Last year my amazing girlfriend and I made a two-day stop-over to the gold city also known as Dubai on our way to South Africa.
Posh malls and 18K to 24K gold jewelry from lavish pendants to gold diamond studs wherever the eye rests when you visit the UAE. That all triggered the question on gold purity comparison I as a jewelry writer had to answer, my sweet, but really curious significant other.
Well here we go, here´s the gold purity guide my sweetheart and dear reader:
Gold purity is measured in karat (k) and refers to the amount of real gold in any given jewelry (e.g. 14K). Generally, the rule is, the higher the karat, the more valuable is the ring or necklace jewelry, etc. The lower the karat, the less valuable, though valid grading exceptions exist.
Let’s briefly explore what exactly is distinguishing 10K from 14K or 18K, 22K, or 24 Karat respectively and how this can influence your gold evaluation, purchase, or selling down the road.
Gold Purity Comparison Chart (Karat)
|Karat Number||Gold Purity %||Millesimal Fineness||Gold Parts|
Understanding Gold Purity Chart
Firstly, you can see from the left top-bottom that the karat range starts at 9K, then slowly ascends to 24K, meaning the gold parts within jewelry or any metal including gold, increases until a limit of 24.
The 7 Gold Karat Standard
Therefore, they are basically seven karat numbers that are used by gemologists, jewelers, and fashion accessory designers to measure gold parts in metal, though there is more to that.
Secondly, horizontally the gold purity table is divided into five areas beginning with:
- karat number, followed by
- gold purity expressed in percentage,
- then the millesimal fineness equivalent, and lastly
- the karat number divided by the maximum possible gold parts
Thirdly, this is the complete gold purity list known and used today worldwide, though in the USA 9K is not that common.
Therefore, we will focus primarily on the real gold jewelry market range which is 10K to 24K.
Understanding Gold Purity Hallmarks (Stamps)
The 7-karat numbers (9K,10K,12K,14K,18K,22K, and 24K) are simply gold purity standards set by jewelers and the government to have:
- accuracy, and
- consumer protection mechanism in place.
Gold Stamps Explained
Next to the karat, you have the gold purity and the percentage (millesimal fineness) of it. These gold stamps are often engraved in rings or written next to a specific gold piece from gold hoops to brooches, cuffs, and wedding bands or pendants. They are an indicator, obligatory by law, of the gold parts in a metal or jewelry.
In the USA the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates what markings on a gold jewelry piece are legal and mandatory. Whereas in different jurisdictions across the globe this may be similar, but not necessarily identical.
Therein lies the fact, that in the United States of America 10K gold purity is the standard gold purity starting point jewelers are obliged to label as a gold type of jewelry material. Though a less strict regulation has been passed recently.
Gold Fineness Explained: What is Millesimal Fineness System?
Millesimal simply translates complicated karat and percentage numbers of gold mass in a material into a simple three-digit rounded number everyone can see marked and certified on any given real gold. The millesimal fineness formula was developed by the jewelry industry to help consumers identify different gold purity classes.
How to calculate gold millesimal fineness?
Gold millesimal fineness formula: karat divided by maximum gold karat times 1000 or k/:24*1000
- 10K/:24*1000=416 millesimal fineness (41.6% gold purity)
- 14K/24*1000=583 millesimal fineness (58.3% gold purity)
- 18K/:24*100=750 millesimal fineness (75% gold purity)
This way you can now easily calculate the amount of gold in any material ranging from the latest gold choker trends to fancy bangles or timeless pre-engagement rings.
|Karat||Strength / Durability||Tarnishing||Value|
As you can see:
The higher the gold purity (expressed in karat), the higher the value, but unfortunately the lower the jewelry strength and its corresponding durability too. For example, a 24K gold necklace is of the highest gold purity quality 24 out of 24 gold parts, but also the softest karat available.
This is not ideal jewelry, since you want a durable, resistant gold piece like you can get with a 10K ring.
The downside though is the fact that the 41.7% purity in a 10K statement ring is not as valuable as an expensive 24K that can cost 5 figures or more.
Moreover, a low karat translates to high jewelry tarnish possibility which is not a desirable thing. On the other side, the 18K bracelet is not only financially of higher value, but also health-wise as it is a tarnish-resistant accessory.
In other words, all gold karat purity standards have their up-and downsides, which is precisely what you are going to succinctly discover now before you hit the (online) jewelry store.
