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You've heard it all your life. 14 karat, 18 karat, 22 karat...In different parts of the world, different karat weights are preferred. Americans like 10 and 14 karat gold. Asians prefer 18 and 22 karat gold. But what does it really mean? Karating of gold can affect its price, its strength and its usefulness, and its color.

Price - Different karat weights demand different prices. Ever wonder why? It's because the karat designation determines just how much gold there is in the metals which make up the piece of jewelry. The lower the karat number, the less gold there is in the piece and the less expensive the gold is - and coincidentally, the more durable it is.

Karat gold is strictly measured in units of 24. 24 karat gold is pure gold. How much alloy is mixed with the gold determines its karat weight, and therefore how much you pay. 10 karat gold has ten parts gold to 14 parts alloy (10 + 14 = 24). 14 karat gold is 14 parts gold to 10 parts alloy 14 + 10 = 24). 18 karat gold is 18 parts gold to 6 parts alloy (18 + 6 = 24), and so on up the scale until you reach pure gold at 24 karat.

Strength - Pure gold is not very useful for jewelry, because it is very soft. Over the centuries different metals have been successfully alloyed with gold to strengthen it, including copper and silver. Different percentages of alloys make slightly different colors of gold, and while most manufacturers use similar formulas, they are not all the same. Mixing all those different formulas together may make an unstable compound which can lead to brittleness or cracking. That is why, instead of melting all your old chains to make a ring for you, your jeweler may prefer to simply credit you the gold weight (minus a refining fee) towards your ring purchase. Your jeweler then periodically sends all the gold he or she has collected to be refined. Refining removes all the alloys from the gold, and it can then be re-alloyed in the proper amounts to make more karat gold mixtures.

Usefulness - The more gold in the mixture, the softer and less durable the item made from it. Most women in America prefer 14 karat gold for the right balance of color and durability. Many American men who like to use their hands prefer a ring made from 10 karat gold, which is harder and can resist scratching more easily. Realistically, 18 and 22 karat rings would need to be polished more often to retain their shine, or might bend more easily if undue pressure is applied. But in normal wear, with proper cleaning and an occasional polish from your local jeweler, high karat jewelry can last a lifetime to become a beautiful addition to your family heirlooms.

Color - With all the different manufacturers using slightly different alloy mixtures, it is sometimes hard to get the yellows, pinks and other colors of gold to be the same. The amount of actual gold in the mixture is strictly regulated, and the colors, yellow, white, green, pink, etc. are pretty standardized. But you may find that a 14 karat yellow gold ring from one store looks slightly more golden or yellow than that of another. This is nothing more than a slight difference in the alloy of that batch of gold and is nothing to be concerned about, so long as the piece is properly karat stamped. The higher karat golds, however, do tend to take on a rich depth of color not found in the lower karat weights.

Whatever the karat weight, make sure it is stamped on a surface of your piece of fine jewelry. This is your assurance that the manufacturer is following standardized weight formulas, and is meeting the requirements of the laws regarding gold karating. If it is not stamped - beware - and if you have your piece repaired, be sure the bench jeweler does not eliminate the karat stamping from your piece.

Europeans use a different system than the karating system, so the notation on your piece of jewelry may need to be interpreted for you by your local jeweler. You can always ask Mrs. Gottrocks, or check out our Gold and Precious Metals Information Chart for further information.

We hope this information has been of assistance to you. Please feel free to email us with your questions or suggestions for future topics.

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