Why do US fine jewelers only make 14k & 18k jewelry?
A customer in the US will predominantly come across fine jewelry made in 14K or 18K gold. 10K springs up sometimes but a customer will rarely ever find 22k or 24k gold jewelry. Why is this? Is this different by geography? Does this have to do with functional differences due to the different composition in each gold Karat?
Different karats and types of GOLD
Gold has been treasured since years due to its natural beauty and radiance. It is the most malleable and ductile of all precious metals. Gold is resistant to tarnish, rust and corrosion, it is an extremely versatile metal, this quality makes it the most important metal in jewelry making. Till date it has not lost its value and is considered to be one of the most sought after metal. It’s also known as the king of all metals.
Gold is measured in Karat, which is divided into 24 parts. This unit of measurement tells us the percentage of gold in a piece. Pure gold is 24 carats, which means 24 out of 24 parts are gold.
However, pure gold is too soft to be used for jewelry, hence it is alloyed with various metals like silver, copper, nickel and zinc to increase its strength and durability.
The different karats of Gold:
24K – 24K gold is 100% pure gold without any traces of other metals. There is no higher form of gold than 24K. It is more expensive and prestigious than 22K or 18K or 14K gold. Though you’ll rarely find any jewelry made out of 24K, as it is very soft and tends to scratch and bend easily thus making it infeasible for daily jewelry. It has a deep yellow tone. Quite often 24K gold is used for investing purpose in the form of coins or bars and its also used for electronic and medical devices.
22K – 22K piece of gold is 22/24 = 0.919= 91.7% gold, the remaining 8% comprises of a mixture of other alloys. The other alloys being, silver, zinc, nickel etc. The addition of alloys makes the mixture little harder and thus helps in making the jewelry durable. It’s good for plain gold jewelry and best for naturally enameled jewelry. Although 22K gold is not preferred for diamonds and gemstones studded jewelry. Diamond being precious material requires a metal that lays a strong hold on the precious stone so that the stone doesn’t fall off, 22K is a soft metal and will not be able to hold on the gemstones and loose the grip. Due to its softness, it gets scratched easily as compared to 14K gold. Although rhodium plating will enhance the jewelry’s resistance to scratches. 22K is costlier than 18K and 14K gold.
18K – 18K gold refers to an alloy of gold that contains 18 parts of gold or is composed of 75% of gold and mixed with 25% of other metals like silver, copper etc., makes it strong enough for everyday wear. Though it is softer than 14K gold, it is less expensive than 24K and 22K. It is commonly used in fine jewelry. 18K is a good option for jewelry pieces which are not worn daily and are less exposed to hits and bumps such as necklaces and earrings The lower percentage of metals in 18K jewelry makes it less prone to oxidization and is a better choice for people who suffer from metal allergies. 18K jewelry does not need to be rhodium plated due to the alloys present and thus is more cost effective in the long run as it requires less maintenance.
14K– 14K refers to an alloy of gold that contains 14 parts of gold or is composed of at least 58.3 % pure gold and 41.7% of other metals. The presence of other metals 14K gold offers more resistance to wear and tear.It is harder and durable, hence it is ideal for daily wear especially for those who lead an active lifestyle. Also, 14K gold is less likely to cause allergy. 14K gold is more durable than 18K gold.This is the most affordable option of gold. This is the most common type of gold used in US jewelry industry.
10K – 10K gold refers to an alloy of gold that contains 10 parts of gold or atleast 41.7% of gold and the remainder being other alloys such as silver or nickel or zinc. 10K gold are very sturdy, not too soft and don’t scratch or bend easily. It is the most cheapest form of gold since it contains less part of gold. While the cost is low, 14k jewelry is harder an stronger. Jewelry has to be at least 10K to be sold in US. Gold tends to be softer and brittle when the karatage is higher.
Another important aspect to be considered is the COLOR
Gold can be alloyed with most metals, but specifically for jewelry the most common allying metals are silver, copper and zinc in various proportion to create different colors. The type and percentage of metal alloys used determine the shade and color of gold.
Yellow gold is the purest color of all the colored golds, as the mineral looks golden(yellow) when mined. Yellow gold gets its rich yellow shine from the natural hue and other saturated alloys. Classic yet fashionable, yellow gold achieves its color from the red of copper,silver and pure gold. It is the most hypoallergenic and requires the least maintenance of all gold colors. It was the most popular metal used for wedding and engagement bands, thus is an appropriate choice for vintage style settings.
White gold is more contemporary than Yellow gold, the silvery whiteness makes white gold jewelry very appealing. White gold is made by mixing gold with alloys like copper, zinc and palladium (platinum). Its plated with a hard element called rhodium (platinum group metal) hence is more durable and scratch resistant than yellow gold. Though rhodium may wear away over time a simple replating process will bring back the original shine of white gold. White gold is more affordable than yellow gold and platinum. It was initially introduced as an alternative for platinum.
Rose gold is warm, unique and romantic. The beautiful pink hue is created by shifting the ratio to incorporate more copper and less silver. Rose Gold jewelry is much appreciated due to the delicateness of the color. Rose gold is also called as Pink gold or Red gold. The difference between Pink gold and Red gold is the copper content – higher the copper content, the stronger the red coloration.
The popularity of gold depends on the preferences which varies from country to country and people to people. 24K and 22K gold is popular in Asia and India, as their belief is that gold is not only meant jewelry and ornaments but, they are considered as good source of investment. They are fascinated by the pretty bright gold color. 18K is more popular in South America and Europe, it is the standard karatage used in fine jewelry in Europe. 14K gold is dominant in US jewelry market. Americans generally use gold jewelry that are custom or designer jewelry, the jewelry has to be durable. 14K gold works perfectly for any jewelry. 10K is the legal minimum accepted standard of gold karatage
For engagement and wedding rings my personal favourite is 14K gold. Since 14K gold will hold the diamond/gemstones more securely and would be more durable. 14K gold looks almost same as 18K gold and white gold resembles platinum. Other important factors are the affordability and sturdiness of the metal which will stand the test of time. That said, it’s your personal taste and budget which will be the deciding factor for your jewelry.