What is 14K gold? What does 14K mean? Why 14? That seems like an odd number doesn't it?
We take a look at all of these questions in this post to try and help our customers better understand what 14k gold is and make their next jewelry purchase an educated one.
14K gold is simply a descriptive number for how much pure gold content is in a piece of jewelry or alloyed gold. Pure gold is much too soft to be worn as jewelry on a daily basis, it's very soft for a metal and easy to bend, scratch, or ding. A pure gold, or even 22K, simple band could easily be bent with a strong hand and applied pressure. So to offset this, jewelers alloy pure gold with other metals like copper, zinc, silver, and nickel to beef up it's strength, lend some durability, and produce some truly beautiful gold colors like: white, rose gold, black gold, and even green gold, depending upon the alloy mixture.
What does 14K mean?
14K refers to a piece of jewelry's karat, or how many parts per 24 (100% pure gold) a particular piece has. It indicates gold metal purity. It's an easy way to show customers that the piece of jewelry is comprised of 58% pure gold and 42% alloyed metals.
14 / 24 = 0.583 or 58% gold.
18 / 24 = 0.75 or 75% gold.
22 / 24 = 0.916 or 91% gold.
This formula can be applied to any karat of gold, so if you ever run across and odd karat like 9K, or 16K, just remember - Divide the Karat number by 24 (pure or 100%) and voila! You have the percentage of gold.
Sometimes jewelry is even marked by it's percentage instead of it's karat. You might see 585 instead of 14K or 750 instead of 18K. For quick reference we provided all of the standard markings for gold below. These are usually found stamped somewhere on a piece of jewelry.
- 9K or 375
- 10K or 416
- 14K or 583/585
- 18K or 750
- 21K or 875
- 22K or 916
Which one is better?
We get asked this A LOT, and for good reason. It can be confusing and hard to make a decision when faced with all of these numbers, but it boils down to personal preference. What do you like about a particular karat? What sort of durability do you expect from your jewelry? Do you prefer luxury over strength? Does one karat's color appeal to you more? Some alloy colors, like white gold, aren't even available in certain karat weights above 18K because the amount of pure yellow gold is too high, making it very difficult or impossible to turn white in color.
Here's a quick breakdown of each karat weight's attributes, pros, and cons:
- 9K Gold - More common in Europe (English & Russian influenced countries in particular) than in the United States. 9K gold is very strong and durable with a slightly reddish tint due to the high amounts of copper. It's beloved by antique and vintage jewelry collectors for it's rarity and the part it played in both World Wars. Gold was so scarce and funds were so tight that 9K was much more readily available to the general populace. It has a low gold content compared to it's cousins, but usually fetches a slightly premium price due to it's rarity.
- 10K Gold - The workin' man's gold. 10K is also very strong and durable (the less gold, the stronger the alloy is) and sits at a very reasonable price point. It looks very nice in white and other alloy colors since there's less yellow gold competing for color. In yellow, it has a lighter hue.
- 14K Gold - It can be argued that 14K is probably the most common and popular karat weight for gold and jewelry. It has the almost perfect mixture of strength, durability, and luxury all wrapped into one. It's very easy to alloy into different colors, has a nice heft to it (pure gold is very dense after all), reasonably priced for most, and stands the test of time. It's also the easiest karat weight to find.
- 18K Gold - Stepping it up in the luxury department, 18K gold has a very nice weight and feel to it. It's more difficult to find specialty colors in 18, but white gold alloys can still be found. In yellow, 18K gold has a very pretty genuine "gold" color. Most people say they can tell the difference between 18K and 14K yellow gold just by their color. It's still a durable alloy, but definitely softer and more prone to dings and scratches when compared to 14 or 10K.
- 21K and 22K Gold - It's very unusual in the USA to find jewelry made in this karat weight. It's almost pure gold and very soft because of this. Asian and Indian influenced countries prefer, and make a lot of, 21K or 22K gold jewelry because of it's very rich "buttery" color and luxurious qualities. This karat weight fetches a premium price due to it's purity and the fact that crafting jewelry from such a soft alloy is a very difficult process in comparison. You almost never will see it alloyed in any color other than yellow and it's difficult to get a high polish, but some people prefer that since it develops a very lovely, authentic, and rich "worn" patina over time.
- 24K Gold - DOES NOT EXIST IN JEWELRY. In the 40 years we've been in business we have never seen jewelry made from 24K. It's just way too soft and impractical for jewelry purposes. The closest we've had was a very stunning traditional Thai wedding hairpin which was labeled as 24K but actually was closer to 22.5K upon further testing. If someone ever tries to sell you a piece of jewelry as 24K, we recommend you just walk away or make sure the price reflects a 21/22K alloy instead.
We hope this has article has been helpful in explaining what 14K gold is and how to identify different gold karat weights. We love to talk jewelry, so if you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment below, shoot us an email, give us a call, or just stop in to our Downtown Portland office and peruse some different karat weights and colors in person!