Understanding gold purity
When searching for gold jewelry we've all come across the word "karats." Most of you know that the higher the karat, the more yellow the piece will be as well as more expensive. But what actually is a karat? What do the numbers all mean?
What is a karat?
Gold purity is measured in karats. The purity level of gold represents the amount of pure gold that it contains in proportion to the total weight. (The weight of diamonds and other gemstones is measured in carats.)
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 : 24k or, 100% pure.
Pure gold is rarely used for jewelry pieces because of its softness and malleability. Instead, it's usually alloyed with other metals, altering its color and other properties.
What is alloyed gold?
An alloy is a metal made by combining two or more metals. Gold alloys offer greater strength and durability. 24 karat gold is most often mixed with either silver, zinc, copper, or palladium. The more additional metals an alloy contains reduces the proportion of the mixture's level of pure gold. Therefore the less gold there is, the lower the number of karats. Alloys can range anywhere from 9k to 23k and vary in color, density and other physical attributes. Different alloys also lend themselves to different jewelry making techniques.
Traditional karats used in gold jewelry number from pure gold at 24k, to 22k, 18k, 14k or 10k.
The chart below explains the conversion figures of gold from percentages to karats.
Gold Conversion Chart
|Karats||Fraction of Gold||% of Gold Purity|
Is a higher karat better?
Pure 24k gold jewelry is unmistakable. The rich yellow color and dense weight is luxurious. Fine artisan jewelry makers strive to work with the highest karat possible. While 24k is the purest form of gold available, it's softness and malleability present significant design limitations. Gold that is blended with other precious metals is stronger.
Katy Beh Jewelry is exclusively made in 22k gold alloyed with fine silver and copper. This means that 22 out of 24 (90.70%) parts of the piece is pure gold. That yummy buttery yellow color of Katy Beh Jewelry? That's 22k gold. The ancient classical goldsmithing techniques used to make of KBJ can only be achieved using this high karat alloy.
What do the numbers mean?
Most authentic gold, especially jewelry, will come stamped or engraved with numbers. The stamp will be 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.
Karatage can be noted in several different formats. For example: 585, 14kt and 14K all mean 14 karat gold.
The three digit numbers indicates how pure the gold is as seen in the table above. Measured in the thousandth, the the purity percentage is found by moving the decimal point in one space. For example: 750 is 75.0% pure gold (or 18 karat).
What is gold-filled? Gold-filled is a US layered gold product that is constructed in two or three layers. The core metal is jewelers’ brass. A gold alloy is then bonded to one or both surfaces of the brass core with heat and pressure. Gold-filled is legally required to contain 5% or 1/20 gold by weight. This 5% is then described by the karatage of the gold alloy.
So, what is gold plate? Gold plating is a miniscule layer of solid gold applied to a brass base. The plating does not compose any measurable proportion of the products total weight. It is estimated to be 0.05% or less of the metal product. Gold plating will generally wear off rather quickly and expose the brass base product. It does not stand up to heat, water or wear over time.
Vermeil (pronounced vehr-MAY), is a thicker level of gold plating over sterling silver rather than a base metal. To be authentic vermeil, the plating should be a minimum of 2.5 microns thick and always over sterling silver.
Gold color (or tone) jewelry is never authentic precious gold of any alloy, plate or fill.
Pure gold jewelry. Confusion abounds when jewelry is described as "pure gold." What's being referenced is the authentic alloy of the gold only. For example, if a piece is described as being made in pure 14k gold plate, the item is not solid 14k gold. It's interior is a base metal (i.e.brass) and the exterior will be a thin layer of electroplated 14k gold.
Solid gold is any alloy that is described with the karatage of pure gold. Karatage refers to the alloy’s purity only. For example, even an 8 karat gold ring can be solid at 8/24 pure gold or 33.3% pure gold.
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 or engraved stating the content of pure gold that it contains. Always check. The stamp is usually found on the clasp of a necklace or bracelet, or on the inner band of a ring.
A few marks, such as EPNS, EPBM, and GF, indicate that a piece is not real gold. These symbols indicate that a piece is not actually made of gold but another metal, and has simply been gold plated or is gold filled.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.
I became a 22k gold junkie over 30 years ago.
Maybe you're like me - dialing down your interest in something until you reach your specific passion? Then you're hooked like white on rice. That's me and gold.
Most of the fine handmade jewelry you see will be 14k or 18k. Me? I use only 22 karat yellow gold in making my jewelry. I'm a classical goldsmith. There aren’t many of us classical goldsmiths out there, but whoa…are we nuts about it. Nothing else will do.
Read here for more about 22k gold.
What's the difference between handcrafted and handmade?
What makes Katy Beh Jewelry so special?