, and other forms of high-end jewelry can be expensive. If you’re working with a tight budget, your options may be limited. 18k rings tend to be the most expensive options, with 10k being the most affordable option that’s still reasonable in terms of quality. 14k gold is often a good middle-of-the-road option in terms of price and value. You can also minimize expenses by choosing the right alloying metal to complement the gold.
- Pride. You may also choose jewelry out of pride. There’s something subjectively pleasing about picking out (and wearing) a ring with the highest purity of gold available. It has higher resale value, it looks more like “traditional” gold, and it gives you some bragging rights as well. That said, there are plenty of beautiful options at lower karat ratings as well – and they’re also more durable.