As I mentioned last week, I’ve been doing a bit of fine jewelry shopping, and learning some kooky things about gold along the way. Here are some of the more interesting tidbits I’ve picked up. Enjoy!
There’s More Markings Than You ThinkKarat, Percentage & Plating
You’re probably familiar with the standard gold markings of 14K, 18K, etc., but did you know gold jewelry can also be marked by gold percentage? This chart gives the common stamp markings you can find on gold jewelry and what they mean.
Also, be sure to inspect a jewelry piece for ALL markings. A piece can be marked 18K, followed by another marking that could signify it’s not solid 18K gold, but actually only plated on the surface with a layer of 18K gold. Common gold-plating marking to look for are…
Any other markings on a gold jewelry piece could be a makers mark, which is great because then you can trace your piece back to who made it!
Alloy Mixes Aren’t StandardizedThose Metals That Are Mixed With Your Gold
Any gold under pure 24K is mixed with alloy metals to harden and make it cost-effective, with some mixture of copper and silver being most popular. The mixture percentages are not standardized, so depending on the fluctuating cost of alloy metals, manufacturer, or desired color, your gold piece can have a different hue from other pieces of the same gold purity karat.
In this same vein, to achieve a better color, lower gold purity karats are often mixed with higher percentages of copper for a darker, redder color. Sometimes, 10K gold can look “golder” than 14K because of this.
The photo below is admittedly hard to tell (the color difference is much more evident in real life), but the 10K gold ring is slightly redder and darker in color than its purer 14K gold sister. This is because the 10K gold ring has had more copper (which has a red hue) added, to counteract the lack of yellow hue due to it’s more diluted gold content. The effect is almost that of rose gold.
PatinaCan Change The Look Of Your Gold
Metals oxidize over time due to exposure to air. This creates a thin layer on top of the jewelry piece that usually turns it darker and gives it a more matte finish. Vintage items are often described as having a “patina”. A patina is simply the color and texture oxidation gives the piece over time. Some people love a good patina, while others polish their jewelry regularly to get rid of it. The patina on vintage jewelry can make it look darker than new jewelry bought today, even if it’s the same karat purity. Personally, I love a good patina. ;)
Of course, some of the color differences could also be from differences in the alloy metals used to create the piece. Below, the vintage ring could have a touch more copper than it’s newer counterpart, which could also make it a little darker and redder in color.
White Gold Is Actually Yellow
White gold is actually a very pale shade of yellow (the gold is mixed with silver-colored metals, such as nickel or palladium), and often times is plated with a layer of bright white rhodium for that “white gold” look we’re all so familiar with. Over time and wear, the rhodium layer can wear off, revealing the piece’s true pale yellow color…some food for thought if you plan on getting white gold as your wedding ring set. The good news: a jeweler can re-plate your white gold pieces with rhodium if the coating has worn off and the resulting pale yellow color isn’t your cup of tea.
Alternatives to white gold that will not turn yellow over time are platinum and sterling silver.
Put It All Together
As I collect pieces, I’m constantly comparing them to each other, sometimes with frustration at their varying colors. A great example is below. A newer 14K chain necklace I recently bought looks almost pale green next to a vintage 14K chain necklace, which looks nearly red. There are a myriad of reasons why they could look so different, such as patina, reflection of light off a high polish surface (makes things look lighter in color) vs. a matte surface, and alloy metal content. Crazy, huh?