How much of a gold standard is gold in the making of jewelry?
Gold is an age-old precious metal hailed for both its monetary and aesthetic value. As it stands right now, most wedding bands and engagement rings (approximately 90 percent) have gold as part of their component metals. Going by these statistics, jewelers are more likely to use a variation of pure gold than they’re other metals to craft fine jewelry.
Karat (k) is the universal measurement unit of gold, and pure gold is said to be 24k. Apart from ceremonial pieces, you’re unlikely to come across jewelry made of pure gold. It’s soft, malleable, scratches easily, and is also prone to dents and deforming (loss of shape), especially when not properly handled.
That’s where the variations of gold come in white gold, yellow gold and rose gold. All these forms of gold come from mixing pure 24k gold with certain types of metals. Depending on the desired color, jewelers will alloy gold with copper, zinc, silver, palladium, or nickel.
You can make a variation of gold in any karat size, but 10k, 14k, and 18k gold are the most prominent. They’re even the most popular gold setting offerings in digital jewelry shops. 18k gold is particularly a shoppers’ favorite in Europe and Asia. 14k has a bigger fanbase in the US. Why? Its alloy proportions give it the optimal levels of corrosion resistance hence better durability than 18k gold.
So, what’s the pricing of 14k and 18k gold settings? What are the pros and cons of 14k and 18k yellow, white, and rose gold bands and settings? Which of the three is best for colorless stones, and which enhances colored gems? The type of skin tone you have will also play a part in deciding which gold color to don. Ultimately, choose a gold karat rating based on your reasons and fashion preference. But before you make an order for gold jewelry online, take the advice below and go in well-informed.
14k Gold vs. 18k Gold: Alloys and Range of Colors
How do you even know whether a certain ring, pendant, earring, or bracelet is genuine gold? The first thing you should do when you pick up a piece of jewelry from a jeweler’s display stand is to check for a credibility mark (certified hallmark). It all has to do with the karat size, so pay attention. The jewelry industry, like other markets, has its fair share of crooks.
It’s easy for one to gold coat a ring and markets it as 14k or 18k gold jewelry. Carefully examine the piece and look for the karat marking. If it’s 14k gold jewelry, it’ll have a 14k label. The same case applies to 18k jewelry. Alternatively, you might see a numeric stamp: 585 or 750 for 14k and 18k gold, respectively. The certified hallmark could have a “P” beside it. That’s what they call in the jewelry industry plumb gold (the exact karat rating).
If the official identification mark is the karat size, dig a little deeper. A silver ring plated in white gold treated with a rhodium flash can easily pass for a 14k or 18k white gold engagement ring. The only way to make sure you’re not ripped off is to deal with a credible jeweler. In some cases, accredited jewelry houses and jewelry vendors will include their logo as an added feature to proof that you’re buying real yellow, white, or rose gold.
Jewelry made with 14k yellow gold contains 58.5 percent pure gold, which explains the 585 numeric stamps. The rest is an alloy of copper, silver, and zinc. Pure gold is always the base metal used to produce gold in different colors. For white gold, the alloy will carry a predetermined portion of white metals such as silver, palladium, or nickel. White gold jewelry may be rhodium coated for extra strength and protection against rust.
14k rose gold is a blend of pure gold, copper, and zinc. The alloy can be manipulated to create a family of gold colors, usually pinkish, red, and rose gold itself. The same metal/element composition goes into the making of 18k yellow, white, and rose gold jewelry pieces.
The only difference is the ratio used for the alloys. Any 18k gold jewelry has a base of 75 percent pure gold hence the 750 numeric stamps. The rest is an alloy of metals (copper, zinc, and a white or bleach metal), whose volume is altered to manufacture different colors of 18k gold.
14k Gold vs. 18k Gold: Wear and Tear
Pure gold can tarnish and even lose shape within days, if not weeks of buying and wearing it. It’s not the best choice of daily wear jewelry there is in any given jewelry shop. Engagement ring shoppers might be in the dark about that, but authentic jewelers know this all too well. That’s why they’re quick to blend gold with the appropriate alloy quantities. And have adequate yellow, white, and rose 14k and 18k gold inventory to win over your business with a variety of offerings.
The higher the level of pure gold contained in gold jewelry, the lower the score in durability points. Pure gold is overly supple and bendable. Its inherent malleability, coupled with susceptibility to discoloration, means that pure gold deteriorates fast. For this reason, 18k gold jewelry needs more maintenance attention than 14k gold pieces.
14k and 18k yellow gold have just the right amounts of copper and silver alloy to preserve their elegant yellow color. The copper and silver here are purposefully used to make the yellow gold sturdy. 14k yellow gold has a more significant portion of hard-wearing metals and takes the crown as the long-lasting jewelry alloy of the two.
The situation is a little bit different for white gold. White gold that contains palladium is far much better than a white gold alloy of silver or nickel. Palladium is part of the platinum group metals, which makes it noble (naturally resistant to corrosion).
