Gold is among the most valuable and luxurious metals used in jewelry making. Its unique natural properties make it conducive to jewelry production. To this day, it’s considered THE classic material for young and old alike: It’s timeless, beautiful, and downright glamorous. Keep reading to learn more about gold purity, different gold alloys, and the value of this coveted metal.
- Gold Standards
- The Most Popular Gold Alloys
- How can I tell what my gold is worth?
Purity of This Shining Treasure
Gold’s weight is usually given in troy ounces. One troy ounce equals 1.097 “regular” ounces, or 31.103 grams. On the other hand, the term “karat” (shortened as “kt”) refers to the alloy’s purity. One karat is equal to 4.167% pure gold, meaning 24-karat gold is 100% pure.
Did you know that 24-karat gold is actually 99.9% pure since it’s technically impossible to remove all impurities?
Most gold jewelry is 8, 14, or 18 karats. You can also measure gold purity by parts per thousand. The values listed above are equal to 333, 585, and 750 parts per thousand. This means that 333 gold is 33.3% gold by weight.
Jewelry with a higher purity rating is more corrosion-resistant. This is why 8-karat gold tarnishes but 14-karat gold and above does not. Most pieces of gold jewelry have a small stamp or “hallmark” that indicates the purity of the gold alloy. Our tip: Pay close attention to this stamp before purchasing a new piece of gold jewelry!
Variations in Gold Standards by Country
The lower karat limit for gold jewelry varies by country. Germany allows 8-karat gold jewelry on the market, though this is considered imitation gold in most countries. In the UK, the limit is set at 9 karats, while gold jewelry in the USA begins at 10 karats. In France, Italy, and Switzerland, nothing below 18 karats may be called gold jewelry. In the Middle East, 21-karat jewelry – the equivalent of 87.5% pure gold – is considered ideal. India and China have perhaps the highest standards, with a preference for 22 and 24-karat gold, respectively.
So, what are the most popular alloys in different countries? The majority of American jewelry is made of 14-karat gold. This alloy also sells well in Germany and Austria. In the UK, you’ll find a wide range of 9, 14, 18, and 22-karat gold pieces. The French market contains plenty of 18, 20, and 22-karat gold. Italy tends to use a variety of gold that’s 90% pure. This alloy is referred to as “one nine fine” and was once used to produce coins.
The Most Popular Gold Alloys
Most jewelry isn’t made of pure gold: It’s far too soft for jewelry production. Instead, it’s often mixed with other metals to help limit any undesirable qualities. The type of alloy has an effect on the metal’s stability.
The majority of gold alloys contain silver and/or copper. The most famous varieties are rose, red, white, and yellow gold. However, other elements like cadmium or palladium are also sometimes used. The former adds a greenish tinge, while the latter results in a more grayish hue.
Rose and Red Gold: Warm Undertones
Many value rose and red gold alloys for their elegant, discreet shine. The shade of pink or red depends on the amount of copper used: the higher the percentage of copper, the more intense the red color. It shouldn’t contain too much copper, though, as this metal oxidizes!
Red gold has a higher share of copper than rose gold, which is why it’s so much redder in color. On the other hand, rose gold contains a higher percentage of gold. Silver or palladium are often added to copper-gold alloys to make them even more stable.
With so many variations possible, the different shades of red are nearly endless. Red gold can be as red as rust or have a more orange hue. When it comes to rose gold, the spectrum ranges from soft silvery pink to warm apricot. Rose and red gold alloys can be anywhere from 33.3 to 75% (8 to 18 karats) pure gold.
What shade should you choose? Darker skin tones pair beautifully with red gold jewelry. If you have lighter skin, you should consider buying rose gold pieces.
Did you know that rose gold has had different names over the years? In the early 19th century, rose gold was so popular in Russia that it became known as “Russian gold” around the world.
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White Gold – cheaper than platinum and more durable than silver
The first white gold jewelry was produced in Pforzheim, Germany in 1912. These alloys contain silver, chrome, or one of the platinum-group metals. The final result transforms gold’s natural yellow hue to a soft silver tone. Despite its resemblance to platinum, white gold is much more affordable, lighter, and softer than this dense metal.
White gold also offers certain advantages over silver: It doesn’t oxidize or lose its color. This is why white gold is more commonly used for modern wedding rings than silver.
White gold jewelry often contains other metals such as palladium, platinum, silver, chrome, iron, manganese, or nickel. Mixtures with palladium or silver are particularly common in the jewelry industry.
The different alloys vary in their appearance, quality, and price. As a result, it can be difficult for novices to determine the value of white gold jewelry. In response to this, the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) and World Gold Council have founded a “White Gold Task Force” to put each alloy into one of three categories: Premium White, Standard White, and Off White.
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Yellow Gold: Unique and Affordable
Yellow gold alloys are made up of gold, silver, and copper. One common alloy is equal parts silver and copper. The silver negates the reddish hue of the copper, allowing the gold’s natural yellow to shine. Both added metals make the alloy harder and, thus, better suited to jewelry making than pure gold.
The final color depends on the ratio of each component. Alloys with more silver will be lighter in color, while those with more copper will have a slight orange hue. The higher the amount of pure gold, the more nuanced the color.
Most countries require yellow gold to contain at least 37.5 to 58.5% pure gold (9 to 14 karats). Germany’s requirements are even lower at 33.3% (8 karats).
A vast majority of pieces on the market fall in the 14 to 18-karat range. Anything 22 karats or above is extremely rare since it is so soft and susceptible to scratches.
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How can I tell what my gold is worth?
If you’d like to know how much your gold jewelry is worth, it’s pretty easy to calculate: First, weigh the piece using a jewelry scale. Then multiply this weight by its purity to the nearest thousandth. For example, if your jewelry’s gold content is 750 parts per thousand, multiply the weight by 0.750. This will give you the total weight of the pure gold.
To figure out the value of the gold alone, multiply the pure gold weight by the current price for gold. You can find the current market value for gold here: Gold Price