When it comes to buying gold jewelry, knowing what the terms mean and how the piece is made gives you a good idea of the value of the piece. Although jewelry made from pure gold may seem like a dream come true, gold is too soft for use as jewelry without the addition of metal alloys for strength and durability.
Many people mistakenly believe that gold-filled jewelry means that the entire piece is filled with pure gold. In reality, gold-filled jewelry contains a metal alloy base. Through a heating and bonding process, gold is permanently bonded to an alloy base that will not flake or chip. Strict regulations govern the process mandating that gold must make up a minimum 1/20 of the total weight.
The stamp on the article of jewelry must indicate both the weight of the gold in the piece and the karat of gold used. A stamp of 14K 1/20 means that the ring is 1/20 gold by weight and that the gold adhered to the metal alloy is 14 karat gold.
The karat of the gold, also indicates the percentage of gold in the piece. 24K gold indicates 100% gold rarely seen in jewelry as the piece would easily bend out of shape. 22K (91%) gold is seen in antique jewelry but is still too soft for everyday wear. 18 K gold is 75% gold and is excellent for fine jewelry with adequate strength to withstand everyday use. Traditional jewelry made of 14K (58.3%) gold wears well maintaining the traditional gold hues. 12K does not have the characteristic sheen of gold at 50% and 10K (41.7%) is the lowest weight allowed to be sold as gold.
Unlike gold-filled jewelry, gold plated jewelry does not contain a permanent bond to the underlying metal alloy base. Gold plated jewelry has a fine layer of gold coated to the outside of a metal base and can easily wear or chip off with everyday wear. Gold plated is less expensive than golf-filled, but will not last as long.
Total gold content for gold plated jewelry varies, but gold filled must adhere to federal regulations. The combination of the Karat of the gold used and the weight of the gold comparative to the alloy base determines the overall gold content of the piece of jewelry. Overall value depends on the weight of gold compared to the alloy base, the quality of the gold used and the size and design of the piece.