This gold purity guide will cover what a karat is, how many karats can be found in pieces of pure gold jewelry, some of the most common karat numbers and what they mean.
Gold has been used to make jewelry as far back as 4,000 BC in certain parts of the world and still remains hugely popular today. Whether you’re buying gold wedding rings, engagement rings, personalized necklaces, earrings, or something else entirely, one term you’ll see a lot of when shopping for gold jewelry is ‘karat.’
A lot of people are unsure about exactly what a karat is and how the different levels of karats work, so this guide will tell you all you need to know, covering what a karat is, how many karats can be found in pieces of pure gold jewelry, some of the most common karat numbers and what they mean, and which karat level is the best for you when buying gold jewelry for yourself or loved ones too.
What is Karat? (Gold Purity)
Karat is a term used to describe the purity of gold. In technical terms, this is calculated by working out the weight of gold concerning the total weight of an item, like a gold ring or gold necklace.
Since many gold jewelry pieces can contain impurities or other allowed metals, the exact weight of gold usually isn’t 100% of the item’s total weight, leading to different pieces of gold jewelry having different karat levels.
When it comes to gold, a single karat equates to 1/24 of the item’s whole weight, so the maximum number of karats in any piece of gold jewelry is 24. A 24k gold ring is made entirely of pure gold, while a 14k ring, for instance, has 14 parts gold and 10 parts of alloyed metal.
How Many Karats is Pure Gold?
Anyone looking for a piece of pure gold jewelry will need to focus exclusively on 24 karat or 24k items. 24k is the equivalent of pure gold, without any extra impurities or alloys to take into account. However, while 24k gold jewelry might be the most refined and can come at a high price, it has some drawbacks. Below, you’ll find out more about some of the most common karat levels of gold jewelry:
- 24k – 24 karat (100% pure gold), as stated above, is made entirely of pure gold. This gives it the highest quantity of gold content and a high value to match. However, it’s quite rare to find 24k or pure gold jewelry, as gold on its own can be surprisingly delicate, bending and scratching relatively easily. For this reason, gold is often alloyed with other metals, reducing the number of karats.
- 22k – 22 karat (91.7% gold and 8.3% alloyed metals) contains 91.7% gold, and the remaining 8.3% is made up of other metals, which can include the likes of silver, copper, palladium, and platinum, for example. This type of jewelry often has a high price due to the gold content but is more durable than pure gold pieces.
- 18k – 18 karat (75% gold and 25% alloyed metals) contains 18 parts gold and six parts alloyed metals, which works out at exactly 75% gold and 25% other metals. This type of gold may not have the same shine as 24k or 22k pieces, but it offers excellent durability and works well with diamonds and gems.
- 14k – 14 karat (58.3% gold and 41.7% alloyed metals) is the next step down from 18k and is actually one of the most common amounts of karat you can find in commercially available gold jewelry around the US and other parts of the world. It contains 58.3% gold and 41.7% other metals, so more than half of a 14k piece’s content is gold. 14k items of jewelry have a bit of a dull look compared to 18k or 22k counterparts, but they are more affordable and robust.
- 10k – 10 karat (41.7% gold and 58.3% alloyed metals) is one of the most affordable options. It’s also regarded as the lowest amount of karats you can have while still technically classifying a piece of a genuine item of golden jewelry. It contains just 41.7% gold and 58.3% other metals, making it very strong, tough, and relatively cheap.
Which Gold Karat is Best?
Many people automatically assume that jewelry items with higher numbers of karats are more desirable overall, but the reality is a little more complicated than that. There’s no one ‘best’ number of karats, and the right number of karats for you will depend on your needs, budget, and preferences.
Some people like the shimmer and shine of gold, so they will want to find items with high karat numbers like 22k and don’t mind paying the extra price.
Meanwhile, others will want to find more robust, more durable, more long-lasting, and cheaper items, too, opting for the likes of 10k and 14k items instead.
Generally, 14k and 18k are seen as the ideal levels, offering a nice balance between quality, strength, shine, and price, but you might find that 10k or 22k is more-suited to your needs.