There are many different types of gold used to make jewelry, perhaps more than you might realize. Gold comes in a range of colors, karats, and coatings, each with their own unique properties.
From the famous to the lesser-known, this guide covers 15 fascinating gold types and what makes them special.
Types of Gold Karats
Most gold used in jewelry is alloyed (mixed) with other precious and/or base metals. The purity of gold alloys is measured by the karat system, with higher karat numbers denoting higher gold content. Gold jewelry is sometimes stamped with a quality mark to show its purity.
The purpose of creating different gold alloys can be to:
- Give the gold more strength. Pure gold is so soft it can be bent with your fingers. When mixed with different metals, it becomes much harder.
- Create different gold colors. Pure gold is bright yellow. To get colors like white gold and rose gold, other metals like zinc and copper must also be used.
- Bring down the gold’s price. Pure gold is expensive. Mixing gold with cheaper metals makes it more affordable.
The four most well-known gold jewelry karatages you’ll find in the United States are: 24, 18, 14, and 10 karats.
1. 24 Karat Gold
Pure gold is hypoallergenic and safe to wear if you have sensitive skin. As a noble metal, it also has high resistance to tarnish and corrosion.
However, because 24k gold is too soft to withstand much wear and tear, it has limited popularity in the US. Sales of pure gold jewelry are also dependent on gold’s performance in the commodities market, and tend to fall heavily whenever the gold price rises.
Common 24K Gold Stamp Marks:
- Gold (meaning pure gold)
- 24 Karat or 24K (meaning 24/24 parts gold)
- 999 (meaning 999/1000 parts, or 99.9% gold)
2. 18 Karat Gold
18k gold consists of 75% pure gold and 25% other metals such as silver, copper, and zinc. Being much stronger and more durable than 24k gold, it can be used in a wider variety of jewelry making applications, such as gemstone settings and ring engravings.
Though 18k gold doesn’t have the intense yellowness of pure gold, this isn’t considered a sign of low quality. In fact, a piece of 24k gold jewelry is so rare to see that many people would find it to be “too” yellow.
Some 18k alloys contain nickel, an element which can cause skin irritation. However, the nickel content in 18k gold is too low to be a concern for most people, even those with sensitive skin.
Common 18K Gold Stamp Marks:
- 18 Karat or 18K (meaning 18/24 parts gold)
- 750 (meaning 750/1000 parts, or 75% gold)
3. 14 Karat Gold
The most popular type of gold karatage sold in the US, 14k gold is made from a mixture of 58.3% pure gold and 41.7% other metals.
14k gold isn’t as bright as 18k, but it’s stronger and more affordable. A 14k gold ring can cost 30% to 60% less than a 18k gold ring, and is durable enough to withstand everyday wear.
Allergic reactions to nickel-containing 14k gold are uncommon, but if you’re concerned about sensitivity, check that the piece you’re buying is nickel-free. Most jewelry stores will have a resident jeweler or jewelry experts who can confirm this for you.
Common 14K Gold Stamp Marks:
- 14 Karat or 14K (meaning 14/24 parts gold)
- 583 (meaning 583/1000 parts, or 58.3% gold)
4. 10 Karat Gold
Containing only 41.7% pure gold, 10k gold was until recently the lowest standard jewelry could have to be legally sold as gold in the United States.
Though 10k gold is durable, its low purity equals a duller appearance. This makes it a less ideal gold alloy for special or meaningful types of jewelry, such as wedding rings.
Nickel-containing 10k gold jewelry is also more likely to cause problems for those with nickel allergies, since lower gold content usually equals higher nickel content.
Common 10K Gold Stamp Marks:
- 10 Karat or 10K (meaning 10/24 parts gold)
- 417 (meaning 417/1000 parts, or 41.7% gold)
Different Gold Colors
5. Yellow Gold
Yellow gold is what most people automatically think of when we hear the word “gold”. According to the World Gold Council, yellow gold is the most popular type of gold used in jewelry around the globe.
Yellow gold actually comes in a range of hues, depending on the proportions of different metals in the alloy. Alloys with a lighter or slightly green hue suggests higher white metal content, while yellow gold that is darker or reddish can result from higher copper content.
Zinc and nickel are also sometimes used in yellow gold jewelry. When alloyed along with copper, these white metals form warm, brassy tones that soften the stark yellowness of pure gold.
|GOLD||SILVER||COPPER||ZINC / NICKEL|
|24K Yellow Gold||100%||0%||0%||0%|
|18K Yellow Gold||75%||12% to 15%||10% to 12%||0% to 2%|
|14K Yellow Gold||58.3%||30% to 33%||10% to 13%||0% to 3%|
|10K Yellow Gold||41.7%||50% to 53%||5% to 8%||0% to 4%|
Note that the non-gold metal percentages shown above are approximations, not requirements. Jewelers must meet the minimum gold content requirements when producing alloys of yellow gold (or any gold color), but will often vary the types and amounts of the non-gold metals they use.
See also: The Timeless Magic of Yellow Gold
6. White Gold
While yellow is the most popular gold color for jewelry in general, white is the leader for engagement rings. According to a 2021 study, 45% of US couples opt for a white gold engagement ring.
White gold is an alloy of yellow gold and white metals, and sometimes also copper. The less gold and copper content in the metal alloy, the more white it appears. White gold jewelry is usually plated with rhodium, which makes it even whiter.
