Which gold is best, 10, 14 or 18 karat?
Buying gold can be confusing and intimidating. There are different karats, different prices - what's the best one to choose and why is some gold so much more expensive than others, is it really worth it?
WHAT ARE KARATS ANYWAY, IT SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING BUGS BUNNY SHOULD EAT.
Gold is split into different karat categories: 9, 10, 14, 18, 22,and 24. The ones you see mostly in the USA are 10,14 and 18 karat gold. 9 and 18 are predominant in Europe, and 22 and 24 karat are common in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Karats tell you how much of your jewellery is pure gold, so the higher the karat, the more gold in the item.
Every item made from gold is measured in 24 units (karats), so 14 karat gold is only 14 parts actual gold, and 10 parts other base metals.
24 k = 100% pure (or 99.95%, sometimes trace elements get mixed in during the smelting process)
22 k = 91.6% pure (if you buy your jewellery in Asia it may have a stamp on it saying 916, meaning that it is 22 karat gold)
18 k = 75% pure
14 k = 58.3% pure
10 k = 41.6% pure
9 k = 37.5% pure.
WHAT METALS GET MIXED WITH GOLD AND WHY MIX IT IN THE FIRST PLACE?
The most common metals to use in a gold alloy are copper, zinc, silver, tin and nickel.
There are three main reasons to make an alloy with gold and other metals.
Pure gold is very soft, that's part of the reason why it's good to work with for jewellery, but sometimes it's better for it to be a bit harder so that it doesn't dent or lose its shape. You can melt gold down and mix it with other harder metals to make the whole thing harder over all.
Pure gold is a rich deep yellow, mixing it with silver, nickel, palladium or other white metals gives it a silvery sheen, we call this white gold. If gold is mixed with copper it takes on a warm pink tint, we call this rose gold or red gold.
The other base metals are cheaper because they are more abundant and more easily mined, so by mixing a little bit of gold with a lot of other metals you can make a few ounces of gold go a lot further than if they were used to make pure gold jewellery.
So... which is the best type of gold? I've heard that 10 karat gold is harder than 14 and 18 karat gold.
10 karat gold is the cheapest because it contains the smallest percentage of gold, and technically yes it is the hardest because it contains a greater amount of other metals which are not as soft as gold.
However, just because it's harder doesn't mean it's more durable. Imagine two basket balls, one is made of glass, and the other is made of rubber. The glass one is much, much harder than the rubber ball, but the rubber ball is going to last longer. In this analogy 10 karat gold is the glass ball, it's hard, but it's also brittle. The base metals used in the alloys don't have as much flexibility as gold, they cannot be made to bend or flex to the same point as gold without breaking. Even copper cannot be stretched as thinly as fold can without breaking. Gold may be soft, but it has strength.
If you're looking for strength in your jewellery don't plump for 10 karat because the sales assistant says it's 'harder', upgrade to 14 karat or better still 18 karat.
14 Karat v. 18 Karat?
Are you allergic to any other metal?
This will in the end come down to personal opinion, one jeweller I know refuses to work with anything other than 18 karat gold, but others will tell you that 14 karat gold is better for men, or people who work with their hands.
For me, it's 18 karat gold every time. I prefer the deeper color, I prefer that 18 karat gold is less brittle (especially important for fine detailing) but what really makes a huge difference for me is that I am highly allergic to nickel. Nickel is one of the most abundant metals on the planet, and roughly a quarter of the world's population have an allergic reaction to it (ever had a belt buckle or a zipper give you a rash - that's the nickel). It is also, commonly used in gold alloys in the USA.
14 karat alloys are more likely to have nickel in them, especially 14 karat white gold. 18 karat alloys are often made in Europe where it is not common practice to use nickel as an alloy in either gold or silver. Furthermore, even if an 18 karat alloy does have nickel in it, the fact that it is a much smaller amount that the 14 karat means I'm less likely to have reaction.
So if like me, cheap jewellery, the backs of watches, some types of silver, clothing with metal on it, buckles on shoes, and those weird stretchy material adhesive bandages bring you out in violent red hives, look for jewellery that says it's nickel free, but just to be on the safe side... stick to 18 karat gold, put it on the Christmas list.
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- Allergic to gold?
There are some of us who bare a terrible affliction; we're allergic to most jewellery unless it's made of the most precious metals... Practical advice about what causes metal allergies, what to do about it, and alternatives to gold.