Be an informed buyer. Understand and know what you are buying.
When we decided to start a jewelry brand, one of our first discussion was to decide on what kind of material we’re going to use to create our pieces. Given our goal to create high quality jewelry that is comfortable, hypoallergenic, low maintenance, but most importantly won’t cost an arm and a leg, the obvious choice to us was to use gold. Sure there are other precious metals out there like silver or platinum, but jewelry made with silver can tarnish over time and platinum jewelry does cost an arm and a leg. Plus, who doesn’t love gold? Now the remaining questions were what type of gold and construction method we are going to use to create our pieces.
14K? 18K? 24K? What’s the difference?
Gold jewelry comes in many different purity levels. 24K gold means pure 100% gold without any other metal mixed in. There is no higher measurement in purity of gold than 24K. K stands for karat, which refers to the fineness of gold. One K, or karat, equals 1/24th pure gold in an alloy (mixture of metals). 1/24th proportion derived from the ancient Roman times when a Roman silver coin was valued at 1/24th of a Roman gold coin. Enough with the history lesson. Also, don’t get karat confused with carat, which is a unit of weight used to measure the size of gemstones like diamonds.
You’ll rarely find 24K gold products beside gold coins or bars. This is because pure 24K gold is expensive, too soft, and not durable enough to be used in everyday jewelry. Hence, other metals are mixed with pure gold to give rigidity, durability, and strength. Other metals typically include silver, copper, and zinc, and on occasion can also include nickel. Depending on the amount of nickel included in the mix, it may make the jewelry no longer hypoallergenic.
18K gold refers to a mixture of metals, aka alloy, that contains 75% (= 18/24) gold and 25% (=6/24) other metals. It is less expensive than 24K gold, because it contains six parts less gold and is more durable due to the inclusion of other metals. However, it is more expensive and softer than 14K gold, which also makes it a less than ideal option for jewelry pieces that are worn daily and for an active lifestyle. That being said, jewelry made with 18K gold is a little more yellow in color than 14K gold due to higher gold content.
14K gold refers to an alloy that contains 58.3% (=14/24) gold and 41.7% (=10/24) other metals. It is less expensive than 18K gold because it contains four parts less gold, but it’s more durable due to the inclusion of the additional four parts (approximately 16.7%) of other metals. It is less yellow than 18K gold, but still maintains that timeless gold hue. Overall, with more resistance to wear and tear with added durability and strength, it is the perfect gold alloy for everyday jewelry. The cherry on top is that it is more affordable than 18K gold! So, 14K gold was our choice to create our pieces with.
Gold plated? Gold Vermeil? Gold filled? Solid gold? WTF are all of these terms?
There are many types of jewelry construction methods using gold out in the market. You’ve probably seen plated gold, filled gold, vermeil gold, and solid gold jewelry, and have wondered what all of these choices are? They refer to the type of construction method used in creating gold jewelry pieces, and it is important for you, the consumers, to understand what they are so you can be an informed shopper. Let’s go through them one by one with reference to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) 2018 revised Jewelry Guides.
There are two FTC defined gold plated jewelry – electrolytic application and mechanical application.
- Electrolytic application is when a thin layer of minimum 10K gold is applied to a base metal, usually made from brass and/or copper, but sometimes can include nickel, by submerging it into a solution containing gold particles and running electrical currents through them. This causes base metal and gold particles to bond together. How thin of a gold layer you ask? Minimum required thickness is 0.175 microns or approximately seven millionths of an inch. So, it’s very thin.
- Gold plating by mechanical application is when a minimum of 10K gold layer is applied to a base metal’s surface by using heat and high pressure like soldering, brazing, and welding. Unlike the electrolytic application, there is no required minimum thickness of gold layer, but rather minimum required weight of at least 1/40th, or 2.5%, of the total weight. Very thin still.
Jewelry pieces constructed using the gold plating method does have the luster and appearance of other gold jewelry of similar karat at first, but because the gold layer is so thin it is often quick to wear off with daily wear. Meaning, eventually you may not have any gold remaining on your jewelry. Also, if the gold layer is set at the minimum required 10K gold, it is composed of 41.7% (=10/24) gold and 58.3% (=14/24) other metals. Basically, gold plated jewelry contains very little gold, but because of the low gold content it is the most budget friendly out of the four we’re covering here.
Gold vermeil jewelry is very similar to gold plated jewelry, but with two key differences. One is that the base metal needs to be made of sterling silver, and two, coating or plating of gold needs to have a minimum thickness of 2.5 microns or approximately 100 millionths of an inch. Still a very thin layer. So, the base metal is sterling silver compared to brass and/or copper, and the gold layer is more than 14 times thicker compared to electrolytic applied gold plated jewelry. More gold coupled with sterling silver means gold vermeil jewelry will likely cost more than gold plated jewelry. It’ll also be more durable, but will still be subject to fade with wear.
Moving on to gold filled construction. The name gold filled is a bit counterintuitive since it sounds like the gold should be filled inside of the base metal, like a jelly-filled donut. Hmmm. But it’s not. Gold is actually on the outside. Gold filled jewelry is basically a mechanically applied gold plated jewelry (same minimum 10K gold layer requirement) with greater minimum required weight of at least 1/20th, or 5%, of the total weight. Meaning, gold filled jewelry is like a thicker gold layered gold plated jewelry. More gold means it’ll cost more, but it’ll also last longer than regular gold plated jewelry with a thinner plating. That being said, like gold plating and gold vermeil, gold filled jewelry will also eventually fade and possibly tarnish with daily wear.
We just have one last item to cover. Solid gold construction. Solid gold jewelry is just as it sounds. The whole piece is made of gold alloy to the core with no base metal. For example, 14K solid gold jewelry means the entire piece is 58.3% gold and 41.7% other metals, not just the thin outer layer you see with your eyes. Simple, right? Solid gold jewelry is the best quality out there. It’s great for everyday wear, won’t fade, won’t tarnish, and is hypoallergenic. That’s why we decided to create all of our pieces using 14K solid gold. One thing to note, make sure to check if the solid gold jewelry you’re looking to purchase is not hollowed out in the center. Meaning it's empty in the center like an Easter chocolate bunny. According to the FTC, this type of jewelry should not be described as being a “solid” gold jewelry, but instead as gold-hollow center or tubing jewelry.
In a nutshell, be informed, ask questions, know what you’re buying, and most importantly always buy gold jewelry from a reputable retailer. We don’t necessarily think one type of construction is necessarily better or worse than the other, but rather depends on your preference, budget, and metal sensitivity. Janice and I personally are sensitive to nickel and tend to buy fewer higher quality pieces rather than many lower quality pieces. It’s also less harmful to the environment since there’s less waste. Lastly, FTC states you should see the name, symbol, or initials, of the company that will stand behind the karat quality mark. If you don’t see a mark, FTC recommends consumers not to buy it. We completely agree. All of our jewelry pieces are hallmarked with 14K and our logo (or VAL in some cases), and we stand by the workmanship of all of our items.