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Gold Purities Summary
Gold is a dense, soft metal that is a solid at room temperature.
It's one of the least reactive chemical elements and does not occur freely in nature, making it an expensive commodity to harvest.
Gold has been treasured for centuries for its unique properties.
Humans have used gold since prehistoric times to make jewelry and other decorative items.
Today, people use three different scales to represent how pure gold is: karats (K), percentages (%), and parts per thousand (ppt).
This article will provide general guidelines on what each of these numbers means when describing the purity of a piece of gold jewelry or other items.
What is Gold Purity?
Gold purity is a representation of how pure gold is in terms of karats (K), percentages (%), and parts per thousand (ppt).
This does not apply to paper gold, only physical gold.
Karat is often used when discussing the purity of gold jewelry.
This system has its roots in ancient India, where people would melt down pieces of 24K gold to obtain solid ingots.
These bars would have the same shape as the original item, so an earring would be made into a bar with two protruding posts on either side for mounting it to the ear.
The Hindu-Arabic numeral system was developed around 500 CE, but both systems were based on multiples of twelve before this divide.
Gold Karat System
Gold purity can also be measured by percentage or parts per thousand.
Percent system is the most widely used method for describing gold purity.
Percent refers to what proportion of an item is pure gold instead of other metals found in the alloy.
The information below provides general guidelines on how much gold can be found in different types of jewelry by karat (K).
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The Different Purity Levels
24k (Pure Gold)
24K gold is the highest purity level in the karat system.
It means that 24 parts out of 24 are pure gold.
This type of jewelry is very soft and can be bent easily due to its low copper content.
The only alloy added to pure gold is silver, which results in a tarnish after prolonged exposure to air.
If you are interested in getting 24k gold, you have to look for specific stamps on the product.
Otherwise, it might not always be 100% pure or even real gold.
22K gold is a difficult alloy to produce, as it requires a high degree of craftsmanship for reliable results.
It has a very rich color, and its luster stays intact after polishing, unlike 10K, 14K or 18K gold alloys.
This type of gold contains the least impurities as only traces of silver are added during the purification process.
Pure 22k is harder to work with than 21k because it's too soft and can easily be scratched by fingernails, making it undesirable for delicate applications such as fine jewelry making.
So 21k would be a better alternative to buy if you do not want your ring or earring posts to bend.
Pure gold is too soft to use for jewelry making, so it must be alloyed with other metals in order to make it more durable.
18k represents the amount of pure gold divided by 24 parts.
So, if you see a ring or piece of earrings stamped as "14K/20", that means it's made out of 14 parts pure gold and 6 parts another metal combination (copper-silver).
The higher the ratio between copper and silver added, the softer your products will be.
So keep that in mind when buying jewelry products that are not pre-made but are still under this purity level mark.
Pure 14k is a tough alloy to work with, especially for beginner jewelry makers.
14k means that out of 24 parts in the whole alloy, 14 are pure gold, and 10 are another metal combination (copper-silver).
Pure 10k is the hardest alloy to manipulate as its hardness comes from an even higher ratio of copper than rose or white gold.
So remember that if you pick this option, your items will be softer and more prone to bending and scratching.
The good news is that this type of gold is not as expensive as 18k or 14k, so it's quite affordable for those who cannot afford the first two options but still want at least some precious metal in their pieces.
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The color of 8K gold is similar to 10k, but it's even cheaper since this type contains the highest ratio of copper.
It has a slightly pinkish hue, making it less desirable for people who prefer yellow tones, especially when choosing 24k gold.
So try to avoid this option if you want pure gold jewelry products.
Rose gold is made by adding more copper than any other gold alloy resulting in an orange-pinkish color that looks like actual rose petals.
The higher the percentage of metals (gold and copper), the closer the color will be to dark red or brown tone rather than light pink/orange.
The process for making rose gold is complex because it requires great precision and needs to be heated very slowly.
Pure white gold is too soft, so it's alloyed with metals such as silver and palladium in order to make the end product more durable.
The ratio between gold and silver determines the color of your products.
If you go for an alloy 50% gold (or higher) and 50% silver, white gold will be whiter than if you choose lower ratios like 33 or 28%, which are more like light yellow in tone.
Gold is usually associated with bright yellow tones.
However, it can also look very green when mixed with other metals such as copper.
This color requires special processing, but its beauty is worth the effort since it's highly desirable by many people who love unique jewelry pieces that don't look too flashy or "bling bling."
For those who want something different, this looks especially cool when paired with rose or white gold.
To achieve this particular tone, pure gold is alloyed with palladium and silver for a long time (usually 2-3 weeks) to burn off all impurities leaving only the black color behind.
Black gold jewelry pieces are popular among alternative people who like non-traditional designs.
So, blue isn't a real color of gold since it's not present in its pure form but created artificially after years of heating and cooling metal until it turns into a blue shade instead of a yellowish one.
This is a very expensive process that requires deep knowledge in metallurgy but also needs special care because heat can accidentally turn your pieces reddish again instead of blue if you're not careful enough.
Okay, back to the more traditional yellow tone of gold which is equally as beautiful as blue or green.
This type of gold jewelry looks especially eye-catching when mixed with silver and has an almost rose-like color that's quite popular among girls (and not only).
So if you want a piece of red carpet jewelry for proms, weddings, etc., consider getting something made from pink gold because it fits this occasion perfectly.
That being explained, gold is a precious metal that has been valued all over the world for thousands of years.
It's not as cheap as other metals such as silver or zinc.
Still, its beauty and the value of a pure fineness of gold make anything made from it extremely valuable and highly wanted by collectors, mainstream people, and people who have special preferences when it comes to their jewelry accessories and gold bars & coins.
Even though 18k gold sounds great to those who pay attention only to numbers instead of the actual material used for their pieces,
the truth is that 14k and 10k look almost identical regarding color tones and weight.
What makes a bigger difference in cost/price is rose or white gold since they require more costly processing because each alloy has a different ratio between both types (gold and silver / and palladium), which affects the whole process and time needed.