Gold, more than any other metal, is universally regarded as a symbol of luxury, class and beauty. One of the world’s oldest discovered metals it is synonymous with rarity and value. It is durable, but also soft and malleable, which makes it perfect for using in jewelry.
Hopefully this guide will help to enlighten you about gold so that you can make a more informed purchase.
Pure gold, 24 karat, is much too soft to be used in jewelry production. Instead gold is combined with metal alloys like silver, nickel and copper to strengthen it. Gold’s purity is defined by karatage with the ranking being:
The color of gold can vary depending on the amount and type of alloys included in it. So, although we sometimes associate the color of gold with a glowing, radiant yellow, it is available in a range of yellows and whites, as well as a reddish rose color.
There are actually many terms that describe how gold is used in jewelery, but to an outsider it may not be obvious what they mean.
Deceptive practices are rare, but there are occasions where a misunderstanding will occur because of the difference between Gold Plated, Gold Filled, and Pure Gold.
The real thing; if a piece of jewelry is described as pure gold it better have a stamp of quality guaranteeing the fact - read more here for an explanation of the various metal stamps/seals. 'Pure Gold' can have two meanings, the first is that the piece is literally 100%, 24 karat gold, and there is nothing else in it. The other meaning is that the piece is 'Pure (10k/14k/18k/22k) Gold', with the part in the middle sometimes being omitted.
This isn't meant to deceive you, but is instead referring to the measured karats of the jewelry. So by saying 'Pure 18k Gold' someone means that the 18k portion of the jewelry is in fact pure gold, and the remaining six karats are an alloy or other adulterant. This is common for colored golds, which by definition, can't be 'Pure 24k Gold' due to the presence of Nickel/Palladium/Rhodium/Copper mixed with the gold to give it its color.
This can also be known as 'gold overlays' or 'rolled gold plate'.
Gold filled is an industrial process that bonds a sheet of gold over a more common material, usually nickel or brass. The process involves first 'gluing' the gold onto the base material using high heat and high pressure, usually in a hydraulic press. The resulting mix is then flattened again under high pressure and temperature, resulting in a gold-looking material that is only likely 5%-10% gold.
The finished product is still attractive, and much in demand among jewelry shoppers, but it's important to note the description when shopping. If the product says gold filled then know that it is not primarily composed of gold. Gold filled has an advantage over gold plating in that the amount of gold plated is even smaller, and the gold filled layer can be quite thick in comparison. Gold filled products are also far more resistant scratches and other damage removing the gold and showing the underlying material. The FTC requires that any gold used in gold filling be at least 10 karats in quality in order to be sold under the name 'Gold Filled'.
Another popular variation is 'Bonded Gold' which uses similar processes, but is invariably 10k (or higher) quality gold bonded to sterling silver exclusively. Bonded gold products often carve out small portions of the upper gold layer to display the silver beneath, to create contrast and to allow for more precision when making geometric patterns.
Gold plating is the process of (electrically or otherwise) depositing small amounts of gold onto a base material such as brass, nickel, or copper. The end result is a thin layer of gold, giving the impression that the object itself is composed entirely of gold. Again, the FTC demands that any gold used in gold plating be at least 10 karats in quality before allowing it to be described as 'gold plated'. Due to the nature of the plating process, most plated gold has a gold layer that is incredibly thin, and prone to scratching and wear. Gold plated products are usually the cheapest of these three categories; not undesirable for all of that, but the buyer should know if the product they are purchasing is pure gold, gold filled, or gold plated.
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