Pros and Cons of 10K Gold
10K Jewelry Benefits
- A 10-karat (10K) gold piece is the most affordable gold jewelry item out there
- Earrings, bands, engagement rings for her that are 10K in gold purity exist in large quantities and qualities to select from
- Stunning 10K necklace gifts and others present the most durable gold jewelry compared to other purity levels
Drawbacks of 10K Gold
- Gold with a 10K gold purity or 10 out of 24 possible gold karats possess the lowest gold value (outside rare 9K)
- The high low gold percentage of only 41.7% means that other low cost base metals mixed with it (alloys) devalue the jewelry and expose non-typical yellow gold color
- The 416 or 417 gold stamp fineness also represent allergenic skin reaction since metals like nickel, which is known for triggering dermatitis, may be a health issue for some people
For Whom is 10K Gold Jewelry?
Overall, wearing a 10K jewelry set is best if you don’t care so much about the gold appearance that might be weakened by the low gold purity. Additionally, if money-wise you just can’t afford unique jewelry and have no issues with skin allergies, but are happy with a durable item then 10K is a good choice.
All other consumers may require alternative gold options (like 12K vs 18K and more) to compare and shop in terms of gold quality and purity.
Pros and Cons of 12K Gold
Benefits of 12K Jewelry
- High durability thanks to the high metal alloy strength of non-gold parts (50%)
- Budget-friendly 500 gold fineness stamp compared to higher gold standards
- Looks a bit better than 10K in terms of gold resemblance
Drawbacks of 12K Gold
- The lower gold percentage of 12 out of 24 makes it prone to tarnish
- Metal alloys are of lower value (e.g. brass)
- Low gold trade options at pawn and cash for gold stores
- Gold color may not reflect what many consider real gold
For Whom is 12K Gold Jewelry?
Similar to 10K though a bit more nuanced, 12K gold wrist bands or studs and so forth are for budget tight consumers that are aware of the possible skin health issues or the low value for selling later. However, a 10K accessory is fine for heavy shoppers who like variability.
Again, low value, but high chances of buying more goldish products without the ability to brag too loud about your bling though.
Pros and Cons of 14K Gold
Benefits of 14K Gold Jewelry
- 14K is the most popular gold purity in Europe, USA, Canada, and many places
- An edgy 14K promise ring for couples goes a long way in terms of quality balanced with affordability
- Precious metals and gemstones like silver and sapphire can be mixed with real gold
- Jewelry pieces that contain 14K have a much lower risk of tarnishing while keeping the typical gold appearance
- The strength and durability of 14K gold collection sets this 58.3% gold metal apart from lower standards 9K,10k, or 12K
Drawbacks of 14K Gold
- Great perceived value, however not the highest gold standard like 22K for example
- Though little risk of allergy, still a rest risk of e.g. nickel allergy (though most 14K nowadays come as a nickel-free piece)
For Whom Is 14K Jewelry?
Most jewelers today offer consumers 14K gold jewelry on average whenever they want to shop for themselves or gift their loved one’s jewelry. As a result, the popularity of 14K chains, rings, earrings, bracelets, or even anklets continues to grow.
Overall, one more reason why 583 gold markings enjoy so much support is the fact, compared to lower and higher gold purity, that 14K jewelry collections seem to be the sweet spot. At least concerning price (reasonable), quality (typical gold yellow), durability (high strength), and health (nearly hypoallergenic or hypoallergenic).
In short, 14-karat gold (583) is the best balance and most favorite gold purity with consumers and jewelry designers alike.
Pros and Cons of 18K Gold
Benefits of 18K Gold
- High perceived value due to the high percentage of fine gold in it (75%)
- Next to fine gold, precious gemstones and metals compound (e.g. ruby, silver)
- Undoubted yellow gold hue that appeals to high-value clients
- Luxurious 18K masterpieces have designer and intrinsic value
- A 750 hallmark symbolizes prestige as a gift set or for self-love
- Non-tarnishing gold purity level
Drawbacks of 18K Jewelry
- Too bright yellow might not be taste for everyone (used to 14K color average)
- Jewelry pieces that are 18K are not as durable (in terms of strength resistance) as with lower fashion pieces like 14K,12K, or 10K
- A relatively high price, for example, an 18-karat diamond engagement ring
For Whom Is 18K Gold Jewelry?
The ideal candidate for 18K bling-bling is either your typical Hollywood star or sports celebrity who likes to wear something expensive, but still relatively durable compared to 22K or 24K luxury jewelry. A person who has saved or luckily possesses an heirloom piece.
The rest of us may need to fall back to good, old 14K that has many attributes of the more expensive 18K option. However, without the exact metal properties going along with it, though, the softness of this quality standard is an anti-argument for 18-karat.
Pros and Cons of 22K Gold
Benefits of 22K Jewelry
- Second-highest value purity within the gold jewelry metals, classic status metal
- Rare 91.1% fineness in the market which increases perceived value further
- Often piece composition with precious metals or stones (e.g. platinum or emerald)
- Resistant against tarnishing of metal surface due to high gold amount
Drawbacks of 22K Gold Jewelry
- Very high gold price for even little 22K studs or cuffs and so forth
- Quite soft metal that might not be suitable for wearing on a daily or even occasionally
- Less design options to select from in terms of variety
For Whom Is 22K?
