A Buyer's Guide: Understanding how gold is used in jewelry
When shopping for gold jewelry, you may notice different terms being used to describe the pieces. But what do they all mean, and how does it relate to their value and longevity?
To start, let's talk about solid gold. Solid gold is just what it sounds like- pure gold and a minimal percentage of other materials. The metal has a shiny luster with buttery yellow color. Just like pure silver, pure gold is soft and malleable. Pure gold is also hypoallergenic.
Now, pure gold is much too soft on its own to be used to make jewelry. It would bend or scratch much too easily. This is where karating comes in. To make gold durable and hard enough to hold its shape, gold is mixed into an alloy. An alloy is a combination of two metals. Melted gold is mixed with a small amount of another metal- usually silver or copper. Pure gold is 24 karat, and the more metal that is mixed in, the lower the karat, with 9K (37.5% gold) usually being the lowest gold alloy used in jewelry.
Even as an alloy, the value of karated gold jewelry is high due to the quantity of pure gold that remains in a piece. Karated gold can be melted and reused in the future, which makes it keep its value. It is also very durable, and will typically last a lifetime, if not generations or possibly centuries!
To lower the cost of gold jewelry, other techniques are sometimes used:
Gold plating is when a thin coating of gold is applied to base metals such as iron, copper, brass, nickel, or stainless steel. This is the most affordable option when buying gold jewelry, but the plating typically wears off in under two years, and the amount of gold in the jewelry is not worth much, if anything. Gold plated jewelry is a good option for people who want the hypoallergenic properties of gold, but only intend on wearing a piece of jewelry once or twice. The gold is too minuscule in quantity to be reused. Most of the "gold" jewelry from big-box stores is plated.
Gold fill is when layers of gold alloy are bonded to a metal core. While it sounds similar to gold-plated, it’s entirely different — from manufacturing to longevity. Gold-filled jewelry has layers of gold alloy, rather than one external layer of pure gold. This is important because it ultimately creates a more durable, long-lasting jewelry metal. Gold fill can easily last 10 years or more with daily wear. If well cared for, it can last a lifetime. It has about a hundred times more gold than gold plated metal, and contains about 5% pure gold. It would need to undergo processing in order for the gold to be separated and reused, but does have a retaining value.
At Arcana Silver, we choose to offer gold-fill and karated gold as we strive to bring you sustainable, quality jewelry that will last.