Whether used for handmade jewellery, decorative goods or currency, gold has been highly prized for centuries both for its colour and its rarity. However, not all gold is created equal. While many people assume that all gold is the same, there are actually significant differences between the various carats of gold. Understanding these differences is essential if you are planning to purchase gold jewellery or other items. In this blog post, I will explore the differences between the different carats of gold so that you have the information you need to make an informed decision when it comes to buying gold.
Above: Circle triangle earrings in solid 9ct gold with tube set diamonds by Elin Horgan Jewellery
How do I know which type of gold I’m buying?
The amount of gold in a piece of jewellery is measured in carats (ct) in the UK or karats (k) in the US, with 24ct being pure gold. 24ct gold is too soft to be used as it is and so it is alloyed with other materials to make it stronger and more hard wearing. So, if a piece of jewellery is marked as 18ct gold, it means that 18 out of 24 parts of the metal are gold, in other words it is 75% pure.
In the UK, any gold jewellery weighing 1g or over has to be hallmarked at one of the four Assay Offices in London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh. Hallmarking shows that the piece has been independently tested and meets the legal standards of purity. Hallmarks are usually pretty small so you may need magnification to be able to read it properly on your piece of jewellery.
The Millesimal Fineness Mark for gold appears in an octagonal box showing the purity of the metal as parts per thousand. So 375 = 9ct gold (37.5% pure); 585 = 14ct gold (58.5% pure); 750 =18ct gold (75% pure) and 916 = 22ct gold (91.6% pure). However, do be aware that vintage jewellery made some time ago may show the caratage simply written as a number eg:- 18 or 22.
Above: remodelled 18ct gold and diamond circle earrings, handmade by Elin Horgan Jewellery
What is the difference between 9ct, 18ct and 22ct gold?
9ct gold jewellery is a type of gold jewellery that is commonly used in everyday wear. It is made up of 37.5% pure gold and a combination of other metals such as copper, silver, or zinc, which are added to make the gold more durable and affordable. This type of gold is popular because it is more affordable than higher carat gold, yet still has the lustrous shine and color of gold (albeit usually quite a pale straw-like shade) The use of other metals in its composition also makes it more durable and resistant to wear and tear, making it ideal for everyday wear.
9ct gold jewellery is a versatile option that can be found in a wide range of styles, from delicate pieces to more substantial designs. 14ct gold is also at the more affordable end of the scale from the higher carat 18ct and 22ct golds. Due to its slightly increased purity, it has a slightly richer colour than 9ct and tends to be much more popular in North America than in Europe.
The rich buttery colour of 18ct gold is probably what most people think of when they think of solid gold. Coming in at 75% pure, it contains significantly more gold than 9ct and 14ct and its price reflects this. 22ct gold isn’t such a popular choice for jewellery as it is more expensive again than 18ct and less durable meaning it can be more easily scratched or marked through wear.
Above: 9ct gold bespoke monogramed signet ring, handmade by Elin Horgan
Is gold vermeil the same as solid gold?
In a word, no. You will often see pieces of demi fine jewellery referred to as ‘gold vermeil’ which means that they are gold plated over a silver base to a thickness of at least 2.5 microns. Gold vermeil is a great lower cost alternative to solid gold, but do be aware that the surface coating will eventually wear off and you’ll need to get it re-plated.
What are the different colours of gold available?
Yellow gold is still the most popular choice for jewellery today. It’s hard to beat that beautiful radiance and depending on the caratage it can range from quite the pale colour of 9ct gold (as with the handmade solid 9ct gold signet ring above) through to the classic yellow of 18ct gold like this stunning gold ridge ring by jeweller Naomi Tracz.
What is red or rose gold?
Rose or red gold is a type of gold that has a distinctive pink or reddish hue. This beautiful metal is created by mixing pure gold with copper and sometimes silver, which gives it its warm, rosy glow. The more copper that is added, the redder the gold becomes.
Rose gold was incredibly on trend few years ago, but its popularity now seems to have waned slightly. However, its unique colour gives it a romantic and feminine look that still appeals to many people. The pretty pink of rose gold colour can look incredible set against a darker stone such as a salt and pepper diamond such as this 9ct rose gold and salt and pepper diamond solitaire ring by Miya Bonner.
Is white gold really gold?
White gold is a popular and modern alternative to traditional yellow gold in the world of fine jewellery. It is an alloy created by combining pure gold with other metals such as nickel, palladium or silver. This mixture gives white gold its distinctive colour, which resembles that of platinum. Natural white gold can have a slightly yellowish tinge and so often the finished piece of jewellery is rhodium plated to give it that very bright chrome-like finish
It is a great option for those who want the look of platinum but without the high price tag or who love silver, but want a more durable material for example for an engagement or wedding ring. White gold is a versatile metal that can be used to create stunning pieces of jewellery and its neutral tone makes it easy to match with other metals, gems, and styles. I love this simple, but beautiful white gold wedding band by Wiltshire-based ethical jeweller Victoria Jarman.
From classic jewellery to investment pieces, gold holds a special place in our hearts and solid gold is a sound investment too. So, whether you're in the market for a special piece or just appreciate the beauty of this precious metal, it's worth taking the time to explore the different types of gold available and discover which one will work best for you.
If you’re after a more ethical alternative to freshly mined gold and would like to know more about the differences between Fairmined, Fairtrade and recycled gold, then you can check out another of my blog posts on this topic here.
Elin Horgan designs and creates handmade jewellery in her Bristol studio. Elin’s beautifully simple handmade jewellery is carefully crafted and designed to be worn every day. You can read more about Elin’s work and the ethos behind her understated jewellery brand on her About Elin Horgan Jewellery page.