Whilst shopping online recently for a pair of classic gold earrings, I found myself hopelessly lost in jewelry jargon! I realized I had no idea how to buy gold jewelry.
***This blog post is in collaboration with Nakturnal and contains affiliate links. This has not affected my editorial decision-making process. All words and opinions are my own.***
There are just so many different types of gold…
What does it mean when a piece of jewelry is described as gold vermeil or gold filled and how do they differ from solid gold or gold plated? What’s the difference between 14k and 18k gold? What karat of gold is best for engagement and wedding rings? Is rose gold jewelry made of real gold? What are the things to consider before buying gold jewelry? What type of gold is best for people with skin allergies?
It can all get both very confusing and overwhelming as you can see!
I wanted a pair of gold earrings but I realized I had no idea how to buy gold jewelry. I didn’t really understand the different types of gold or which was the right one for me.
If you too have ever wondered about the difference between the various types of gold then this blog post is just for you.
Whilst this article goes into a lot of detail regarding the different types of gold used in jewelry and choosing the right option depends on individual circumstances, if you are looking for a quick answer then I would personally recommend buying either 14k gold or gold vermeil jewelry. In my opinion, they represent the happy medium between quality and price, in their respective price range categories.
However, if you want to know more and make a fully informed decision, read my detailed guide to the different types of gold used in jewelry below.
Learn how many karats are best for jewelry, the difference between solid gold, gold-filled, gold plated & vermeil, and different colors of gold to choose the best gold jewelry for you.
How To Buy Gold Jewelry
Commonly associated with success and luxury, gold is one of the most precious elemental metals. Did you know that gold has been used in jewelry as far back as 4000 B.C.?
Gold jewelry seems to have existed forever and inspired artists throughout history. The chances of gold ever going out of fashion are extremely low.
In order to learn how to buy gold jewelry, we need to look into different types of gold used in the jewelry industry. So let’s dive straight in!
HOW TO BUY GOLD JEWELRY: HOW MANY KARATS IS BEST?
A karat is a unit of measurement used to describe the purity of an element based on 24 whole parts. It designates how much pure gold is in a piece of jewelry.
The higher the karat number, the higher the percentage of gold. The highest karat value is 24, so 24k is 100% pure gold.
In other words, 24 out of 24 parts of the metal are gold. Being the highest karat of gold, it’s easy to assume that 24k is the best gold to buy, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
It’s worth mentioning that although 24 karat gold is considered 100% gold, strictly speaking, it’s not quite 100% pure as the purest of gold available in the market today is 99.95% pure.
Slightly reddish yellow in color, 24 karat gold is identifiable by a ‘24k’ or ‘999’ stamp.
This pure gold is a soft metal that tends to bend and scratch easily and is way too delicate for everyday wear, therefore, it’s not really used in jewelry in the United States, the UK, and other Western countries.
You would be able to notice deformations and scratches on a 24k gold ring within days of wearing it. Gold is therefore alloyed, or combined, with other metals to make it stronger and allowing for its use in jewelry.
The most widely used alloys for jewelry are 18k, 14k, and 10k. But what does it really mean?
Since in 24k gold 24 out of 24 parts of the metal are gold, 18k gold will consist of 18 parts pure gold and 6 parts alloy. In the case of 14k gold, it consists of 14 parts pure gold and 10 parts alloy.
But how to find the percentage of gold in an object when the purity is stated in karats?
If you have a piece of jewelry that is 14k gold and the maximum amount of karats you can have is 24k, divide the 14 karats by the 24 and you get 0.583. This means that gold is 58.3% pure. You may find the number “583” stamped on it indicating that it’s 58.3% gold.
18k gold is therefore 75% pure and 10k gold is 41.7% pure.
The higher the karat value, the less likely the piece will tarnish. Since gold is alloyed with other metals, it’s these other metals that cause the jewelry to tarnish.
However, the higher the karat, the higher the price, and the softer the metal is, meaning it will be more prone to scratching.
Let’s look more closely at the implications of the different karat content in solid gold jewelry.
