What Karat Gold is "Best?"
It's one of many questions jewelry salespeople hear all the time. You may be wondering: if 24 karat gold is pure gold, why would anyone sell or want to buy jewelry which is only 18kt or 14kt or even less?
All karat gold is an alloy - a mixture of pure gold and other metals. While the idea of 100% gold sounds like it should be the ideal choice, pure gold has its drawbacks. Where jewelry is concerned there are actually several advantages to the mixing of gold with other metals.
Pure gold is a very soft metal which is easily bent and scratched. Jewelry of pure gold has to be worn with extreme caution and won't hold up well to everyday wear and tear. If you had a 24k gold engagement ring, it would be very easy to accidently bend the prongs in the setting and lose your diamond!
When alloyed with other metals, gold becomes stronger and more resistant to dents, dings and other damage. Even 18kt (75% pure gold) is a little soft, so 18kt diamond and gemstone jewelry, especially bridal jewelry, often has stones which are mounted in platinum.
Pure gold is a very intense yellow in color - like the gold artifacts you see in museums. To Western eyes, its "too yellow" and almost looks fake! However this is not the case in other cultures – gold jewelry sold in countries along the Persian Gulf is usually 21kt, in India it is typically 22kt and in the far East (China, Taiwan) some gold jewelry is made out of 24kt gold - actually, a minimum of 99% gold, known as Chuk Kam.
Alloys not only produce a more subtle gold color, they can be used to completely change gold's appearance into any of a wonderous rainbow of colors. Of these other colors, white gold is probably the best known, but varieties include pink or rose gold, red gold, green gold, brown (chocolate) gold. Even shades of lavender and blue are possible, though rarely seen.
While not as costly as platinum, pure gold is still quite expensive. Karat gold helps make luxurious jewelry affordable for the average person. In the past, 14kt gold has traditionally been the top choice, however with gold prices skyrocketing 10kt gold is rapidly gaining in popularity.
So here's a summary of the most common different karatages seen in the USA and their advantages/disadvantages:
|22kt gold||Luxurious metal, with a beautiful golden, yellow glow.||Expensive, Usually only available in custom or designer pieces, very easily damaged. Yellow gold only.|
|18kt gold||A step between 14kt and the higher karatages in purity, availability, durability and price. Jewelry in 18kt white or yellow gold is readily available.||Fewer styles and a higher price than 14kt gold.More easily damaged.|
|14kt gold||The most common variety, with the biggest selection. 14kt gold jewelry is more moderately priced than 18kt, fairly durable and it's easy to find 14kt yellow, white or even more exotic colors like rose gold or even green gold jewelry.||Only a little over 50% pure gold. 14kt white gold may contain nickel,. which can cause an allergic reaction in some people.|
|10kt gold||Durable, less expensive than other karatages. Popular for children's jewelry.||Harder to find, fewer styles. Less than 50% pure gold. 10kt white gold may contain nickel. This is the lowest karatage that can be sold as karat gold in the USA.|
By the way, to answer another common question, 14kt gold is generally considered "real gold" as far as jewelry in the United States is concerned, however the FTC requires that all karat gold be labelled as such, both in written descriptions and stamped upon the item itself. Karat gold must never just be called "gold".