What is gold karat, and what is the difference.

Whether you are a jewelry pro, or looking to buy your first piece, chances are you have been slightly confused on the “karat” of gold. You may know it has to do with purity, I am sure you know it effects price, but lets make sure you know it all before making a purchase.
The karat of gold is a simple math problem. 24kt (pure gold) is all gold, nothing else. Any other karat, yes even 22kt, IS NOT pure gold. The karat represents how much gold is in a given gram, and the quantity of the various metals to mix. To get the percentage of gold you simple divide the karat you have (ie. 10kt) by 24kt and multiple by 100%.
10/24 = 0.416666 x 100% = 41.66%
So 10kt gold has 41.66% gold, mixed with 58.34% other various metals (100%-41.66%)
Here is the breakdown of the remaining common karats of gold
14/24 = 0.583333 x 100% = 58.33%
So 14kt gold has 58.33% gold, mixed with 41.67% other various metals
18/24 = 0.75 x 100% = 75.00%
So 18kt gold has 75.00% gold, mixed with 25.00% other various metals
22/24 = 0.916666 x 100% = 91.66%
So 22kt gold has 91.66 gold, mixed with 8.34% other various metals
Now as great as it would be that every single piece 14kt jewelry was 58.34% gold, in reality that does not happen. It can be slightly higher or lower, as long as it is within 0.20 of a given karat you should be fine.
So how do you know if your jeweler is lying? Test it! Just keep in mind a few things.
  1. Not all tests are created equal. The “scratch test” is great to be sure of a minimum karat (most of the time). It cannot however be exact and can sometimes show a false response if the piece is platted (platting is not always bad thing, check out our other post about platting), or is incredibly dirty. Most good jewelers know this and would clean the piece first and know whether it was platted and test it accordingly.
    • This method IS NOT exact
    • If you get a result that is not aligning with what you paid for DO NOT panic. Acid tests can often give false results. Find a location with an X-Ray gun.
  2. The best option is an X-ray gun (what we use here at Liry’s), this machine uses x-rays to test the exact composition of the piece. It can tell you the percentage of gold, silver, copper, tin, iron, and any other metal commonly used in gold. This machine is the go to choice for Manufacturers and importers. Just keep in mind these machines are expensive ($20k-$30k). If you have a smaller local jeweler, they may not have that machine, but SHOULD be able to point you in the right direction.
What’s the real difference? Quite a bit but lets start with the most common karats for most people here in the states 10kt and 14kt (Europe often uses 9kt and 14kt, Asia often deals with 18kt or above).
  • Visual difference? In our store, with our gold, none. Quality made 10kt and 14kt are visually almost identical. People who say they can see a difference are either lying or looking at something that is platted (which A LOT of jewelry is).
  • Strength? Again, pretty much the same, both are very good against wear and tear. Most scratches are just surface scratches and a very light buffing/polish will remove it.
  • The only real difference other than personal preference is the rare case of allergies to 10kt gold. That allergy is usually to a metal that was mixed so it can vary from piece to piece.
  • Moral of the story? Buy the karat that you like that lets you get the piece you want while staying in budget.
Now 18kt and 22kt, compared to 10/14, HUGE difference. 18kt and 22kt are both a much deeper, darker yellow that people often think of when they think of gold. That is because both have far more gold than other karats, so the color really shows differently. Strength also changes. Please remember these are still metal, so they are strong. However, 18kt and 22kt both scratch very easily, and the scratching CAN be much deeper than in 10/14kt. So, you may have to buff it a little more. Large chains made in 18kt or 22kt can also scratch on themselves because the size and “softness” of the metal.
Finally, what about 24kt? Like most things in life, anything is possible if you have the money, but not everything should be done. 24kt ring? Sure. 24kt pendant? Can be done. Necklaces and bracelets? Can, but should be done with caution. 24kt gold is soft. Soft enough that if thin enough you can actually bend it with your hands. This means a necklace/bracelet could be bent fairly easily if it is a much smaller size. You will not have a problem when it comes to larger pieces, but they will scratch and dent (yes dent) easily. Obviously if you are wearing it normally, not dropping it, or banging your wrist into door frames, you’ll be fine. However, if you do drop it from a decent height, around 3-4 feet, you may get some damage.
I hope that helps just a little bit with your purchase, regardless if it is with us or not. Having a basic understanding of gold karat is one of the many things you should know when starting your jewelry collecting journey.
Please feel free to email or call if you have any other questions!