What is the Difference Between 14k and 18k Gold?
If you’ve spent any time looking at fine jewelry, you’ve probably seen gold measured in karats. While you likely know that 24-karat gold is the “best,” do you know what that really means? What about a ring made of 10 karats, or even 18 karat gold? The good news is that this system of measuring purity isn’t complicated and tells you a lot more about the piece of jewelry than you might think. Keep reading to learn all about this precious metal and how to know the difference between 14K and 18K gold?
Why is Gold Mixed?
Gold is mixed for several reasons. The most important reason you often see gold mixed with other metals is to strengthen it. Gold in its purest form is very soft and can be easily damaged if handled too roughly. Mixing it with stronger metals increases the durability of a piece of jewelry so it can withstand the abuse of everyday life.
Jewelers will also mix gold with other metals to make jewelry more affordable. They will often mix gold with less expensive metals like zinc, nickel, copper, and palladium, which can lower the cost of a piece. As gold is mixed, jewelers developed a way to measure the purity of the resulting alloy. This purity is conveyed by “K,” which stands for “karat.”
How Do Karats Define the Purity of Gold?
When a piece of jewelry contains 14, 18, or even 24K gold, it’s referring to the gold content in the metal used to make the piece. This measurement helps jewelry sellers and buyers know the relative value of the item they’re buying.
Gold purity is defined along a scale of 24. The top-end, 24-karat gold, refers to solid gold without any other metals mixed in. 1 karat refers to a piece of metal that is 1/24th gold. That means, for every gram of gold, there are 23 grams of other metals mixed in.
You can use this ratio to deduce how pure your piece of jewelry is. For example, a 14-karat gold necklace is approximately 60% pure gold. Meanwhile, an 18-karat gold engagement ring is 75% pure gold.
When jewelry shopping, you might also see gold referred to in “carats.” This form of the word can still refer to purity, but it's usually used to grade gemstones based on size. If you’re shopping for jewelry and are confused between these terms, or any other words used to describe a piece you’re interested in, your jeweler should be able to provide clarification.
What are the Differences Between 14K vs 18K Gold?
Aside from purity and cost, there are several differences between 14K and 18K gold. These include the durability and the appearance of the piece.
One of the significant differences between 14K and 18K gold is the appearance. Since there’s less yellow gold in the mix, 14K gold can have a paler color than 18K. If you’re buying jewelry for someone who loves the appearance of yellow gold, 18K might be a better option for them to get the rich, gold color they love.
Pure gold is a very soft metal that is prone to scuffs, scratching and deformations. This attribute is why jewelers don’t usually make engagement rings with pure, 24-karat gold. Jewelry made with strong metals like palladium or nickel stands up to everyday wear better than pure gold does. Since 14-karat gold has a higher content of stronger metals, it’s perfect for a person with an active lifestyle.
What Kind of Gold is Used in Engagement Rings?
Rings go through a lot of wear and tear through daily wear, which means they have to be strong. Jewelers prefer using 14K and 18K gold to make engagement rings because they’re strong enough to avoid being scratched, gouged, or deformed by someone working with their hands.
Even if you have a high-content gold ring, it may have additional pieces of more robust materials to strengthen specific attributes. Jewelers often use platinum or white gold prongs in their ring settings to secure gemstones, so they don’t fall out. If you have a yellow-gold engagement ring with a solitaire stone, take a close look at the setting. You’ll probably notice that the prongs are a silver or white color, showing that they have a different metal content than the rest of the ring.
Can White Gold be Pure Gold?
The metals mixed with gold can impact the color of a piece of jewelry. While most white gold is usually mixed with other metals to lighten the yellow color, you can find 24-karat white gold. Since pure gold has a yellow color, white gold is often plated with rhodium to give it a bright silver finish.
While rhodium plating gives white gold its color, starting with gold with a lower purity can amplify the bright white appearance. That’s why 18k white gold is particularly popular.
Rose gold undergoes a similar mixing process to give it its distinctive pink color. Instead of rhodium or palladium, rose gold is mixed with copper. The more copper incorporated in the mix, the lower karat value a piece will have. However, the resulting jewelry will also have a richer red color.
Things you Should Consider with Low-Purity Gold Mixes
Gold isn’t only popular because it’s timeless. Many people love it because it’s naturally hypo-allergenic. You should know that some low-purity mixes can have adverse side effects if the wearer is allergic to the metal the gold is mixed with. If you have a piece of jewelry with high nickel content, you could have an allergic reaction from the metal on your skin.
Jewelry with a high silver content may tarnish with time. That may cause it to lose its luster or brilliant shine. You should consider this when buying a white gold ring. Make sure it has a high karat value and is plated with rhodium, so it stays flawless for years to come.
If you’re looking for the perfect diamond engagement ring or are trying to see which types of gold are ideal for your loved one’s lifestyle, feel free to ask your jeweler for their professional opinion. They can give you guidance based on years of experience so that you can buy the perfect piece. Our jewelers at Alexis Jae can help you find the perfect ring, necklace, or bracelet for your girlfriend or wife. Better yet, if we don’t have it in stock, we can work with you to make a piece that’s as perfect and unique as they are!
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