What Is the Difference Between 10k, 14k, 18k, and 24k Gold?

Finding the right engagement ring can be daunting. You need to consider so many aspects of the design, including the precious metal you choose. With so many options out there, from yellow gold, rose gold, and white gold to sterling silver, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Additionally, if you are looking to purchase a gold ring, you may have come across the karat system. The karat system is used to measure the purity of a gold item. It can seem a little confusing at first, but it becomes easier to understand once you are familiar with the basics.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about the different gold karat types and which ones are the most suitable for wedding bands and engagement rings.

Gold Karats: The Basics

First off, what is a karat?

A karat is a unit of measurement used to indicate the purity of a gold alloy. “Karat”(k) is sometimes used interchangeably with “carat”(c), but note that the latter typically denotes a unit of mass that is applied to gemstones, not gold.

Knowing what each gold karat type means is crucial for buying and selling gold jewelry because the karat rating impacts the cost of gold pieces. For example, a wedding ring made from 18 karat gold will always be more expensive than a 14 karat gold ring. The main reason for this is that the 18k ring was made from a higher karat gold.

Now that you know why karats are essential when it comes to buying jewelry made from gold and gold alloys, let’s look at the most common gold purity levels.

Gold Purity Levels Compared

The most common gold purity levels in the United States and many other countries are 10k, 14k, 18k, and 24k. The karat rating for each level is based on the ratio of pure gold to other metals it contains. Here is a breakdown of the different percentages for each level:

  • 24k gold is the purest of them all, consisting of 100% yellow gold.
  • 18k gold consists of 75% pure gold and 25% alloy.
  • 14k gold, the most popular type of gold for wearable jewelry in the US, is 58.3% pure.
  • 10k gold contains the highest amount of other alloys, consisting of only 41.7% gold.

Each purity level has its advantages and disadvantages, which have all been covered below.

24 Karat Gold

Advantages: Good investment.

Disadvantages: Expensive, scratches easily, very bright in color.

24k gold is pure gold, meaning it hasn’t been mixed with other metals and that 24 out of 24 parts of the metal are gold. In other words, it is the purest gold money can buy. At least, if you can afford it.

Now you may be thinking, isn’t all gold jewelry made from pure gold? Surprisingly, no, and here’s why:

  • Firstly, 24 karat gold is expensive. It contains nearly double the amount of gold as 14k gold (the most popular type of gold in the US). As a result, it’s unlikely to be within the average person’s budget.
  • Secondly, pure gold is extremely soft. This means that it can bend and warp easily, making it unsuitable for jewelry that needs to retain its shape. It also scratches easily, so there is a good chance it will become scuffed and unattractive within a short time.
  • Thirdly, it’s very bright. The color of pure gold is much more saturated than what most people associate with the gold used in jewelry making. It also has a more orange hue, making it an unattractive metal for rings and other gold jewelry.

So, contrary to popular belief, the metal used for most wearable gold jewelry in the United States and other Western countries isn’t 100% gold. On the other hand, many Eastern countries often use 24k gold for gold bars and a variety of collectible items. In addition, traditional Chinese wedding jewelry is also made from 24k gold.

One advantage of buying jewelry made from 24k gold is its monetary value. This is because pure gold is a commodity that doesn’t depreciate over time. Instead, the price of pure gold fluctuates. This makes it the best type of gold to sell for cash in the future because it has the potential to earn a high return.

18 Karat Gold

Advantages: Hypoallergenic, more durable than pure gold, rich yellow hue.

Disadvantages: Expensive and scratches easily.

18 karat gold is mixed with other alloys, making it more durable than pure gold. It is made up of 18 parts gold and six parts alloy. It is usually the purest form of yellow gold used to make rings, bracelets, and other wearable jewelry. This makes it an excellent choice for people with metal allergies since pure gold is less likely to irritate the skin.

18k gold is also a popular choice for engagement rings and other jewelry because of its classic yellow color, which most people associate with gold jewelry. Just look at this stunning princess-cut diamond engagement ring from Blue Nile in 18k yellow gold:

18k gold looks great on darker skin tones, while people with fair skin should steer clear of this type of gold to avoid looking pasty.

One of the downsides of 18k gold is that it is still a relatively soft metal, making it easy to scratch. This makes it less suitable for people who lead active lifestyles or work with heavy machinery.

In addition, 18k gold is significantly more expensive than other types of gold. Suppose you’re on a limited budget and you’re willing to sacrifice purity for practicality. In that case, you might be better off purchasing a 14k gold ring, which looks similar but is not quite as bright or saturated.

14 Karat Gold

Advantages: Affordable, offers a good balance of purity and durability.

Disadvantages: More expensive than 10k gold, may result in an allergic reaction.

14 karat gold contains a higher percentage of alloys than 18k gold. This typically makes it stronger and more suitable for daily wear than the previous two types. This is why 14k gold is the most common type of gold used for rings and other wearable jewelry in most Western countries. About 90% of all engagement and wedding rings are made from 14k gold, making it a no-brainer if you’re not sure which type of gold to buy.

Despite being less pure than 18k gold, 14k gold manages to maintain the lustrous yellow hue that most customers look for in gold jewelry without appearing overly yellow, like this twisted solitaire diamond engagement ring from Blue Nile:

14k gold is also much more affordable than 18k gold and is less likely to become scratched or scuffed over time. In short, a 14k gold ring is an excellent all-around option for someone who wants the luxurious look and feel of real gold without the hefty price tag.

