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The Different Types of Gold Fineness, and How They Are Used In Jewelry

Sep 22, 2020

Gold in its purest form is soft. That’s why you can find gold in a variety of places: jewelry, dental work, electronics, architecture, cosmetics, and yes, even food and drinks. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements, solid in standard conditions, yet incredibly malleable. That’s what makes gold so ideal for these varied applications – because it is easy to work with and yet has properties that keep it from corroding, tarnishing, dissolving, and more.

With all of these different applications, there’s one standard: how much pure gold content is being used? Fortunately, when it comes to gold jewelry, there’s a scale of purity: 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, and 24k – the gold standard so to speak. For the savvy consumer, it’s important to know about the different types of gold fineness so you know exactly what you’re getting and what your gold is worth.  

Because gold is so malleable, it often needs to be alloyed with other materials for increased hardness. An alloy is a mix of metals or non-metals used to give the original material desired qualities. In addition to hardness, that might also mean variations in color, such as in the case of white gold and rose gold, lower or higher melting points, and of course, price points.

Gold is measured in karats, which is a scale of gold fineness used in the United States. Essentially, it is the amount of pure gold alloyed into a piece of jewelry or gold work. Using a standard scale to measure the purity of gold allows jewelers to know the total gold content per 24 parts immediately. For example: 24 karats of gold is 24 parts of pure gold – and as of mid-August 2020, a single gram of pure 24k gold is worth $62.99.

However, because of gold’s softness, it is common to see jewelry such as engagement rings set with 14k or 18k gold. With an 18k piece, there are 18 parts of pure gold per 24 parts. The remaining six parts consist of alloy meals, such as silver, nickel, palladium and copper. By using other alloys that are less malleable, the piece of jewelry is less prone to scratches and bending. Most importantly, it ensures the ring setting is unlikely to lose the precious gem that comprises an engagement ring!

There are a few ways of testing the gold fineness of a piece, whether it is gold jewelry, gold coins, or gold bullions. At Samuelson’s, we want to make sure our prices are aligned with the industry standard and the current cost of gold. To do that, we have a few tricks up our sleeve. The safest, least potentially corrosive option is to use an x-ray fluorescence gun to measure the gold’s fluorescence. This allows us to determine the material chemistry within the piece so we can accurately gauge its gold fineness. Other tests involve scratching the piece of gold against a testing slab to leave a mark, and then applying nitric acid to the mark to see if it dissolves.

Whether you’re buying or selling gold, Samuelson’s will always confirm the true fineness of your gold’s content. We want you to leave feeling like a member of our family. That’s why we will always tell you exactly what we’re working with and take as much time as needed to answer your questions to make sure you feel comfortable with your decision. To get started, make an appointment or call our Baltimore store at 410-403-3091.

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