14 Karat Gold Jewelry Guide | GLDN
When it comes to buying jewelry, we know it’s difficult to compare types of gold and understand what quality you're actually getting. What karat gold is best? How does a 10k gold ring compare to the same ring in 14k gold? Is one better quality? How are they different? The answer may seem complicated and confusing, but we’re here to simplify it all. Ahead: the key facts to help you buy gold with confidence.
What is 14k gold? Or 10k gold? Or 24k gold? To put it simply, karats are a measure of gold purity out of 24 parts. The easiest way to think of a karat is as “parts gold out of 24” (for example, 10 karat gold = 10 parts gold out of 24). You may find karats represented as “K,” “k,” or “kt” when you’re shopping for gold.
The Difference Between Karat and Carat
You can thank the jewelry industry for this confusing one. Though they sound the same, karats and carats are very different forms of measurement. Karats (with a k) is used to measure the purity of gold—hence the terms 10k, 14k, 18k and so on. (Always remember the “k,” and you’ll be OK!) Carats, on the other hand, are used to measure the weight of diamonds and other precious gemstones.
Pure Gold vs. Solid Gold
“Pure gold” and “solid gold” are two totally different things (though you wouldn’t think so at first blush). First, let us explain what “pure gold” means. 24k gold is a pure element, as you might know! It literally comes out of the ground as 24k pure gold (known as "Au" on the periodic table). Few people actually *want* pure gold jewelry, though, because 24k gold is impractically soft to wear (and honestly, it just isn’t a pretty shade of yellow—way too brash for most tastes). To create a more durable, wearable, pleasing gold, jewelers take the pure 24k gold and mix it with other metals to improve its color, strength and durability.
The percentage of other metals added changes the purity of the gold, which is reflected by its karats! For example, 18k gold (meaning 18 out of 24 parts are pure gold) has more pure gold than 10k gold (where 10 out of 24 parts are pure gold)—but they are, by legal definition, both considered solid gold. In the United States, any gold that is 10k purity and above fits the bill. This means that 10k gold is just as “solid” as 18k gold, for example; it’s just that 18k gold has a higher purity. It’s also worth noting that 18k isn’t necessarily better quality, it’s just more valuable (since it contains more pure gold).
What is 14K Gold?
14k gold has become the new solid gold standard. Look around and you’ll find that most solid gold jewelry is crafted in 14k gold (and for good reason)! 14k gold is incredibly durable, scratch-resistant and flattering on all skin tones—the perfect shade of soft, buttery yellow. 14k gold is also made for everyday wear: it’s waterproof, tarnish-proof and harmoniously wears with any style, on any occasion. No wonder 14k gold is used for engagement earrings, eternity bands, pendant necklaces, earrings and so many other fine jewelry pieces. Think about it: when was the last time you couldn’t find a certain jewelry piece in 14k gold?
14k gold is a mixture of pure gold plus other durable metals, like zinc, silver or copper (depending on the jeweler and the piece). Pure gold by itself is relatively soft and easily scratched, so these added alloy metals strengthen its composition so it’s more durable and wearable. When you think about 14k vs. 18k, for example, 14k gold is 14 out of 24 parts pure gold (58%) and 18k gold is 18 out of 24 parts pure gold (75%)
How 14k Gold is Made
14 karat gold is an alloy: a blend of metals with a specific formula. To change 24k gold into 14k gold, we need to take pure 24k gold and mix it with the right amount of other metals. For 14k, we need 14 out of 24 parts (or 58%) to be pure 24k gold and 42% (or 10 parts) to be other metals. (To calculate, just divide 14k by 24k; 14/24 = 58.3%—we rounded down to simplify it). The 42% “other” can be made up of a combination of silver, copper, and/or zinc, which strengthen the otherwise soft pure gold.
How to Identify 14K Gold
If you’re shopping for an engagement ring (or any other gold jewelry pieces!), it’s easy to identify 14k gold—you just need to know what to look for. If you’re shopping online, jewelers will note each piece’s material in its description! For example, we’ll always let you know which pieces are solid 14k gold, 14k gold fill or 14k gold vermeil (a type of plating). Sometimes (especially on vintage pieces) you’ll see a stamp on the piece of jewelry itself—otherwise known as a hallmark. Fun fact: hallmark laws date back to the 13th century to protect gold buyers before wide-scale gold purity testing became available! Gold stamps vary from country to country, though, and these days, gold jewelry isn’t legally required to include a hallmark stamp indicating its purity. Instead, you’ll see the piece’s karat noted in other places (like in the packaging or on the tag).
How to Make 14k Gold in Different Colors
Depending on the ratio of silver, copper and zinc (or palladium) a jeweler has added to pure 24k gold, you can end up with 14k yellow gold, 14k rose gold or 14k white gold. Adjusting the formula of pure gold + other metals is what affects the final color of the 14k gold to make it yellow, white or rose-hued. The formulas vary according to the alloy’s creator, but it’s most likely some combo of the metals mentioned above!
14k Gold vs. 14k Yellow Gold
Since yellow gold is more widely used than white gold or rose gold, “14k gold” may also be referred to as “14k yellow gold.” The yellow variety of 14k gold is by far the most common (pure 24k gold is yellow, so people expect gold alloys to be some shade of yellow). Because of this, the reference to “yellow” is often left out of the title. The only reason to include it is if you’re clarifying the difference between yellow gold and another shade, such as white gold or rose gold. Basically, if you just see “14k gold,” you can assume this means it’s 14k yellow gold.
Which is better, 14k or 18k gold?
This question gets asked a lot. There’s no correct answer: it depends on what you value most! If you ask which is more expensive, that’s simple. When you compare 18k vs. 14k gold, a cube of 18k gold would be more expensive than a cube of 14k gold because it contains more pure gold. But in terms of jewelry, many people prefer 14k gold—not only because it’s less spendy, but because it’s generally a softer shade of yellow and is more durable than 18k gold. When you compare 10k vs. 14k gold,10k gold is even harder than 14k and has a lighter yellow shade, which is also beautiful and flattering!
What is 14k gold-filled?
It’s easy to love the warm look and elegant feel of gold jewelry, but sometimes the 14k gold price ain’t so nice. Luckily, 14k gold-filled jewelry is an excellent, affordable alternative to solid gold: it has a thick layer of solid 14k gold over a jeweler’s brass core. It looks the same as solid gold, is great for people with skin sensitivities or allergies, and can even be worn in the shower (just keep away from harsh chemicals). Gold-filled jewelry might not have the same lifelong resilience as solid gold (which can last literally forever), but it’s still highly durable, and with proper care, it can offer decades of wear at a more affordable price. For the full scoop, check out our “What is 14k Gold Fill?” article.
What is rose gold filled?
When it comes to gold-filled, rose gold follows the same specifications as yellow gold. You’re getting that thick layer of 14-karat gold over a jeweler’s brass core. The only difference is the color of the gold—one is 14k rose, the other 14k yellow. Both 14k yellow gold and 14k rose gold alloys contain the same amount of 14-karat solid gold. It’s the combination of metals that are added to the pure, 24k gold that changes the color—the pure gold part is that constant 58% of the alloy!
What is gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry?
Learn more about other popular 14k gold options—14k gold filled and 14k gold plated jewelry—right here! These options are great if you want the look of solid 14k gold without the cost.