The only real disadvantage of 14k gold is its potential to trigger skin irritation. This has to do with its composition, which can result in an allergic reaction if the wearer happens to be intolerant to copper, silver, nickel, zinc, or iron.

1o Karat Gold

Advantages: Very affordable and durable.

Disadvantages: Pale yellow color, more likely to result in an allergic reaction.

Ten karat gold is the least pure option on this list. It consists of a mere 10 out of 24 parts gold. Before 2018, this was the least amount of gold a product could contain while remaining legally classified as “gold” in the US.

10k gold still isn’t a common choice for engagement rings and other fine jewelry. Instead, it is mainly used for earrings, bracelets, and more affordable jewelry. In fact, many high-end jewelry retailers don’t even stock 10k gold pieces due to their low purity level.

Another reason why 10k gold is often overlooked is its pale appearance. It is noticeably less bright than 14k or 18k gold and lacks the rich yellow tone that makes the last two types so popular. However, its visual subtlety forms part of its appeal for some people.

Indeed, what 10k gold lacks in gold content it makes up for in price and durability. 10k gold is the cheapest type of gold on the market in the US, making it a very reasonable option if you happen to have a tight budget for an engagement ring. This is thanks to the other alloys mixed in with the gold, which help to reduce the cost since pure gold is so expensive.

Many people think that alloying metal (that is, mixing two or more elements) reduces the quality of a gold piece, but this isn’t necessarily true. On the contrary, alloying metal often improves its lifespan by making it stronger and more resistant to corrosion – something to consider if you or your partner work in an environment where your jewelry can get scratched or damaged easily.

Note, however, that alloying metal can also increase its risk of causing skin irritation if the wearer is allergic to certain metals. In this case, it may be better to bite the bullet and choose one of the more expensive options on this list.

Other Types of Gold

So far, we have focused on the different types of yellow gold, but you should know that these are not your only options. If you’re looking for something a bit more contemporary, consider buying a ring in rose gold or white gold.

Rose Gold

Rose gold is characterized by a reddish or pinkish hue that is achieved by mixing copper and silver alloys with yellow gold. The more copper used in the composition, the redder the gold appears. This makes the metal more durable and a cheaper alternative to some other types of gold. Check out this design from Blue Nile for inspiration:

White Gold

Like rose gold, white gold is a gold alloy. It is produced by mixing yellow gold with white metals such as nickel, palladium, and sterling silver. White gold jewelry is usually coated with rhodium, which increases its durability and also adds to its lustrous white sheen, which is visible in this unique design from Blue Nile:

The drawback of this type of gold is that the rhodium plating will eventually wear off with time, which will need to be reapplied now and then.

1 Karat Gold

In the past, a product could not be described as “gold” in the US unless it contained at least ten parts gold. This changed in August 2018, when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) eliminated the karat threshold for gold. This means that anything can be classified as gold as long as it contains a minimum of 1 karat gold. This sparked a fair amount of controversy since some viewed it as nothing more than a marketing ploy. We would also not recommend going this route for an engagement or wedding ring.

This now begs one very important question:

Which Gold is Most Suitable For an Engagement Ring?

Which Gold is Most Suitable For an Engagement Ring?

While there are no hard and fast rules on the subject, there are several factors that you need to bear in mind when choosing the type of gold for a piece of jewelry, especially one as significant as an engagement ring. These include your budget, your partner’s skin sensitivity, career, lifestyle, and aesthetic taste. Also, keep in mind that certain types of gold are more suitable than others when it comes to buying or designing a ring.

Take 24 karat or solid gold, for instance. Generally, gold in its pure form is not recommended for any piece of jewelry you plan to wear daily. This is due to its malleability and the fact that it can be easily bent out of shape.

18 karat gold, on the other hand, is less pure than 24k gold, making it a more practical alternative. It is also wearer-friendly in that it won’t cause skin irritation. It is, therefore, a good option for those looking for something more luxurious and who don’t mind sacrificing some durability for a richer gold color. That being said, an 18k ring will always cost more than a similar design in 14k or 10k.

Most of the time, 14 karat gold is the most sensible choice when it comes to wedding bands and engagement rings. It balances strength and affordability without compromising on appearance and is by far the most commonly used material for engagement rings and other fine jewelry.

This is in stark contrast to 10 karat gold, which is seldom used for engagement rings. One of the reasons for this is that the price difference between 10k and 14k gold is negligible, so most reputable jewelers will offer 14k gold as their most affordable option for engagement rings. Even so, 10k gold is more durable than 14k, 18k, and 24k gold and is still worth considering if your ring will be subject to high levels of exposure or wear and tear.

Ultimately, however, there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to the type of gold you choose for your jewelry, and it will largely depend on your personal preference.

In Conclusion

There are so many decisions to make when it comes to picking the right engagement ring. Hopefully, the process has been made a little easier since you now know what you should be looking for.

You learned that the type of gold you choose can have a considerable impact on its appearance, feel, and durability. We walked you through the basics of the karat system and the most common gold purity levels, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of 10k, 14k, 18k, and 24k gold. We also explained why pure gold isn’t suitable for engagement rings and other wearable jewelry and which yellow gold comes recommended for an engagement ring.


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