10k gold (41.7% pure)
Durable and inexpensive, 10k gold jewelry is a popular choice when shopping on a budget.
Although 10k gold contains the least amount of gold, what it lacks in purity it makes up for in toughness and affordability. It’s very difficult to scratch, scuff, or bend a piece of jewelry made from 10k gold.
In regards to aesthetics, 10k gold has a pale appearance, with a significantly less rich yellow tone than 14k or 18k gold.
As gold is one of the least reactive chemical elements, pure gold does not combine easily with oxygen and it stays shiny, doesn’t rust or tarnish.
While pure yellow gold will retain its original color forever, the strong presence of alloys in 10k gold is susceptible to discoloration therefore special care is needed to ensure your jewelry keeps its original shine.
10k gold is also more likely than the other variants to cause skin irritation so it’s not recommended for people with skin allergies.
10k gold is rarely used in engagement rings and fine jewelry. It’s mainly used in affordable jewelry and many high-end retailers don’t offer 10k gold jewelry at all.
14k gold (58.5% pure)
14k gold seems to be the perfect balance of durability and beauty as it’s less likely to tarnish than 10k gold and is significantly more resistant to scratches than 18k gold.
The color of 14k gold is very similar to that of 18k gold, with the latter’s yellow being slightly more rich and vivid than the former however a lot of people prefer gold jewelry that’s rich and attractive but not overly yellow.
The low cost, durability, and aesthetic of 14k gold offer a lot of appeal. Solid 14k gold is the most popular type of gold and is seen as the preferred choice for people with active lifestyles.
14k gold is also widely used in engagement and wedding rings.
The downside of 14k gold is that it can cause skin irritation due to a higher alloy content than that of 18k gold.
18k gold (75% pure)
18k gold is usually the purest and most expensive gold found in modern jewelry and is typically reserved for high-end pieces such as diamond engagement rings.
It has a rich, yellow appearance and it would be the best choice for allergy sufferers as it does not tend to cause allergic skin reactions.
18k gold is far less likely to tarnish in comparison with 10k and 14k gold, but it’s also less durable. You need to be especially careful when wearing 18k gold jewelry to prevent it from getting scratched or damaged.
18k gold is also significantly more expensive than other types of gold.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOLID GOLD, GOLD-FILLED, GOLD PLATED, AND VERMEIL
In regards to gold plated, vermeil, and gold-filled jewelry, the gold on the surface is real gold of varying fineness (10k to 24k), but the center of the item is not gold. Solid gold jewelry contains gold in the metal itself.
Let’s have a closer look at all of these coatings.
Gold-plated jewelry is created by electroplating the base metal such as copper, steel, or brass with a thin layer of gold.
It’s the most affordable option but since the plating is quite thin, the gold can rub off easily. It is also more prone to tarnishing and may irritate sensitive skin.
The difference between vermeil and gold plated is that gold vermeil jewelry has a thicker gold layer and uses sterling silver as its base metal. It’s created by electroplating silver with gold.
As vermeil jewelry is composed of two precious metals, silver, and gold, it falls under the “demi-fine” category.
Since the gold plating is thicker than in gold plated jewelry, the gold will last longer making it a great choice for everyday wear. It’s both affordable and high quality.
Vermeil is a preferred option comparing with other gold-plated jewelry for people with skin allergies.
A piece of vermeil jewelry will bear a “925” stamp meaning it’s 92.5 percent pure silver.
As opposed to electroplating, gold-filled jewelry is made through the process of bonding with heat. The base metal is usually brass or another low-end material.
This type of jewelry has a much thicker layer of gold over the base metal than vermeil and gold-plated jewelry. It makes a big difference in terms of durability, protecting jewelry from discoloration and tarnishing.
It’s higher quality than vermeil and gold plated, but still not as expensive as solid gold. It’s also a great choice for everyday wear.
As previously explained, solid gold jewelry contains gold in the metal itself. It’s the best quality of gold, great to wear every day, won’t tarnish or fade, and is hypoallergenic.
