This article will explain the differences between 10k, 14k, 18k gold as well as explain why wedding rings are typically not made out of 24k gold.
So what is a karat?
First of all, a "karat" is not a "carat." Just to clarify, a carat is a unit designed to measure fine gemstones, such as diamonds. It originates from the "carob" bean, which was once used to measure the same. One carat equals 200 milligrams, or .2 grams.
A karat, on the other hand, is a unit of purity. Karats express this purity in terms of a sort of fraction out of 24 total parts. Therefore, 24k gold is 100% pure-24 parts out of 24 total are pure gold.
So if 24 karat gold is 100% gold, why aren't wedding rings typically available and made out of 24k gold? The reason is that 24k gold is much too soft to be used for jewelry-making. So most gold jewelry is combined with some other metal to make it harder and more durable. The most common metals combined with gold are nickel, zinc, silver, copper, palladium and platinum. These composites of gold and another metal (called alloys) are where the different karats come into use. If 24k gold is 24/24 parts gold, then 18k gold is 18 parts gold, and 6 parts of some other metal. 14k gold is 14 parts gold, and 10 parts of some other metal, and so on. To do that math for you:
- 24k gold is 100% pure
- 18k gold is 75% pure
- 14k gold is 58.3% pure
- 10k gold is 41.6% pure
How does karat affect price?
Because gold is sold by weight, higher purity content will also generally mean more expensive jewelry. 18k gold is the European standard and is very popular in America as well for its rich sheen and deep golden color, as well as its easy workability for jewelers. 14k gold is also a common choice, and 10k is still a very viable and more affordable alternative for a gold wedding ring. Other factors in price include the alloy that is used, as more expensive alloys (such as platinum) will greatly increase the overall cost of the wedding ring. More information about various metals and their properties can be found back at our wedding ring education center.
What else should I keep in mind?
Durability: While higher karat does indicate the purity of a gold wedding ring, it is very important to consider the fact that as a soft metal, high-purity gold may not be the best choice for everyone. If you work with your hands frequently, or are often exposed to chemicals or abrasives that could damage high-content gold bands, a lower karat-and lower cost-wedding ring might actually be a better choice for you.
Color: The alloys commonly combined with gold are not only used to improve the hardness and durability of jewelry. Depending on the alloy that is used, gold wedding rings can be made into a variety of interesting and beautiful colors. Some of the most common include:
- Yellow gold - Yellow gold rings made from 14k gold are less pure and therefore not as rich in hue as 18k yellow gold. These alloys typically include silver or zinc to improve hardness without largely diluting the color.
- White gold - White gold is almost always made from high-quality 18k or 14k gold, both of which are over 50% pure. This means that natural white gold still has a slight yellow tint to it. Generally white gold wedding rings are alloys of gold and other bright white metals such as silver, nickel, palladium or platinum. White gold wedding rings are often plated with rhodium, a hard, bright white metal coating used to improve durability and enhance color. This coating can wear over time, revealing the original color beneath
- Rose gold - Rose gold is a popular alternative to white and yellow gold and has a high percentage of copper in it, giving it a warm, reddish hue. Oftentimes the lower gold karat versions can be more vibrantly red because of higher copper content.
The basic principle to keep in mind about differences between 10k, 14k, and 18k gold is that higher karat means higher purity-but always remember that pure may not be exactly what you're looking for with gold. Depending on your lifestyle, taste, and budget, lower karat wedding rings may excellent options as well.