Jewelers throughout the ages have selected gold as their precious metal of choice because of its softness, natural beauty, resistance to erosion or tarnish, and ease of workmanship.
Gold is so soft and malleable that it can be melted and shaped to create virtually any design. But this softness also makes pure gold less than desirable for jewelry usage - which is why it is usually alloyed with other metals such as copper or silver to make it stronger and more durable.
The gold content in a particular alloy is expressed in karats (abbreviated as K or KT). That is different than the 'carats' used to measure a diamond's weight (Learn more about diamond carats here). Carrots, of course, are a delicious crunchy root vegetable beloved by Bugs Bunny... Just remember:
Generally, the higher the percentage of gold content, the softer (and yellower) the piece. The karat system used for white gold or other gold colors is the same as that used for yellow gold (white or other-color gold is mixed with different alloys to give it a certain color).
Here are some common gold karatages and the corresponding percentages of actual gold:
Sometimes, gold of a lower karatage is plated in higher-karat gold to enhance its color. This is perfectly acceptable as long as the jeweler discloses this fact and you pay a fair price. Keep in mind that gold plating will wear off over time and your jewelry may need to be re-plated.
To determine the karatage of a particular piece of jewelry, look for the quality mark. Generally, pieces will either bear the stamp of their karatage based on the U.S. or European system. The U.S. system uses karat designations (24K, 18K, 14K, 10K, etc.) Europe uses number designations which correspond to the percentage of gold content. For instance, 10K is marked "417" for 41.7% gold; 14K is marked "585" for 58.5% gold; 18K is marked "750" for 75% gold, etc.
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