Solid Gold, also known as karat gold, is one of the most precious and coveted metals on the planet. But did you know that almost all of the gold used in jewelry is NOT actually 100% pure gold? Because pure 24 karat gold is soft and highly susceptible to damage, it is usually alloyed (mixed) with other metals such as copper and silver to make it stronger and more durable. The majority of the population can wear gold with no problems, but highly sensitive individuals should stick to 14k and higher because of the mixture of other metals in lower karat gold.
What is a karat?
A karat is the measure of gold content in a piece of jewelry or any other item made of gold. While most people are familiar with 10, 14, 18, and 24 karat, there are quite a few karat options out there, which vary depending on the country you live in.
24K = 99.9% or higher solid gold content
22K = 91.6% gold + 8.4% metal alloy
21K = 87.5% gold + 12.5% alloy
20K Gold = 83.3% gold + 16.7% alloy
18K Gold = 75% gold + 25% alloy
14K Gold = 58.3% gold + 41.7% alloy
12K Gold = 50% gold + 50% alloy
10K Gold = 41.7% gold + 58.3% alloy
9K Gold = 37.5% gold + 62.5% alloy
Gold-Filled metal, also known as “rolled gold” refers to a base metal, usually brass, that has been mechanically bonded to a thick layer of solid gold. This process is different from typical gold plating and results are much longer lasting.
In order for an item to legally be classified as gold-filled, the total weight of solid gold must be no less than 5% of the total weight of the piece.
Gold-filled jewelry is low maintenance, tarnish free (until the gold wears away- this usually takes years), and may be worn 24/7
Vermeil is the term used to describe gold plated sterling or fine silver, and is usually perceived to be of higher quality than gold plated brass or copper because it is entirely composed of “precious metals”.
In order to legally be classified as “vermeil” gold plating on an item MUST be at least 2 microns thick, and the base metal MUST be sterling or fine silver.
Gold vermeil jewelry does not contain nickel, which makes it hypoallergenic and a safer option for sensitive skin.
It should be noted that while the gold layering in vermeil jewelry is slightly thicker than average gold plating, it fades much more quickly than gold-filled jewelry.
Gold Plated jewelry is composed of a thin layer of gold that has been chemically or mechanically bonded to a base metal or alloy, such as brass, copper, or stainless steel. Depending on the method and base metal involved, plating can last days to weeks to months depending on the plating thickness and after-care.
Nickel is usually used in the plating process to ensure the gold adheres properly to the base metal. Those who have ” sensitive skin” are usually allergic to nickel, and should be sure to ask if any plated item is nickel-free before purchasing.
This plating method is typically reserved for stainless steel, and involves gold particles being heated and bonded to the metal in a vacuum chamber. This kind of gold plating is the longest lasting, with pieces lasting several years
this method of plating is achieved by suspending a base metal in a liquid containing gold particles, and adhering the metal via chemical reaction or electric current.
Water plating is the most common type of plating, and is most commonly used on brass, copper, and sterling silver . In order for brass and copper to be plated, a layer of nickel must first be deposited in order to help the gold adhere properly. In some cases, brass must first be plated with copper before the nickel , and then the gold may be deposited on top
Gold tone jewelry is composed of metal that has simply been plated with a gold color and contains zero gold content.
Gold tone jewelry usually contains nickel (unless otherwise stated), and fades very quickly.
Fine silver (99.9% silver) is the purest form of silver available.
It does not tarnish, cause skin discoloration or allergic reactions.
Fine Silver jewelry requires minimal care, however, this metal is very soft and can scratch easily.
Sterling SIlver (925) is a silver alloy composed of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
It is 100% hypo-allergenic, however it will tarnish over time with exposure to air and moisture.
While the word “tarnish” strikes fear in the heart of the passive jewelry collector, tarnish is actually 100% removable and shine can be restored with minimal effort.
Argentium silver is a silver alloy composed of 93.5% recycled silver, 5.5% copper, and 1% germanium. This mixture makes it highly tarnish resistant, requiring minimal upkeep, so you don’t have to go through the effort of constantly cleaning your jewelry.
88% copper and 12% tin
When cleaned and polished, similar in appearance to to gold-filled jewelry
Bronze is typically more tarnish prone than brass due to higher copper content
Yellow brass features a bright yellowish green hue. It is a copper alloy that contains 68-71.5% copper and 28.5-31.5% zinc, and 0.05% iron
Red brass is just what the name suggests, brass that has a slightly reddish tint.
It contains a higher copper content than yellow brass, usually more than 80%, and is mixed with 8-10% tin, and 2-4% zinc
Because of the high copper content in both versions of brass, they are prone to tarnish and skin discoloration, but this is completely harmless.
Also known as surgical steel, 316 stainless steel is an alloy composed of:
>1% EACH OF SILICON,MANGANESE, PHOSPHOROUS MOLYBDENUM
Although many fashion jewelry brands claim their stainless steel jewelry “hypoallergenic”, it should not be classified as such due to its nickel content. That being said, 316 stainless steel does not typically cause allergic reactions and may be worn by those with sensitive skin
304 Stainless steel is the most widely used steel alloy in the fashion jewelry industry.
More economical than the previous two steel examples, 203 steel is another common metal used in fashion jewelry production