14k and 18k white gold score high in durability. But an 18k gold ring owner would probably be the first to make the trip to their local jewelry shop for a retouch and polishing. It’s even better when the white gold is rhodium dipped because rhodium (also a noble metal) adds to the pieces' durability arsenal. Rhodium flashing ensures that the underlying pure gold doesn’t show due to the eventual, inevitable wearing out from regular day-to-day use.
Rose gold is relatively durable compared to yellow gold. To get a vibrant rose gold color, more substantial amounts of the copper element go into rose gold alloys. Copper has astounding durability. When the longevity of the product is a primary objective, copper is the metal for the job. With occasional cleaning and polishing, you can rest assured that a rose gold engagement ring will last a reasonably long time.
You already know that pure gold isn’t exactly the most durable of jewelry-making metals. According to that fact, lower karat gold (such as 10k gold) is sturdier than higher karat gold (14k and above). That being the case, how come 18k gold rings still cost more than 14k gold rings? Shouldn’t the more durable gold metal fetch more dollars?
It doesn’t work like that. Despite having superior wear and tear ranking. 14k gold still costs less than 18k gold. The pricing structure of gold jewelry stems from the pure gold component of a yellow, white, or rose gold alloy.
Jewelers can choose to buy 24k gold, which currently costs $47.67 (US) per gram. And raw copper, zinc, silver, nickel, and palladium, to create yellow, white, or rose gold pieces from scratch. Alternatively, the very jewelers can directly source 14k and 18k gold for $27.81 and $35.75 per gram, respectively. The gold becomes the raw material, which is melted and built into standard and custom 14k and 18k fine jewelry.
Gold is a significant commodity in the precious metal markets. Its market price continuously fluctuates. The market price of gold sets the mark-up strategy for jewelers. When a 14k gold setting design is a tad fancier, it can have a slightly higher price tag compared to a casual 18k gold ring.
But typically, when the designs are consistent, an 18k gold engagement ring costs more than a 14k ring at the Blue Nile or White Flash online jewelry stores due to a difference in levels of pure gold. The more pure gold in an alloy, the higher the price of the jewelry. Consequently, 10k gold pieces are cheaper than 14k gold pieces. The same verdict holds for 18k and 20k gold jewelry price comparisons and so on.
Bottom line: yellow 14k and 18k gold have a striking resemblance. So do rose gold pieces or white gold jewelry (14k and 18k) when placed side-by-side. However, 10k gold looks paler due to only having 10 parts of gold out of the total (24 parts).
That’s industry jargon for gold jewelry. 24k gold, on the other hand, has 22 parts pure gold and only 2 parts of the hardening metal alloy. Whether in white, yellow or rose gold variants, it’ll appear darker and richer in color.
You don’t have to pay more by purchasing 18k gold settings when 14k gold options are readily available, affordable, and just as elegant. 14k gold gives you the perfect balance between jewelry lifespan and a trendy look while sticking to your budget. So, don’t fall victim to the social stigma that often personifies 14k gold jewelry as ‘cheap.’
Complementing the Gemstone and Your Skin Tone
Generally, 14k and 18k yellow gold rings and pendants enhance the look of a tinted diamond. Lower color scale stones with a yellow hue nicely fuse into the backdrop of a yellow gold ring to create the homogenous effect. The yellow tint corresponds to the yellow gold setting, which makes for a solid look. The same stone on a white gold ring has an awkward feel and may not be easy on the eyes.
Use white 14k or 18k gold settings for near-colorless diamonds. The shiny white appearance of the rhodium flashed white gold ring helps to enhance the light performance of an F color stone. If you have entirely fallen in love with either rose gold or yellow gold, go for a white prong setting. The white prongs achieve the same boost in the stone’s brilliance that a white gold setting does.
Fancy colors and other differently colored (any color outside the GIA color scale) stones are meant to end up on a rose gold setting. Of the three colors (white, yellow, and rose), rose gold undisputedly provides a better background for a stone of color.
Here is an excellent example of that fancy color and rose gold combo: A champagne diamond set in a 14k rose gold Halo Pendant. In this other example, the bezel-set pear-shaped ruby and diamond in a 14k rose gold stacking ring are gorgeous.
Rose gold also integrates well with all types of skin tones. It’s like a correctly done tattoo—regardless of your complexion, have no worries. For all you 14k and 18k gold shoppers, yellow gold is your color. On the contrary, if you’re rosy or fair skin-toned, look no further than white 14k or white 18k gold jewelry.
Yellow gold is like a ‘veteran’ in the jewelry making business. It’s been around for hundreds of years to a point where it's readily recognizable and a bit ‘stale’ fashion-wise. How about spicing up yellow gold with another color of gold in your setting design for a more trendy look? White gold is a pretty good alternative when you want a setting similar to platinum, but cheaper.
14k and 18k rose gold comes in at number one on the scorecard. It may not be prevalent, but it has “romance” written all over it. It gives you a fresh and contemporary fashion sense that’s simply lacking in 14k and 18k white and yellow gold. If you’re on a budget, 14k rose gold is a no-brainer. And if you want to be a little bit more extravagant and make a splurge, 18k rose gold will get you there.