The Different Types of Gold Explained
Gold has always been, and will undoubtedly continue to be, a valuable precious metal and a popular one as well. Gold began being mined for jewelry and fine wares over 5000 years ago. However, the gold in modern jewelry has come a long way compared to the pure gold used in ancient times.
Over time, gold alloys were discovered by adding other metal alloys like copper, iron, silver, zinc, or nickel to pure gold. This process increased the strength of the base gold metal and became the solution to pure gold jewelry becoming worn down so quickly due to its soft and malleable nature, and is still how the different types of modern-day gold are created; both gold’s color, and purity (or karat), depend on this alloying process.
The fine gold jewelry of today is available in different colors, karats, and even in gold alternatives. Understanding these differences is important, as all these different types of gold directly affect their worth, appearance, and durability. Understanding the different colors of gold and what gold karats measure will also help ensure you choose the most beautiful gold jewelry of the finest quality.
Different Colors of Gold
The most easily recognizable of these differences is the color. The three different colors of gold are yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold. Gold achieves these different colors when specific metals are combined to create a metal alloy.
Yellow gold combines pure gold with silver, copper, nickel, or zinc. It has the traditional “golden,” yellow hue but can have varying shades within that yellow range. Yellow gold can be a brighter, vibrant yellow, or a light champagne tone, depending on the combination of alloys. It makes sense that this traditional gold look is accented best by the most traditional gemstone: diamonds. A high-quality yellow gold will shine like the sun next to sparkling diamonds. This perfect pairing can be seen in the radiant Uneek Rodeo Stackable Diamond Bangle. Richly hued 14k yellow gold combined with trio clusters of glittering diamonds generate a certain kind of perfect glow only these two precious materials together can create. Another stunning collaboration of yellow gold with diamonds is the Uneek Alexandria Bezel Diamond Engagement Ring. The 18k yellow gold ring provides a lustrous spotlight for the center-stage-worthy emerald cut diamond; that icy gem against the warmth of golden yellow perfectly illustrates the artful partnership of yellow gold and diamonds.
Uneek Rodeo Stackable Diamond Bangle
Uneek Alexandria Bezel Diamond Engagement Ring
White gold is created by alloying pure gold with nickel or palladium, zinc and copper. The white gold alloy is then often electroplated with rhodium (a platinum group metal), which gives it that beautiful icy finish similar to platinum or silver. White gold is a popular choice for jewelry featuring colored gemstones; white goes with everything, and the shiny mirror-like finish of white gold has a unique way of seemingly shining a light on gemstones. The emerald-cut green tourmaline gems featured in these Uneek Emerald Green-Tourmaline Diamond Dangle Earrings gorgeously gleam against the 18k white gold setting surrounding them. Likewise, the 18k white gold used for this Uneek Anniversary Precious Straight Ruby Diamond Fashion Ring perfectly showcases the dainty oval rubies set within; there’s no competition for attention as the white gold shines but allows the rubies to soak up the spotlight.
Uneek Emerald Green-Tourmaline Diamond Dangle Earrings
Uneek Anniversary Precious Straight Ruby Diamond Fashion Ring
Rose gold is a beautiful pink-hued gold made by alloying pure gold with copper and has become a popular choice in fine jewelry. Rose gold is especially beautiful when incorporated with white gold or diamonds. The silvery shine of white gold brings out the rosy pink tones in a gorgeously delicate way that exudes elegance and femininity. In fact, when 14k white gold, 14k rose gold, and diamonds come together, gorgeous and delicate are precisely what you see and feel when you slip on something like the Uneek Teneriffe IV Crossover-Style Stack-Illusion Diamond Band. And the elegance and femininity of rose gold and diamonds are again perfectly represented in this Uneek 32-Inch Diamonds-by-the-Yard Necklace. The 85 luxurious round diamonds in pretty pink 18K rose gold are royally regal enough for a princess. As is true with yellow gold, rose gold can also be made into a spectrum of its rose color. The shade of pink depends on the combination of copper alloy, as well as the purity of the gold, which is measured in karats. Karats are another property of the different types of gold.
