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When looking to purchase gold jewelry, you’ll likely come across several terms that you may have never heard before. Words like karat, gold-filled, gold-plated, and vermeil are some of the terminology used to describe gold jewelry and can greatly affect the value and quality of the jewelry piece you’re considering. So what exactly do these terms mean?
Well, karat refers to the percentage of pure gold in an alloy. In other words, it describes how many parts out of 24 parts are actual gold. Most fine jewelry is created in 14 karat gold, meaning that 14/24 (or 58.3%) of the metal used in that jewelry piece is pure gold. You may also find jewelry that is 10 karat, 18 karat, or even 24 karat gold. More information on gold fineness can be found here.
Gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry refers to brass (or another cheap base metal) that is covered with a layer of gold. There’s far less gold in gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry than there is in 10 karat, 14 karat, 18 karat, and 24 karat gold, making gold-plated and gold-filled jewelry more affordable, but also more likely to tarnish and wear down over time.
For jewelry to be classified as gold-filled, it must contain 5% gold by weight. Gold-plated jewelry, on the other hand, contains barely any gold. About .05% or less of gold-plated jewelry contains actual gold. That means gold-plated jewelry is far less valuable will be more susceptible to flaking off and exposing the base metal. That’s why when someone comes in asking for an affordable alternative to 14 karat yellow gold jewelry, we always recommend going with gold-filled jewelry instead of gold-plated.
Another term you may come across in your gold jewelry search is vermeil. This refers to sterling silver jewelry that is coated with at least 2.5 microns thick of at least 10 karat gold, making it thicker than gold-plated jewelry and more hypoallergenic.
It’s important to always find out exactly what type of gold you’re getting when considering purchasing a gold jewelry piece. Unfortunately, some deceitful jewelry sellers will refer to gold-plated, vermeil, or gold-filled jewelry as gold, trying to mislead the buyer into thinking they’re getting solid gold jewelry instead of a piece comprised of less than 5% gold. That’s why it’s so prudent to shop for fine jewelry at a reputable jewelry store that won’t try to con you with insufficient descriptions and poor gold castings.