When shopping for gold pieces of jewelry, terms and definitions may feel a bit overwhelming. Anyone with a basic knowledge of gold types was probably taught that the higher the karat amount, the more pure the element is. However, this understanding is not as cut and dry as you might think.
18k and 24k gold jewelry are fairly comparable in terms of value. 24k gold is clearly pricier, but this doesn’t mean it is always the best option for every consumer.
At Mark Henry Jewelry, we know that the differences between the two karats can be subtle but essential. That is why we’ve compiled this cheat sheet for our clients.
Let’s travel through the ins and outs of gold jewelry, from its conception to its inclusion in pieces. Without an understanding of how metals are transformed into gold, how they are examined, and how their value is determined, karat differences won’t mean much.
Once you’ve finished reading this guide, you’ll be able to browse jewelry stores with heightened confidence and attention to detail.
What Is a Karat?
Before we can jump into a more in-depth examination of the two types of gold, let’s define some terms. It is easy to confuse the word “karat” with “carat” because they look and sound the same.
A “carat” is used in relation to diamonds and is a unit of weight that contributes to the stone's overall value. Carats often include decimals in their numbers and have an infinite range (typically in small amounts due to natural occurrences of gemstones). They tell you how big the piece is.
A “karat” relates to how much pure gold is in a given piece of metal. It defines the purity of the metal and utilizes a scale of 0 to 24. The higher numbers are the purest, with 24 being the highest option for gold.
The karat system is a way to differentiate what types of gold have been alloyed with other metals (nickel, silver, copper, palladium, etc.). The only gold that is not an alloy is 24K. While this may sound alluring, it doesn’t mean that it is the best type of gold. It simply means that it has the highest amount of organic material.
When gold is used in jewelry or any type of craftsmanship, it undergoes an assay. During an assay, a laboratory uses fire or x-ray power to investigate the composition of a piece of gold.
By melting down the material or examining it with the x-rays, they can tell just how pure the metal is. Professionals can also tell what alloys have been introduced into the specimen.
Some jewelers and gemologists prefer to list karats by millesimal fineness instead. Millesimal fineness writes how pure any metal is as a number out of a thousand. They do not have a karat marking at the end of these numbers. For some people, seeing how much pure metal exists in a piece written as a fraction is easier to picture.
What Is 24K Gold?
24K gold might seem alluring to most, even if just for the Bruno Mars reference in his hit song “24K Magic.” It comes in at 99.9-100% solid, pure gold. It contains absolutely no alloys, which means it has no mixed metals included in it. It is described in jeweler circles as “fine gold.”
Some jewelry collectors appreciate only the best of the best that materials have to offer. If you’re one of those clients, 24k gold might be the best fit for you. Look at your options critically before deciding.
Pros of 24k Gold
24K gold has 24/24 parts of gold. It is lauded for its fineness, and this is worth investing in it for some people. Shoppers are attracted by its luxury.
For some people, 24K gold is bought as a means of putting their money into goods. This usually happens when economies are struggling because it is a way to allocate funds into a place where their amount will be steady. Its multipurpose uses make it a valuable addition to the world of gold and a standard to measure money against.
Cons of 24k Gold
Unless you’re a fan of a one-type-fits-all design, you might dislike 24K in jewelry and designs. This is because it strictly comes in a yellow hue. While stunning to look at, it doesn’t have options for color variability like lesser karats do. Your favorite gemstone inclusion might clash with the yellow.
Since gold has a malleability based on pureness, 24K gold is fairly soft. While it might not matter when you’re using bricks of gold, this might not be the greatest option if you’re looking into jewelry.
If you’re wearing a bracelet with 24K gold, you don’t want it to bend out of shape if it is knocked about. The same goes for rings, tenfold. Rings are designed and sized down to fit your fingers perfectly. If they get hit on something or lose their sturdiness in shape over time, they might slide off more easily. We certainly don’t want you to lose a priceless engagement ring!
24K gold is also more likely to be ruined by chemicals and elements. It is highly susceptible to wear from bleach, so it isn’t wise to clean with 99.9% gold jewelry on. You probably shouldn’t be wearing expensive pieces while using chemicals anyway, but you’re more likely to cause permanent damage if it's 24K.
24K gold is sometimes associated with sticker shock. Its price is determined by its pennyweight times .999. It is inherently more expensive than any other karat. While less pricey than platinum and other metals, it can still make a piece of jewelry soar out of your price range quickly.
What Is 18K Gold?
18K consists of 75% of pure gold. It includes 25% of alloyed metal, which has been combined with organic gold. It is 18/24 parts of gold, with a millesimal fineness of 750.
Pros of 18K Gold
18K is far more commonly used in jewelry than 24K gold for its better accessibility. Not only is it more affordable (its price is its pennyweight multiplied by .750, not .999), but it is more diverse. Since 18K gold is an alloy, the included metals can change their color. This gives us options like white gold or rose gold which contains nickel and copper, respectively.
18K gold is sturdier than other forms of gold. It’s perfect for jewelry use, especially in rings, because it won’t mold into different shapes if it is knocked about. For those looking for notably strong mixes, rose gold is more durable than its yellow or white gold counterparts.
Cons of 18K Gold
While cheaper than 24K gold, 18K is still quite high in terms of price. While this metal can be a great investment, the price range may put it out of the range of possibilities for some shoppers.
Additionally, if you have metal allergies, you may need to stick with 24K gold. Check with your jeweler before purchasing your newest piece to make sure it won’t cause any adverse reactions.
What About the Rest?
Now that you know what sets 18K and 24K gold apart, you should know that you have other options. While they are not as fine, 0-14K gold is still available, and you will likely run into it while you shop for jewelry.
Gold that is 14K is a wonderful step down from 18K. It is slightly more of an alloy, coming in at 14/24 parts gold (58.3%), but this makes it stronger in wear. 12K is 12/24 parts of gold and 50% pure, 10K is 10/24 parts of gold and 41.7% pure, and 9K is 9/24 parts of gold and 37.5% pure.
Some pieces are labeled with etchings that include letters rather than karat-centric numbers. A GE is a minimum 10K piece of gold created by a different metal covered with a plate of pure gold. You can have an HGE, which is a heavier version with pleating of 100 millionths of an inch rather than the seven millionths of an inch in a GE.
EPNS and EPBM markings are cause for concern because they reveal that your piece has no actual gold. EPNS means Electroplated Nickel Silver, and EPMB means Electroplated Britannia Metal. Both are silver alloys.
Mark Henry’s Gold Standard
At Mark Henry Jewelry, we are all about 18K gold.
A Perfect Choice
At the end of the day, your choice is personal. It depends on your color preferences, malleability standards, and budget. Following your desires is worth more than gold!