Uneek Teneriffe IV Crossover-Style Stack-Illusion Diamond Band
Uneek 32-Inch Diamonds-by-the-Yard Necklace
When learning about gold karats, the first thing to note is that we are not talking about carats. Both words sound the same, but carats with a “c” are the weight scale for which diamonds are measured, while karats with a “k” measure a gold alloy's purity levels or solid gold content.
A gold karat represents 1/24 of the whole. Therefore, 24k gold is pure solid gold; all 24 of the 24 parts are one hundred percent pure gold. Various karat levels are created when pure gold is mixed with other metals during the alloying process. While you might think 24k gold is the best for jewelry, it is not. 24k gold is rarely used in jewelry design due to its softness; 24k is so malleable that just wearing it will cause it to become bent and misshapen. The most common karat levels for jewelry are 18K, 14K, and 10K. The lower the karat level, the lower the pure gold content.
10k gold is the lowest solid gold alloy used for jewelry. With ten parts (41.7%) pure gold, and 14 parts (58.3%) alloy, 10k gold is a more non-gold metal alloy than gold. 10k gold has a pale yellow finish, and its low gold content makes it very durable. However, it should be avoided by those with sensitive skin since the higher levels of non-gold metal alloys may cause skin irritations or an allergic reaction.
14k gold comprises 58.3% pure gold and 41.7% alloy. Its yellow hue is brighter than 10k gold while maintaining more durability than 18k gold. 14k gold offers a nice balance of durability while maintaining a beautifully vibrant gold hue.
18k contains 75% gold and 25% alloy. 18k gold is brighter than 10k or 14k. The rich yellow color of 18k gold is the “traditional gold look,” most envision when thinking of gold jewelry. This higher purity level also makes allergic reactions very unlikely for those with skin sensitivities.
Other Gold Alternatives
When gold is marked 10k, 14k, 18k, or 24k, that is a quality mark you can trust: identifying it as composed entirely of karat gold. When jewelry is labeled or described as “gold-plated,” “vermeil,” or “gold-filled,” be aware that these are gold alternatives that are made to look like solid gold, but they are not; the durability and value of these gold alternatives are significantly less than that of solid karat gold.
Gold-plated jewelry is made of lower-quality base metal, like copper or brass, which has a thin layer of karat gold applied to the surface through an electroplating process. Gold-plated jewelry tends to tarnish quickly, and its durability will depend on the karat gold it is electroplated with.
Vermeil is similar to gold-plated, but the base metal is always made entirely of higher quality silver, and the karat level is always higher as well; true vermeil jewelry must be plated with gold of 10k or higher, with a thickness of at least 100 millionths of an inch.
Gold-filled is another gold alternative similar to gold plate in that it is also usually made of a lower-quality base metal like copper or brass. Still, it differs from gold plate in how the surface layer of karat gold is applied. Gold-filled jewelry has the thickest layer of gold of the three alternatives. Instead of being applied through the electroplating process, gold-filled jewelry’s karat gold layer is bonded to the rest of the base metal using heat. Gold-filled jewelry must have at least 5% gold weight to be considered authentic “gold-filled.”
Why Do the Different Types of Gold Matter?
When you know 14k gold and 18k gold jewelry shines brighter, with a richer hue, and understand the alloy combinations used to create yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold, you gain a unique insight into which gold alloys work best with diamonds, which look best with colored gemstones, and even which gold alloys pair nicely with the other different colors of gold.
Understanding the different types of gold gives you an artful and educated eye when selecting which fine jewelry pieces you want to add to your collection. Uneek Jewelry only uses 14k gold and 18k gold in yellow, white, and rose gold handcrafted artisan designs.
Click here to discover why the fine jewelry collections exclusive to Uneek Jewelry are perfect examples of high-quality gold, artfully designed into individual works of art.