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What does "Karat" in Gold Mean?

Gold comes in a variety of formats and is used for different purposes. When discussing gold jewelry, the term karat (or carat outside of the United States and Canada) is used to provide information about the purity of the gold that is used in the structure of the piece. Gold in its purest form is 24k, or 24 karats.

Although one would think that 24 karat jewelry would be most desirable, gold at 100% purity is far too soft to be practical. For that reason, gold is mixed with other metals in order to strengthen it. The percentage of other metals determines the comparable strength of the metal, and therefore what it ismost suitable for. The other metals that the gold is mixed with can also have an impact on its color.

When gold is mixed with just 2% other metals, it is referred to as 22k. This combinati.on is soft and flexible but still strong, and is therefore ideal for creating intricate designs. The greater the mix with other metals, the harder and stronger the gold is, and the more it resists scratching, but it also becomes less malleable. Most fine jewelry is made of either 14 Karat or 18 Karat gold; gemstone settings are usually 14 karat in order to provide additionally security.

Although gold is generally thought of as yellow, white gold is very popular, and is created by adding nickel to the gold; in cases where a client is allergic to nickel, a hypoallergenic white gold where the gold is mixed with palladium is available. In either case, white gold jewelry is usually coated with another metal called rhodium; otherwise it would still appear a bit yellow. Another way to affect the color of gold is to add copper in to the mixture of its metals; this creates a beautiful rose-coloured gold. The most unusual gold mixtures are found when gold is mixed with a little iron, which produces a blue color, when it is mixed with 15-20% iron, which produces a grey color, and when it is mixed with a high proportion of silver or cadmium, which produces a green color.

In the United States, it is required that all gold jewelry that is of a 10 karat purity or higher is either etched or stamped for identification. This form of identification is called a gold hallmark. Italy uses a similar system, though their stamp indicates purity in a three digit configuration that indicates the percentage of gold to other metals.

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