Metals most commonly used in jewellery are silver, platinum and gold. When buying jewellery you might have come across terms like “gold-plated” or “solid-gold”. You will also notice that gold is referred to in karats. The term “karat” (with a k!) refers to the fineness or purity of gold, while the term carat (with a c!) refers to the weight of stones. For example, the description “24-karat gold ring” tells you the fineness/purity of the ring whereas the description “24-carat gold ring” simply tells you how heavy the ring is (which doesn’t give you information about impurities).
The price of jewellery is determined by the quality of the design and production as well as the metal and stones used. The higher the quality of all, the more expensive the piece of jewellery will be.
Pure gold is 24 karat (24K), this is the maximum possible value in the karat unit system. 24K means 99.9% purity, the highest you can buy. Gold is heavy and it doesn’t tarnish, but it is softer than most other metals (silver does tarnish, so it needs more care than gold). The softness of gold gives it the advantage to shape and mold into tiny pieces. However, the softness of 24K gold has the disadvantage that it can easily be bent and scratched, so it’s impractical for daily wear. In fact, a gold band can probably be easily bent out of shape with just bare hands. Also pure gold is very bright, much brighter and more orange than most people associate pure gold with and it is very expensive. Hence, to make gold more durable (and affordable) it is mixed with other metals. The most common karat level used in gold jewellery are 18K (75% gold purity) and 14K (58% gold purity).
It is important to understand that “gold-plated” is NOT gold jewellery. Gold plated jewellery is made of a base metal (e.g. copper or silver) that has a very thin layer of gold applied to the top. The layer is so thin, that it can usually be rubbed off very easily. When buying gold plated jewellery, you should consider the gold plating as nothing more than a coloring (an aesthetic attribute) – there is almost no inherent value to the gold applied. It doesn’t matter if it’s 24K, 14K or 18K gold.