Why 18k gold is considered the sweet-spot

Posted by Minnie on 3rd Jan 2022

Why choose Fine gold jewelry over Fashion jewelry?

Over the centuries, gold has been a natural symbol of wealth and prosperity. Gold was used to make jewelry thousands of years ago, and some of the oldest pieces found date before 4000B.C. Whether used as jewelry or currency, gold carries value. People want gold. Gold is the only truly yellow metal found on Earth in its pure elemental form. Its unique properties -durability, malleability, versatility, and lustrous beauty make it irresistible to people across all continents. Remember the Gold Rush in California in 1848?

Fine jewelry is made of real gold, platinum, and/or precious gemstones. The precious gemstones are usually diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and a few rare gemstones. There are many reasons to invest in timeless, long-lasting fine jewelry pieces. A few of them are mentioned below:

It doesn’t tarnish

It can be easily repaired or resized

You can invest in timeless designs since fine jewelry lasts forever. No need to update your jewelry with every season. A few key versatile pieces will go with every attire.

♦ Excellent for daily wear and adds a classy touch to your style.

♦ No need to take them off for a shower or while sleeping.

♦ It can last generations. You can pass it down to the other family members. It’s a tangible reminder of you to your loved ones.

♦ Smarter purchase- Investing in one quality jewelry piece is better than buying many cheap fashion jewelry pieces.

♦ Confidence boost - Wearing a fine jewelry piece speaks of sophistication and good taste. It never lets you down.

♦ Celebrate yourself- Since gold has intrinsic value, buying fine jewelry is like an investment that appreciates over time. You don’t have to wait for an occasion to receive these exquisite pieces as gifts. Instead, you can buy them yourself to celebrate your achievements or just to revive your mood when things are not working out. Whatever the reason, you will always get a valuable and long-lasting investment piece.

The fashion industry is believed to be one of the leading contributors to climate change and carbon emissions, leaving behind a huge carbon footprint. So it’s high time to choose quality over quantity, sustainable purchases over mindless purchases, and timeless fine jewelry over cheap fashion jewelry. So what exactly is fashion jewelry? How is it different from fine jewelry or semi-fine jewelry? Here is a handy guide to help you to select the right options when buying jewelry.

1) Fashion Jewelry

Fashion jewelry which is so popular these days because of its lower price point and endless variety, comes with a high cost to the environment. Since it can’t be repaired once snapped, broken, or cracked, it ends up in landfills for hundreds of years, releasing toxic chemicals in the air. In addition, nasty chemicals are used to glue plastic gemstones, which further contributes to rapidly increasing environmental pollution. Fashion Jewelry is mainly made with base metals and synthetic gemstones like cubic zirconia, Swarovski crystals, and plastic stones. Jewelry made out of textiles, feathers, rubber, beads, tassels, and leather also falls into this category. The base metals like copper, nickel, iron, aluminum, brass (an alloy of copper and zinc), and bronze (traditionally an alloy of copper and tin) are used to make Fashion Jewelry. It is also known as Fast fashion jewelry, Costume jewelry, Imitation jewelry, and Artificial jewelry. Since it’s primarily made with cheap base metals, it causes moderate to severe nickel allergy( 12-15% of women are allergic to nickel), breakouts, and skin rashes to the wearer. Besides skin reactions, it also leaves a greenish stain on the skin.

For more information on nickel allergy, click this link:

Below are the most common forms of fashion jewelry sold:

1.1) Gold-plated jewelry - Gold plating is a process where a thin layer of gold is bonded onto a base metal. A layer of at least 10K gold is plated over base metals with a minimum thickness of 0.5 microns. Gold-plated jewelry is stamped with the abbreviation G.P. For example, a 10K gold-plated jewelry piece will bear the hallmark “10K G.P.” and so on. If the thickness is more than 0.5 microns, it is also hallmarked. For example, “2 microns 10K G.P.”.

1.2) Gold electroplated jewelry - A very thin layer of gold is plated over base metals for extra shine and luster. It consists of a thin coating of at least 10K gold with a minimum overall thickness of 0.175 microns applied by an electrolytic process. Gold electroplated jewelry is hallmarked G.E.P. So, for example, a 10K gold electroplated jewelry piece will be stamped “10K G.E.P.” and so on. Usually, it can be scrapped or rubbed off easily with a course pencil eraser.

