Gold has been the most popular choice for jewelry-making for centuries. In fact, gold jewelry dates back to 4,000 B.C. and has become utterly entwined with our perceptions of luxury and romance. Gold is a beautiful metal that can be a wonderful choice for jewelry, providing you make the right choices.
Karat is the term used to express the fineness of gold. Gold is often mixed with alloying base metals to make it more durable, thus it is not 100% pure. Gold is measured in 24 parts; this means that 24 karat gold is considered 100% pure gold while 18 karat gold is 18/24 = 75% gold.
While karat is used specifically for gold, other metals use the millesimal fineness system which denotes fineness in parts per thousand. You may notice an 18k gold ring is stamped with the number ‘750’ = 75% gold. Jewelry listings will use karat to express gold fineness but hallmarks often use the millesimal system.
Some buyers contact me with concerns about gold purity, wondering whether the lack of purity means the setting is inferior. This is not true. Pure gold is extremely soft – it can be manipulated and broken, even by hand. As diamonds are so hard, using pure gold to set them would not work. The base metals added to gold improve the durability and are therefore more desirable for customers.
Gold purity is viewed differently depending on where you are in the world. Across India and China, 24 karat gold is widely used for jewelry and prized for its purity and intense colour. In the USA, 14 karat gold is a popular choice for fine jewelry, while this fineness is unusual in Europe (where 18 karats is the most popular).
Each purity level has its own pros and cons so there is no right or wrong decision.
In the USA, 10k gold is the lowest purity than can be legally sold as ‘gold’ in the USA (in Europe, 9 karat gold is used for jewelry). It is 10/24 parts gold.
14k gold is the most popular purity for wedding rings and engagement rings across the USA. It strikes a wonderful balance between beauty, durability and affordability.
18k gold is extremely popular with high-end jewelers and customers alike.
You are unlikely to find 24k (pure gold) being offered for engagement rings and wedding bands in the USA. It is simply too soft and will scuff/bend with relative ease. 24k gold is also polarising due to its intense orange/gold color – whilst some customers love this, others find it too bright. If you want purity and a rich color, my recommendation would be to stick with 18k gold which offers greater durability.
|Karat Gold||Parts Gold||Percentage Gold||Decimal Part Gold|
|10 kt||10 in 24||41.67%||0.4167|
|14 kt||14 in 24||58.33%||0.5833|
|18 kt||18 in 24||75%||0.75|
|24 kt||24 in 25||99.99%||0.9583|
A common question amongst buyers is the way in which gold reacts with the skin. The inclusion of base metals can cause reactions with the skin that result in (temporary) green or black discolouration. Sometimes customers purchase a 14k gold ring and later find it is causing discoloration. This is understandably alarming.
Discoloration does not mean the ring is poor quality or that you have been sold a lower gold purity than expected. It is to do with the way individuals react to the metals. Even 18k gold can cause skin reactions. In most cases these are painless, but unsightly.
There are options. If you love yellow gold but are sensitive to base metals, rings can be lined with platinum (which is hypoallergenic) – this retains the external gold appearance but will prevent your skin coming into contact with the gold.
I’m Louis Jacobs, the creator of Diamond Expert, a platform where I share my lifetime’s knowledge of diamonds. Born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium, the world’s diamond hub, my fascination with these precious gems began at a young age. I spent over three decades in the diamond industry, earning the reputation of a trusted advisor among friends and family for diamond purchases, particularly engagement rings. Now retired, I’m dedicated to providing online guidance to make your diamond buying experience informed and successful.