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?
Thank you for this article. Helps to explain a lot about the different kind of gold jewelry. Those who want a cheaper price point but don’t want their jewelry to tarnish as fast choose gold filled jewelry which is the type I use most in my hand made jewelry designs. http://www.kblossoms.etsy.com
WOW so informative Kelly – this will be saved as a reference!
Thank you for this post! It was very helpful and I too am saving it as a reference. I recently got engaged and am wearing my mom’s white gold engagement ring. I swore it was starting to look light gold but I couldn’t figure out why. Now I know! I’m sorry if you’ve mentioned this before, but have you ever gotten rings or gold bracelets sized down? I need to get my mom’s engagement ring sized down, but I imagine it’s the type of thing I should only have done once. If you have any thoughts on that, I’d appreciate it. My ring is 18K if that makes any difference. Thanks again for the post!
Great to know all these:)
fantastin information! Wish I’d known about whit gold 50 yrs ago. But, who knew anything then! I have had my ding with 9 diamonds coated twice. Wowza! The Sparkle almost blinded everyone. In the sun it was a show stopper.
I am interested to know if precious gemstones such as pink sapphires are sometimes set in 10k gold. I bought one at auction recently, brought it to a jeweler and was told it was probably not a natural stone because it was set in 10k gold. The ring also has a few small diamonds that are genuine.
Thanks for the info…I have a darker 10k gold chain but the cross that hangs from it is a lighter gold hue. Can I somehow add a petina to make the cross match the chain? The cross is also 10k…is there anything I can do to make my chain and cross match? I would appreciate if you can help me with my situation…Thank you for reading my comment.
Hi Mike. I’d ask a jeweler to see if there’s something they can do. There are chemicals that can replicate a patina, but I’m not sure if any of them would be safe for 10K gold. Also, a jeweler could add a light gold plate to your cross for a darker color. Good luck!
I bought gold earrings at a jeweller, I believe they are 14 karat and after a few weeks they turned rose gold. I can polish it away with my jewellery cloth, but it comes back again almost 24 hours after wearing them. Ive been to several jewellers and no one can tell me what is causing this.
Any suggestions on why this may be happening ? It also happens with my sterling silver jewellery- the reason I swapped to gold.
Hi Kate! It sounds to me like your unique skin chemistry might be causing this. In the same way your skin can cause certain makeup foundations to turn orange as it reacts to your natural oils and sweats, metals can do similar things through the process of oxidation.
what does A C 14K mean? It is on a 3-dimensional teddy bear charm with moveable arms and legs.
Following… maybe Adwar Casting Co?
I just got a new rose gold ring and when I asked the jeweler to make it have that patina “vintage” effect he said that it can’t be done to gold. That it can only be done with fake jewelry. Is there any way to mattify the gold? or give it that age effect as if it’s been found in a treasure chest in the bottom of the ocean (lol)?
thanks in advance!
Great read! So helpful and informative – thank you! My fiancé gave me his mother’s old engagement ring, but had it resized; the jeweler added a tiny piece of “new” gold to the band. I’ve only been wearing it for 4 months and today on the new piece of added gold there is a tiny “blob” marking of a reddish/rose color. On the inside of the older gold there is marked 10K, so I believe the jeweler tried to match the new gold to the old… but then why hasn’t anything happened to the old gold? The old gold also has a design on it (on the band), and the new gold does not- as it rests on the palm side down of my finger. How can I remove the new marking on the ring?
Patina is NOT an oxide layer, precious metals like gold and silver don’t even react with oxygen at all even at very high temperatures, Patina, especially evident on platinum due to its extreme ductility, is caused by numerous and tiny dings and scratches that basically shift the surface of the metal around without actually removing any metal from the item.
Nice article! I had bought some 18k gold earrings in South America and Im wondering if they are actually gold plated or a lower karat. They started tarnishing after 2 months on the part that touched my ears after frequent use. I do not think it is my body chemistry tarnishing the earrings because #1 I have a double piercing that has 14k studs that I have used for two years with 0 discoloration and #2 I am not allergic to gold as 10k earrings caused an allergic reaction which went away with a higher percentage of gold and #3 I have worn 18k earrings and other 14 or 18k gold jewelry before and never had this problem. I also have never swam in a pool with chlorine within the past two months either. When I went to the jeweler he told me it was my body chemistry or diet but after doing more research and analyzing my experience with gold it really doesnt make any sense and maybe I got ripped off. Or maybe a different gold mixture is used in South America. Thoughts??
I recently purchased a 106 grams in weight mens 14k gold bracelet. I have had it tested 3 times with acid and once with just visually. Everyone has told me its solid gold. Its a piece that was originally purchased in Mexico not by me. It does have a 14k stamp on it. But on the insider of the bracelet I just recently noticed that it is discolored but still gold color just lost its shine I think. Where the bracelet rubs. Im afraid of it being a fake bracelet because I paid a good amount for it. The bracelet is at least 7 years old from what the buyer told me.
I knew at least a few of these things, but one thing I didn’t know is that the rosey coloration of lower karat “rose gold” is caused by the higher copper content. Seems obvious to me now but I guess I just didn’t really think about it before!
Thank you for the informative information. I bought a pair of bracelets recently from a well known reputable company and possibly thinking of returning it back. The bracelet is 14k gold that looks very light yellow almost silver. What does mean? Is really 14k? Should I return it. Very confuse because I have 14k Jewelry and it look much brighter in yellow than the bracelet.
Terrific article! I’ve been collecting fine vintage rings for quite sometime now and was always curious to the differences in gold colors etc. Thank you! gail
p.s. I love a good Patina too! :)