Buying Gold Jewelry – Karatage and Color

When looking for gold jewelry, two important things you should know about are karatage and color.


When you hear terms like “fourteen karat” and “twenty-four karat gold”, what do they mean, and how are they relevant to you? The number of karats, or karatage, of a piece indicates its purity, or the proportion of gold that is mixed with other metals to create the piece. Karatage is measured as “parts per 24”. For example, 24 karat gold is 24 parts out of 24 (100%) pure. An 18 karat piece is 18 parts out of 24 (75%) pure, and so on. The metals mixed with non-24 karat gold can include silver, copper, platinum, palladium and others.

Gold comes in different levels of purity for several reasons:

  • Pure gold is relatively soft, and doesn’t have the stiffness or strength required for many types of jewelry.
  • Lower-purity gold can be cheaper, while looking nearly identical to pure gold.
  • On the other hand, lower karat gold can sometimes cause skin irritation or allergies from the other metals present in the mix. If you are susceptible to these allergies, look for 18 to 24 karat gold.

The karat number, such as “14k” for 14 karat gold, should be marked on the piece of jewelry. Next to the karat marking should be a hallmark or trademark that identifies the maker.

Color/alloy metal

The type of metals that are mixed with gold can affect its color. Mixing in copper and silver results in a metal that looks very much like pure gold. Using nickel, zinc and palladium will produce a metal that resembles platinum, and is known as “white gold”.

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