The term “solid gold” can be misleading as people may think solid gold means 100% gold however as we know the “solid” gold offered on the market is actually a mixture of gold and other metals.
DIFFERENT COLORS OF GOLD
When gold is combined with other metals to create alloys, it can take on a different hue depending on the metals added.
The most popular colors of gold jewelry are yellow, rose, white, and green but gold alloys also come in other colors.
It’s even possible to combine two or three different colors of gold to create two-tone, three-tone, or multi-colored gold!
As they differ in more ways than just color, let’s look at what makes some of them a better choice than others.
The metals most commonly added to create yellow gold are silver, copper, and zinc.
Yellow gold most closely resembles pure gold, but it’s also typically softer than other alloys and has a tendency to scratch more easily. Whilst it can be polished, a small amount of metal is sacrificed each time.
Popular in 19th century Russia rose gold, sometimes referred to as “pink” gold, is a mix of pure gold and copper.
According to Sotheby’s, the famous auction house, rose gold was originally developed by Faberge and called Russian Gold until it became popular and was re-named Rose gold to reference its warm coppery shade. Rose gold has recently made a spectacular comeback and become very popular again.
The higher the copper content, the stronger the red coloration. Due to its copper content, rose gold is more durable than yellow, white, or green gold, as well as being more affordable.
Since 14k or 18k rose or white gold contains the same amount of pure gold as 14k or 18k yellow gold, they hold the same value as their counterparts.
White gold is typically a result of combining gold with nickel, palladium, and silver. It still tends to have a slight yellow tint therefore most white gold jewelry is plated with rhodium.
Rhodium not only gives white gold its color but also makes it more durable by adding an extra protective layer.
When rhodium plating wears off over time and the lower yellowish layer becomes visible, the jewelry can be re-plated with rhodium if desired.
The term “green gold” can be misleading as the green color is very subtle. It’s more of yellow gold with a slightly greenish hint. Green gold is created by mixing gold, silver, and sometimes copper. The green nuance comes from silver.
It’s worth mentioning that rose, white and green gold jewelry pieces are usually made of solid gold and they will have a consistent color all the way through.
That’s not to say that plating is not available in regards to different colors of gold as it’s possible for example to make an item of jewelry in silver or brass and then electroplate it with rose gold.
HOW TO BUY GOLD JEWELRY: WHICH GOLD IS BEST FOR YOU?
I realize it’s a lot to take in and you may still feel overwhelmed and unsure what the best type of gold jewelry is.
Whilst there is no right or wrong choice and it all depends on individual circumstances, my personal recommendations would be as follow.
How to buy gold jewelry: my recommendations regarding the best gold to buy
- If you want solid gold, 14k gold would be the best choice for high-quality pieces that you would like to wear long-term but solid gold jewelry does come with a high price tag.
- Vermeil and gold-filled jewelry is a good alternative for budget-conscious fashionistas. A vermeil piece with thick plating in 18k gold would definitely be a good choice. If you don’t mind a lower base metal, gold-filled pieces would be the best choice when it comes to long-lasting and durable jewelry.
- In regards to seasonal trends and jewelry you need just for an occasion, go for gold-plated jewelry unless you suffer from skin allergies.
I am just going to add that I strongly advise buying gold jewelry only from reputable sellers, for obvious reasons.
This article focuses on how to buy gold jewelry from popular and trustworthy large retailers. If you want to shop at independent dealers or for second-hand gold jewelry, more research is required regarding the dealers, jewelry markings, warranties, and independent inspections.
MODERN DESIGNS OF GOLD JEWELRY
When it comes to jewelry, gold means classic and timeless but classic doesn’t have to be boring. There are plenty of designs to choose from these days to match your personal style.
Gold jewelry will always look great with your spring/summer outfits but it will also complement your autumn/winter looks incredibly well. It also makes a great gift as it can be given to people of all ages for any occasion.
Now that you know exactly how to buy gold jewelry, you can shop away!
I hope you have found this article helpful and that it makes shopping for your gold necklace, ring, bracelet, or earrings much easier from now!
Just before you go, make sure to also check out these beautiful diamond necklaces!
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