The Gold Series Part Three: Colour and Karat
This is the final instalment in the gold series.
If you haven't read the first two parts in the series, you can read the first which covers gold terminology (like plating, vermeil, solid gold etc) here, and part two which covers ethical issues in gold mining & production here.
The gold karat (karat for gold, carat for diamonds, although these are widely used interchangeably) tells us how much pure gold is in our solid gold metal.
The solid gold that we use to make fine jewellery contains a mixture of pure gold and other metal alloys. The percentage of pure gold in the metal gives it a gold karat (K) value. Because of the varying amount of pure gold (which is yellow), different karats of the same colour gold will have a slight variation in colour too.
So the higher the karat, the more gold and less alloys there are in the mix.
Here’s a rundown of the various gold karats and what they mean.
24K: This is pure gold. Nothing added. It has a beautiful rich yellow colour, but 24K gold is too soft to be generally useful in jewellery making as it’s prone to bending and scratching and just wont stand the test of time. For this reason, gold is mixed with other metals (alloys) to give us the lower karat gold that we use in jewellery making.
18K: This is the dream. 75% gold makes it as beautiful to work with as it is to wear.
14K: A close second to 18K, 14K has 58.3 % pure gold and still has a beautiful buttery yellow colour. Used more widely in North America than Europe for some reason, but a really good option at a lower price than 18K
10K & 9K: While 9K is more widely used than 10K on this side of the world there’s very little in it, with 10K having 41.7% pure gold and 9K having 37.5% pure gold. Both of these are great options for a more affordable piece that is still solid gold and will retain its value and stand the test of time.
The most common gold colours are yellow, white and rose gold. These are all widely available in the same karats as above (although a bit less so for 14K in Europe).
The colours are achieved by mixing the pure (yellow) gold with different metal alloys. Again different karats of the same colour gold will have a slight variation in colour too.
White gold is unusual in that most high street jewellers will add a rhodium plating over their white gold pieces as standard give it a very ‘white’ glossy finish. This is something I don’t do as this plating is just covering up the real colour of your precious metal. The plating will wear away, meaning that if you want to keep this look your piece has to be replated every year or so, each time losing a tiny bit of its surface in the process. My advice would always be to choose a metal that you really love the colour of and don’t hide it with plating.
So what colour and karat should I choose?
So now you have all the info you need on gold, but what does it mean for you?
Well first of all the colour. Choose a colour of metal you love. Don’t base this on what you’ve always worn growing up, or what you think you’re ‘supposed’ to choose (the same goes for gemstones, but we’ll talk about that another time). Have a good look around and figure out what you like. There are no rules. This is a piece you’ll have forever so the only person that needs to love it is you.
For gold karat, I’d say go with what you can afford. If you can afford 18K then great, but if means not being able to afford the electricity bill, then go lower. I often quote in various karats when I'm designing a bespoke piece so you can have options. It is a good idea though that any rings that will be sitting together long term as a set are made of the same karat, so that a harder metal doesn’t damage a softer one.
If it’s something like an engagement or gemstone ring then there’s also a cost balance that can be struck between gold and gemstone. Maybe you balance choosing 18K gold with a coloured gemstone rather than a diamond, or a lab grown diamond or moissanite rather than a mined diamond.
I’m always happy to advise too. I know it can be tricky to figure out exactly what you want, and I love chatting jewellery so it’s never a problem to drop me an email and enquire about customising a piece or having something bespoke made, or even just to ask a question.
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And lastly in case you want to go back to read the first two articles in the gold series now that you've read part three, here are the links again: