What are the different types of gold in jewelry?

types-of-gold

When you are buying gold jewelry, you often get to choose between different types of gold colors, gold karats, and gold plating options. What do all those things mean, and is there a big difference between the different gold types? Here’s a quick guide to learn about gold colors, karats, and coatings.

GOLD COLORS

Gold jewelry is not pure gold. It is an alloy; a mixture of metals. Gold jewelry can be alloyed with silver, copper, zinc, palladium, and nickel to create different gold colors. The most common gold colors are: yellow, white, rose, and green.

  • yellow-gold-colorYellow gold is made by mixing pure gold with silver, copper, and zinc. It is the purest color, the most hypo-allergenic, and requires the least maintenance of all the gold colors.

  • white-gold-colorWhite gold is made of gold and platinum (or palladium). White gold can also be made of gold, palladium, nickel and zinc. White gold is more durable and scratch-resistant than yellow gold. It is also more affordable than both yellow gold and platinum.

  • rose-gold-colorRose gold (or pink gold)  is alloyed with gold, copper, and silver. Rose gold is more affordable than the other gold colors because it uses the inexpensive copper for its rose color. Due to its copper content, rose gold is more durable than yellow or white gold.

  • green-gold-colorGreen gold (or Electrum) is mixed with gold, silver, and sometimes copper. Silver is what gives the gold alloy the green nuance.

gold-types

So which type of gold is the most popular? Yellow gold used to be the most favored choice, but when the gold price became more expensive, people turned to white gold instead. White gold has therefore been the more popular choice for the last 20-30 years, especially in engagement and wedding rings.

GOLD KARATS

The first thing to look for when buying gold jewelry, is the karat mark ”k”. The karat mark will let you know how much gold content the jewelry has. Then, look for the manufacturer’s trademark next to the karat mark. The manufacturer’s trademark is there to assure you that the karat mark is accurate. So, what does the karat mark mean?

100% pure gold is marked as “24k”. However, it is unusual to find a “24k” mark on a jewelry because pure gold is a soft metal and is more likely to scratch and bend. Gold in jewelry is therefore often mixed with other metals to make it more durable. If you live in the United States, you will most likely find the mark that says “14k” because it is the most common type of gold used in jewelry in the U.S. Also, note that it is not legal to mark or sell jewelry as ”gold” if the gold is under 10k, according to laws in the U.S.

Gold Karat Stamps, Markings Pure Gold Content Alloyed With Other Metals Note
24K 24K, 24 kt, 999 100% 0% Tends to bend or scratch easily
18K 18K, 18kt, 750 75% 25% Ideal for jewelry
14K 14K, 14kt, 585 58.5% 41.5% Ideal for jewelry
10k 10K, 10kt, 417 41.7% 58.3% Affordable for jewelry

GOLD PLATING OPTIONS

To know what type of gold coating the jewelry has, look for the quality stamp on the metal. Without a quality stamp on the item, you will not be able to know the type of gold used; if the jewelry is gold plated, rolled gold plated, gold filled etc. There are several types of gold plating options that you may come across when buying gold jewelry. Below is a short description on what the different types of gold plating options actually mean.

  • GOLD LAYERED

    Since there is no Federal standard for “gold layered”, a gold layered jewelry could in fact have a super thin gold layer!

  • GOLD LEAF

    Gold leaf is gold that has been hammered by hand into extremely thin layers and been wrapped (or glided) around the metal.  Usually 22K or 24K gold is used as thin gold layers/sheets to decorate art work and jewelry. You can recognize gold leaf jewelry by its irregularities of the foil surrounding the item.

  • GOLD PLATED - GOLD ELECTROPLATED

    If the jewelry is “gold plated” or “gold electroplated” it means that it has a very thin layer of gold onto the surface of the metal. The base metal can be stainless steel or brass dipped into gold. Gold plating is a process known as electroplating that gives the jewel a gold-like appearance. To be named “gold plated” or “gold electroplated”, the gold layer needs to be at least 7 millionths of an inch thick and of at least 10k gold quality. Since the gold layer is quite thin, it can wear off over time. The metal must have a stamp indicating plated quality: “GP”, “G.P”, “GEP”, or “G.E.P”. Examples: “10K GP”, “10K GEP”.

  • GOLD OVERLAY - ROLLED GOLD PLATED

    A “gold overlay” or “rolled gold plated” jewelry has a thicker gold coating and is thus more durable over time. The gold content must be of at lest 10K gold quality but can be lower than 1/20 of the total weight. The base metal can be brass, stainless steel, or copper. It uses heat and pressure process to mix and bond the metals. A gold overlay or rolled gold plated jewelry must have a stamp indicating plated quality: “GO”, “G.O”, “RGP” or “R.G.P”. Examples: “1/40 10K GO”, “1/40 10K RGP”.

  • GOLD FILLED

    A gold filled jewelry is not actually filled with gold. Usually, its base metals are brass or copper covered by sheets of gold. It uses a heat and pressure process (bonding process) to mix and bond the metals together. The gold content must be of at least 10K gold quality and the gold content must be at least  1/20 (5%) of the total weight. The gold layer will not flake or peel off with reasonable care.  A gold filled jewelry is safe for most people with sensitive skin. The metal must have a stamp indicating filled/plated quality: “GF” or “G.F”. Example: “1/20 10K GF”

  • VERMEIL

    Vermeil (pronounced ver-may) simply means “gold plated sterling silver”. The difference between “vermeil” and “gold plated/filled”, is that gold vermeil jewelry has a thicker gold layer and uses sterling silver as its base metal. This is why vermeil is a better choice (compared to other gold plated jewelry items) for those with skin allergy. Vermeil is usually not marked, but if a gold jewelry is marked with a “925” stamp, it probably means that it is a gold vermeil. (The stamp for sterling silver is 925, .925, or the modern stamp S925. It stands for 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% alloyed metals.)

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