1.3) Heavy Gold electroplated jewelry - A thick electroplated coating of at least 2.5 microns is required for Heavy Gold electroplated jewelry. It is better than Gold electroplated jewelry, but it still tarnishes and discolors when exposed to water, sweat, or lotion revealing the cheaper base metal.

1.4) Gold-washed/gold-flashed jewelry - This is the cheapest option in the fashion jewelry business, and the market is flooded with them. The jewelry pieces are not hallmarked, and the thickness of the gold plating is less than 0.175 microns.

Advantages of fashion jewelry:

♦ Low price: it’s easier to try new jewelry trends as it’s cheap and affordable.

♦ Unlimited options: A wide selection to choose from and easier to find an affordable statement piece for a special occasion.

Disadvantages of fashion jewelry:

Skin Allergies: sometimes, it causes mild to severe skin rashes.

♦ Tends to discolor and tarnish very easily: these fast-fashion jewelry pieces leave a green stain on the skin and tarnish if exposed to water, heat, lotions, perfume, and sweat.

♦ Short shelf life: prone to easily cracking, breaking, and snapping. These on-trend jewelry pieces don’t last long and are thrown away quickly. In short, you don’t get your money’s worth. Moreover, since they don’t biodegrade, they spend their lifetime in landfills, increasing environmental pollution on a vast scale.

♦ Unrepairable: it’s difficult or impossible to repair Fashion jewelry once it breaks or tarnishes. The cheap base metal tends to melt or discolor when exposed to the high temperature of a soldering tool. Also, the cost of resizing or replacing loose synthetic gemstones is more than the original cost.

♦ No value for gold: there is no inherent value to the gold applied, irrespective of if it’s 24K, 18K, or 14K. The gold content is really low in gold-plated/ gold electroplated jewelry pieces.

♦ Environmental cost: the hyper-consumption trend seen in fast and disposable fashion has a huge impact on the environment leaving behind a giant carbon footprint. Is it worth it? Harmful chemicals are used in the electroplating process, which eventually end up in our water systems, endangering the entire ecosystem: water, ground, plants, animals, and humans.

2) Semi-fine Jewelry is usually made with semi-precious gemstones like opals, quartz, beryl, spinel, tourmaline, garnet, turquoise, or with “treated” precious gemstones. These gemstones are “treated” with heat or chemicals in a lab to enhance their clarity, color, and overall appearance.

Mainly, silver is used in the making of semi-fine jewelry. It is a precious and noble metal that resists corrosion and oxidation, though not as well as gold. Silver can tarnish, but its original shine and luster can be restored with a bit of polish. Its high luster, malleability( ability to take any shape), and reflectivity make it perfect for designing beautiful intricate jewelry pieces. Because of its softness, it is alloyed with copper to make durable sterling silver jewelry ( 92.5 % silver & 7.5 % copper). Unlike gold, the copper in the alloy doesn’t affect the color of the stunning jewelry pieces, but it does make the silver more prone to tarnishing and oxidization.

2.1) Gold Vermeil - Gold vermeil is very popular nowadays as it bridges the gap between fashion jewelry and fine jewelry. There are three conditions to be fulfilled to be legally called “vermeil” in the United States by the Federal Trade Association.

♦ Sterling silver as its base material

♦ Gold plating of at least 10K( at least 41.7% gold content)

♦ Have gold plating that is at least 2.5 microns thick. A micron is 1/1000th of a millimeter.

In Gold vermeil jewelry, the gold-plating layer can be made using gold of different fineness between 10K and 24K. Therefore, the jewelry’s color depends upon the gold fineness selection. For example, if chosen 10K, it would produce a light yellow tone, whereas 24K would appear quite an intense deep yellow.

The number’925’ is a common hallmark or ‘fineness mark’ for Sterling Silver. The number’ 925’ represents the percentage of silver added to sterling silver (92.5%). A 925 gold ring might have the’ 925’ hallmark stamped on the inside of the ring, or a ‘925’ gold bracelet might have the numbers stamped on the backside of the clasp. Generally, the stamps are placed in places where others can’t observe them. Sometimes, they are hallmarked as ‘92.5’, ‘925’, ‘S925’, ‘Ster,’ or ‘sterling.’

Advantages of gold vermeil:

♦ Durable: the thick gold plating lasts longer than gold electroplated or standard gold-plated jewelry.

