What is the difference between karat gold, gold-filled, and gold-plated jewelry? The difference is mainly in the amount of gold. But there’s more and much to know about something so precious.
Gold in its pure state is too soft for use in jewelry. Save the pure gold for your commodity investments. Gold comes out of the ground in pretty small pieces ranging from flakes to nuggets, which are purified and formed into bars. Take a good look at the picture. You may never see a gold bar, even if you own it as an investment. The price of gold makes gold in bars an unobtainable digression. Let’s get back to gold jewelry.
Karat gold (kt)
Karat gold is pure gold that is “diluted” with other, less expensive metals. Alloy is the more technically accurate term. Gold for jewelry is alloyed with other metals such as copper, silver, platinum, and palladium, but can also incorporate nickel, zinc, silicon, boron, and others.
Karat gold should not be confused with carat weight of diamonds. Remember: k, or kt, for gold; c, or ct, for diamond weight.
Karat gold designations start at 24kt for pure gold and go down to 8kt, where the gold is but a third of the total weight of the alloy. The following table shows karat gold designations and the corresponding percentage of gold in the alloy.
- 24kt = 99.9% gold
- 22kt = 91.6% gold
- 20kt = 83.3% gold
- 18kt = 75.5% gold
- 14kt = 58.5% gold
- 10kt = 41.7% gold
- 9kt = 37.5% gold
- 8kt = 33.3% gold
So, what does the “585” stamp on the inside of your gold wedding band mean? It means your ring is 14kt gold and has 58.5% gold by weight in the alloy. They left the decimal point off the 585 stamp because it would be too small to see, and opted not to use the more familiar 14kt designation.
So, what does the “999.9” stamped on your gold bars mean? It means your gold bars are as pure as pure gold can be.
Gold filled (gf)
Because the price of gold always seems to be more than ordinary people can afford, there is a way besides alloying to get the gold content down. It’s called gold filled.
You can think of gold filled (stamped gf) as starting with a hollow tube made of 14kt or 12kt gold that is filled with other base metals in the molten state. The exterior of the tube is 14kt or 12kt karat gold and that’s what you always see. The center, composed of base metals, is never exposed, nor does the outside karat gold chip or wear off. The exterior karat gold makes for an expensive look without the expense of a karat-gold interior, making gold filled an affordable alternative to karat gold jewelry.
Gold plated (gp)
Gold plated is another matter. If it says anything at all, gold-plated jewelry might be stamped with gp for gold plated. As the term implies, base metal is coated with a thin layer of gold, actually electroplated onto the base metal atom by atom. Yes, the coating is thin, actually 100 times thinner than the gold-filled tube.
A disadvantage is that the electroplated gold coating can wear thin, wear off, or chip, exposing the base metal underneath, making gold-plated jewelry look less than new in a relatively short time. Yes, there is gold, but it’s not much and may not last long.
Is your gold jewelry really gold if it has no gold designation stamp? Yes, maybe, and it depends.
Some jewelry has no gold designation stamp despite its being authentic karat gold jewelry. The kt stamp tends to wear off of old gold jewelry, especially rings. On the other hand, some jewelry may not be made of gold at all but rather bronze, brass, or other gold-colored metal.
One-of-a-kind handcrafted jewelry does not require a karat designation stamped onto the metal. Mass produced jewelry does. If there’s no designation, fear not! It’s probably not junk jewelry but rather an authentic piece of unique art made by an artist taking advantage of freedom from the gold stamping requirement!
Lucky you to have a lovely and valuable piece of unique jewelry!