Fewer jewelry consumers can afford to get a sparkling diamond gold anniversary ring without breaking the bank. This is the reason 22K vs 10K or 14K respectively, is for high net individuals or collectors who invest in jewelry like others do with stocks and crypto.
It’s basically a luxury fashion product, although some aspiring rappers and the newly rich (I see you in The Hampton’s:), can probably put the money on the table at Tiffany’s without a blink of an eye. Of course, if you love jewelry instead of a Tesla many of us can get an unforgettable 22K solitaire gold too.
Pros and Cons 24K Gold
Benefits of 24K Jewelry
- The highest gold purity and consequently value for money piece you can buy
- Comes with timeless gold and high status attached to the jewelry and the wearer
- Typically, handmade instead of mass-produced which increases value
- Can be exchanged with US dollars and many other currencies or valuable goods worldwide
- Can be traded in gold stocks as well as a physical investment (heirloom)
- Possess intrinsic value that can be melted outside of design value easily (malleable)
- Hypoallergenic since 24K gold is even an edible metal (please don’t try at home)
Drawbacks of 24K Gold
- Expensive jewelry product to buy
- Not ideal as a 24-karat because it is too sectile, meaning very soft for jewelry
- Color may irritate gold consumers used to regular yellow not 999 stamp pieces
- Needs more protection from envy or theft (high jewelry insurance costs)
For Whom Is 24K Gold Jewelry?
A 24K gold masterpiece is usually created by a master jewelry designer to maybe showcase their craftsmanship rather than sell you a high-end handmade 24-karat gold statement ring.
A 999 purity engraved piece is definitely made for fine jewelry lovers who desire material status or wearable investments, though the latter is not really practical.
In the Middle East, Asia, and Africa high karat gold necklaces and real gold earrings or shinning gemstone settings on a fine gold ring are considered a not only luxury, but a necessary dowry (bridal price) to pay before marriage.
In case of divorce or misfortune, a woman can trade the valuable gold to feed the family or start a new life, because gold is in some regions still considered more valuable there than paper money currency.
Like all high karat gold, 24K is a soft metal, meaning bad durability characteristics and not the best for daily wear, work and grind jewelry. Despite or as a result of its high karat, but low strength properties.
In fact there are very few jewelers you will encounter able to sell you 24K solid gold if any (except fake gold scammers of course). The properties are just not good enough unlike 18K which also remains a high-value item to buy for your wife, girlfriend, or man in your life.
Gold Purity and Jewelry Type Comparison
|Gold Purity (Karat)||Jewelry Style|
|14K||Costume Jewelry & Fashion Jewelry|
|18K||Fashion Jewelry & Fine Jewelry|
|22K||Fine Jewelry & Fine Fashion Jewelry|
|24K||Custom Fine Jewelry|
Jewelry Style vs Gold Karat Breakdown
Here is a brief comparison breakdown of the table above and which plus and minuses are associated with:
- Your 10K costume jewelry is an inexpensive purchase everyone can afford, but doesn’t last long at all and materials used are e.g. base metal, fake diamonds
- Buying 14K costume or better fashion jewelry gives you affordable, using base and precious gems/metals, trendy jewelry that with good maintenance can last longer, but not forever
- The 18K locket fashion or fine jewelry on your chest is a sophisticated piece, that will last for a long time, but also costs a few mid or upper hundreds US dollars to a lower 4 figures. Especially mixed with lab-grown faux diamond or real diamonds
- If you go for a 22K precious metal than it’s for sure a fine fashion jewelry type, that may be less trendy, but more towards investment jewelry though not great for wearing (soft)
- Owning a 24K gold fine jewelry maybe with a rare pink diamond gem is not necessarily about fashion, but purely status, investing, and heirloom decision, since it goes up to the 5 and 6 figures USD
Which Gold Is the Best Quality?
While earrings are the most sought-after type of jewelry, 14K gold purity is the first choice for most women who mostly buy for themselves or significant others and family members. The reason 14-karat is the best is the fact that it meets the key buying criteria of price, quality, aesthetics.
How To Detect Gold Purity?
The best way to find out if gold is real, look at the jewelry stamped into every genuine piece. The marking could either be e.g.18K (means 18-karat out of 24) or more common a 3-digit number like 583 (14K gold). Other tests are vinegar, float, bite, weight, magnet, skin, scratch, machine, acid test.
What Other Metals Are Contained in Gold?
Base metals like copper, zinc, nickel (latter now less due to an allergic reaction), or precious metals like silver, platinum, palladium are used to mix gold to gold alloy. This is because genuine gold like 24K has 99.9% gold parts, too soft as jewelry to wear vs 14K gold which is stronger, durable.