♦ Hypoallergenic: less likely to cause skin allergies as the base material is sterling silver which is hypoallergenic. It is ideal for pendant necklaces, cocktail rings, intricate bracelets, chandelier and drop earrings with gemstones. You can wear heavier, chunkier, bold statement pieces without worries since they are hypoallergenic. Moreover, the extra weight would be calculated for silver which is still cheaper than gold.

♦ Retains its luster: gold vermeil pieces retain their shine and luster quite well

♦ Re-plating: jewelry pieces can be re-plated and repolished to restore their shine.

Disadvantages of gold vermeil:

♦ Extra care needed: jewelry pieces need to be taken off before any contact with water or cleaning products. Not exactly suitable for daily wear.

♦ Tarnish: it lasts longer than standard gold-plated/gold electroplated jewelry but can still tarnish if regularly exposed to water, sweat, or perfume.

♦ Limited life span: though it’s quite durable, the gold coating eventually scratches and rubs off with wear over time.

2.2) Gold-filled - a thick layer of gold is mechanically bonded to another base metal such as jeweler’s brass or copper. Gold-filled jewelry is manufactured through a process in which one or more sheets of solid gold ( 18K,14K,12K, etc.) are wrapped around a base metal under intense pressure. Though the term ‘gold filled’ is used, the actual gold layer sits on the outside of the core metal. According to the Federal Trade Association, certain requirements must be fulfilled to qualify for this category. These requirements include:

♦ The gold layer must be 5% of the total weight.

♦ It should be at least 1/20th gold by weight.

♦ The gold layer needs to have a purity of at least 10K.

♦ The gold layer must be fused to the base layer through a mechanical process

♦ The composition of the piece needs to be clearly and conspicuously disclosed.

Gold-filled jewelry is stamped with the abbreviation G.F. which stands for Gold-filled. Therefore, one of the most common hallmarks on gold-filled jewelry is 1/20 12K G.F. This means that 1/20 of the metal weight of the jewelry piece consists of 12K gold. Also, remember that 12K gold is an alloy of only 50% gold; thus, a 1/20 12K gold-filled jewelry is 1/20 12K gold and 1/40 pure gold.

Advantages of gold-filled jewelry:

♦ Lower price: a great economical alternative to solid gold jewelry with the “gold look.”

♦ Longer lifespan: if taken care of, gold-filled jewelry can last a really long time. In most cases, gold-filled pieces can last up to 10 years, and some can last even longer when maintained properly.

♦ No Tarnishing: it doesn’t tarnish or rub off over time.

♦ Intrinsic value (melt value): it has a higher gold content than gold-plated or gold vermeil jewelry, so it retains some gold value after purchase.

♦ Durable: it’s significantly more durable than gold-plated and gold vermeil jewelry.

Disadvantages of gold-filled jewelry:

♦ Flaking is Inevitable: despite the thickness of its coat, gold-filled jewelry inevitably starts flaking over time. Unlike gold plating, repairing the coat of the gold-filled jewelry is quite complicated. It can’t be fully restored to its original finish because of the complex mechanical process. However, it can be plated to repair any wear by a specialist gold plater. In short, buying a new jewelry piece is more economical and practical than repairing it.

♦ Simpler designs: not all types of jewelry can be made through this process. Gold-filled jewelry is made with sheets of gold, not liquified gold, that can be poured and folded. Intricate or elaborate designs are not suitable for this type of manufacturing process. This is a major disadvantage.

♦ Needs extra precautions: as with gold-plated/gold vermeil jewelry, perfumes, lotions, and sunscreens can damage gold-filled pieces. When applying lotions, allow them to absorb fully before putting on jewelry. Removing the gold-filled jewelry before exercising, showering, and especially swimming in chlorinated water or in the sea is recommended. So not particularly suitable for daily wear as it requires extra daily precautions.

♦ Not hypoallergenic: once it starts flaking, the exposed base metal might cause skin allergies to people with sensitive skin (unless the core metal used is silver)

2.3) Rolled Gold - The term “Rolled Gold” is used interchangeably with the term “Gold-filled,” but nowadays, rolled gold jewelry indicates that it has less than 5% gold content. For example, a modern-day rolled gold piece will be hallmarked as 1/40 14KRG, which means 1/40 of the metal weight of the jewelry piece consists of 14K gold. This means the gold content is at least 2.5%. It is also referred to as ‘Rolled Gold plate’ (R.G.P.) or ‘Gold overlay” jewelry with gold thickness lower than gold-filled jewelry.

3) Fine Jewelry

We need to first understand the types of metals that are used in the making of Fine Jewelry. To create beautiful, durable, and long-lasting jewelry, noble metals like gold, silver, and platinum are mixed with base metals to create different kinds of alloys. So, what exactly are Noble metals? How are they different from base metals?

Noble metals - These elemental metals (made from a single type of atom) show outstanding resistance to chemical attacks even at high temperatures. They display high resistance to oxidation (except silver)and corrosion. Some of the noble metals used in making gold and platinum jewelry include rhodium, palladium, gold, platinum, silver, ruthenium, and iridium. The trio of gold, silver, and platinum are considered valuable and scarce, and these metals are referred to as precious metals.

Base metals - These metals are quite common and are more readily extracted than precious metals. They are neither precious metals nor noble metals. These metals tarnish, oxidize or corrode relatively quickly when exposed to air or moisture. Some of the base metals used in making gold alloys are copper, nickel, cadmium, zinc, tin, and manganese.

Gold is the preferred metal in fine jewelry because of its rich color, high luster, versatility, extreme softness, and malleability. Since it’s soft and incredibly malleable, it can be easily hammered and stretched with iron tools. In fact, a single ounce of gold can be stretched into a thread more than 50 miles long, and the same quantity can be rolled into a sheet that covers 100 square feet in area. No wonder most designers prefer gold over other metals. Gold is alloyed with base metals like copper, manganese, cadmium, tin, nickel, titanium, and zinc to enhance gold’s strength and durability. The final color of the jewelry piece depends upon the alloys used to mix up with gold and *the purity of the gold itself in the mix. Now, first, let’s explain the different types of gold which are used in the making of Fine Jewelry.

3.1) Yellow Gold: gold is naturally orangish-yellow in color. To increase durability, pure gold is usually alloyed with copper, palladium, silver, or zinc.

3.2) White Gold: to create a white-silver color, gold is alloyed with 10% to 20% nickel, plus copper, tin, and sometimes platinum or manganese. Usually, white gold requires rhodium or platinum plating for shine and durability. However, it requires re-plating once the plating/coating wears off.

3.3) Rose Gold: gold is alloyed with copper to create a reddish hue. The intensity of the reddish color is directly proportional to the amount of copper mixed with the gold.

3.4) Lesser known types of gold

Green Gold - Gold is alloyed with silver, sometimes cadmium and zinc

Blue Gold - Gold is alloyed with iron

Purple Gold - Gold is alloyed with aluminum

Black Gold - Gold is plated with black rhodium or ruthenium through electroplating.

*The final color of the jewelry piece is also affected by the gold purity level, as mentioned above. In the jewelry industry, the purity of gold is represented in karats, with 24k being 100% pure and 10K being 41.7% pure. 10K is the most impure gold and is the legal minimum accepted standard of gold purity in the U.S. The karat system measures the ratio of pure gold to other alloys in gold jewelry.

24K contains 99.95% pure gold, or 24 out of 24 parts gold.

22K contains 91.6% pure gold and 8.4% alloy, or 22 out of 24 parts gold.

18K contains 75% pure gold and 25% alloy, or 18 out of 24 parts gold.

14K contains 58.5% pure gold and 41.5% alloy, or 14 out of 24 parts gold.

12K contains 50% pure gold and 50% alloy, or 12 out of 24 parts gold.

10K contains 41.7% pure gold and 58.3% alloy, or 10 out of 24 parts gold.

    Karat     Gold Purity    Fineness
24K 99.99% 999
22K 91.6% 917
18K 75% 750
14K 58.3% 583
10K  41.7%      417

Each level of gold purity offers its range of advantages and disadvantages, from hardness and durability to the risk of causing skin allergies triggered by high levels of certain alloys in your jewelry. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of 10K, 14K, 18K, and 24K jewelry. In many Asian countries, 22K and 23K jewelry is also popular, but it’s not preferred in western countries because of its overtly yellow color. The color seems too intense and saturated for the western market.

10K vs. 14K and 18K

♦ 10K Gold is the most affordable type of gold used for jewelry.

♦ While 10K gold is technically ‘harder’ than 18K gold, it can be brittle and less resistant to scratches, hits, and bumps on a microscopic scale.

♦ Aesthetically, 10K isn’t the best choice for your jewelry. It has a fairly pale color that looks less rich and impressive than the color of 14K or 18K gold.

♦ The difference in price between 10K and 14K jewelry is slight, but the difference in quality and appearance is obvious to the naked eye.

♦ It is also more likely to trigger skin allergies since it has the lowest gold content. It might cause skin irritation to those who are allergic to copper, nickel, zinc, or iron.

♦ 14K and 18K gold are more resistant to tarnishing and corrosion than 10K gold and stand up well to daily wear. The jewelry pieces made with 10K gold turn dull or blacken when they regularly come in contact with sweat, household chemicals, or even the atmosphere.

14K vs. 18K

♦ Even though 14K gold is more durable and cost-friendly, it sometimes triggers skin allergies since it has a higher alloy content than 18K gold. This is a major concern for people with metal sensitivities and ‘nickel allergy.’ ‘Contact dermatitis’ or other allergic reactions can be triggered by alloy metals for people with sensitive skin. Being 75% pure gold, 18K jewelry is more hypoallergenic than 14K jewelry. Although 18K gold contains alloy metals, they are present only in small quantities.

♦ Like 14K, 18K jewelry is ideal for everyday wear. It can be worn without fear of significant scratches and ‘prongs’ (claw-shaped metal projections to keep gemstones in place) becoming loose after regular use.

♦ 18K gold is the purest form of gold which is still practical for everyday wear. It is valued more as fine jewelry as it contains a greater pure-gold percentage than 14K gold, thus increasing its worth and intrinsic value.

♦ Many people prefer the rich, warmer, and vibrant yellow tone of 18K gold which is associated with ‘gold.’ Compared side by side with 18K yellow gold,14K looks slightly whiter and less saturated.

♦ 14K jewelry is relatively more vulnerable to tarnishing and oxidation over time since it has a higher composition of alloys.

♦ 14K gold jewelry is relatively more suitable for people with active lifestyles because it holds up better in sports and other rigorous physical activities.

♦ Considering all factors, 18K gold keeps a sweet balance of purity and durability and is therefore preferred by many over gold of lower or higher Karat number.

24K/22K vs. 18K/14K

♦ 24 gold is the purest type of gold and is very expensive. Because of its purity and extreme softness, it is only valuable for investors and collectors.

♦ It’s not often used in jewelry as it’s too soft, malleable, and prone to scratching. It is the least durable gold as it’s not alloyed with other metals for strengthening. Jewelry pieces made with 24K gold tend to bend and warp easily and are unsuitable for daily wear.

♦ Due to its strong value, it is primarily seen in collectible items and custom gifts. The bright orangish yellow color of 24K gold is more prevalent in Chinese wedding jewelry or collectible gold bars that are very popular in the Asian markets.

♦ jewelry made with 22K and 23K gold also shares almost the same traits as 24K. However, 22K gold is a little more durable than 24K since it is alloyed with metals like copper or silver. Therefore, it is mostly suitable for plain gold jewelry without any gemstones and intricate settings. On the other hand, 18K /14K gold is better for jewelry with diamonds or gemstones because of its hardness and ability to hold the gems in place.

So which type of Gold jewelry is better?

Well, it all depends on your preference, usage, lifestyle, purpose, and budget. If you are looking for jewelry pieces to last for a lifetime, pass down to other family members, and are worried about skin allergies, then you should consider 18K jewelry. Due to the inert nature of pure gold, 18K alloys are almost entirely resistant to corrosion in everyday use. It’s strong, attractive, and durable and doesn’t tarnish, corrode or react with its wearers’ skin. According to the Jewelry Industry, 18K gold provides the perfect balance between durability and purity.

18K jewelry is hallmarked as 18K, 18Kt, 18k, 750 or 0.75 on the jewelry piece.

Difference between Karats and Carats

Karats(K)- Karats are the units for measuring the purity of gold. A karat is 1/24 part of pure gold by weight, so 24 karat is pure gold. To find the percentage of gold in solid gold jewelry, multiply the number of karats stated by 100 and divide by 24. For example, 18 karat gold is 18x100=1800 divided by 24= 75%

Carats(Cts)- Carats are the units for measuring the weight of diamonds and gemstones. One carat equals 200 milligrams (0.200 grams) or 1/5th of a gram.

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