White gold is usually formed from one of two different alloys:
- Palladium white gold, a mixture of gold, palladium, and sometimes silver. Palladium is a hypoallergenic precious metal that’s rarer than gold.
|18K White Gold||75%||0% to 10%||15% to 25%|
|14K White Gold||58.3%||28% to 35%||8% to 14%|
|10K White Gold||41.7%||46% to 48%||7% to 11%|
- Nickel white gold, consisting of gold, nickel, copper, and zinc. While not hypoallergenic, this form of gold is more affordable compared to palladium white gold.
|18K White Gold||75%||17% to 19%||4% to 6%||2% to 3%|
|14K White Gold||58.3%||7% to 9%||6% to 8%||18% to 20%|
|10K White Gold||41.7%||16% to 18%||11% to 13%||29% to 31%|
7. Rose Gold
Rose gold was first introduced to the Russian Imperial court by renowned jeweler Carl Fabergé in the late 1800s. Though one of the newer types of gold, rose has become one of the most popular gold colors available today.
Rose gold is made from gold, copper, and silver. Copper is what gives rose gold its pinkish color. Most rose gold alloys are either 18k or 14k.
Of the two, 18k rose gold contains more gold, making for a shinier but paler blush-pink appearance. 14k rose gold contains more copper, which results in a deeper complexion but less brightness.
|18K Rose Gold||75%||22% to 23%||2% to 3%|
|14K Rose Gold||58.3%||31% to 33%||8% to 10%|
|10K Rose Gold||41.7%||37% to 39%||19% to 21%|
With some adjustments in composition, a rose gold piece can take on slightly different hues:
- Pink gold alloys use more silver and less copper, which creates a softer rose color.
|18K Pink Gold||75%||19% to 21%||4% to 6%|
|14K Pink Gold||58.3%||28% to 30%||11% to 13%|
|10K Pink Gold||41.7%||34% to 36%||22% to 24%|
- Red gold uses copper but no silver, resulting in alloys with a darker red color.
|18K Red Gold||75%||25%||0%|
|14K Red Gold||58.3%||41.7%||0%|
|10K Red Gold||41.7%||58.3%||0%|
See also: The Ultimate Guide to Rose Gold
8. Black Gold
While not as popular or easy to find as other gold colors, black gold has become more well-known in recent years.
Since there are no black gold metal alloys, solid black gold jewelry doesn’t exist. Instead, jewelers give a piece of gold jewelry a black surface coating.
Different ways to form black gold include:
- Electroplating – a layer of black rhodium or ruthenium is electrically bonded to gold.
- Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) – carbon vapor is deposited onto gold as a black coating.
- Oxidation – gold alloyed with cobalt or chromium is heated to oxidize and blacken it.
- Patination – gold is chemically processed with sulfides to produce a black patina.
- Laser treatment – femtosecond lasering creates nanostructures on gold that absorb nearly all visible light.
Laser treatment is the only way to get a permanent black finish. The others wear off over time and need to be reapplied.
9. Green Gold
Green gold is a greenish-yellow metal alloy made from gold and silver, with higher silver content producing a stronger green hue. Naturally-occurring green gold is called electrum.
Since green isn’t a popular type of gold, green gold items are rare. You’re more likely to see green gold pieces at an independent jewelry shop than a chain store.
10. Purple Gold
Purple gold is an intermetallic alloy of gold and aluminum. Unlike traditional jewelry alloys, intermetallics are brittle, difficult to work with, and easy to damage.
The Singaporean company Lee Hwa is one of the few jewelers that produce purple gold, but their jewelry uses it only as ornamentation. This suggests that purple gold isn’t malleable enough to form functional jewelry components like ring bands and necklace chains.
11. Blue Gold
Blue gold is probably the least common type of gold used to make jewelry. It can be an intermetallic alloy like purple gold, or it can have an oxidized coating like black gold.
Intermetallic blue gold is made from gold mixed with indium or gallium, but neither formulation produces a strong blue color.
Oxidized blue gold is created by subjecting certain types of gold alloys to heat. A rich blue gold color was produced in the 1980s by a now-defunct European company, from a gold alloy that included ruthenium and rhodium.
Types of Gold Coatings
The term “gold-filled” means a base metal that has been coated with gold alloy via mechanical bonding. This bonding process melts the gold into the base metal, making it difficult to rub off.
Gold-filled metal has the thickest and best quality of all the different types of gold coatings, since gold alloy must account for – or fill – at least 5% of the total metal weight. A piece of gold-filled jewelry can last for years or even decades.
Common Gold-Filled Stamp Marks:
- GF (Gold-Filled)
- 1/20 14K (meaning 1/20 parts, or 5% 14k gold)
13. Rolled Gold
As with gold-filled, rolled gold is created through a mechanical bonding process. Rolled gold requires 2.5% gold content, only half the amount you’ll find in gold-filled metals.
Rolled gold is often used for making high-end costume jewelry. It is visually indistinguishable from solid gold, and with proper care can last for many years before wearing off.
Common Rolled Gold Stamp Marks:
- RG (Rolled Gold) or RGP (Rolled Gold Plate)
- 1/40 14K (meaning 1/40 parts, or 2.5% 14k gold)
Vermeil (pronounced vur-may) refers to sterling silver plated with a gold alloy of minimum 10k purity. The gold plating must be at least 2.5 microns (1/10,000 of an inch) thick.
Gold vermeil is made via electroplating: suspending sterling silver jewelry in a liquid gold solution and subjecting it to an electric current, which bonds the gold plating to the silver.
Though sterling silver is more valuable than the base metals used in gold-filled and rolled gold, vermeil costs less due to its much lower gold content. Vermeil jewelry pieces will also eventually tarnish as the gold layer wears away.
Common Vermeil Stamp Marks:
- 925 (meaning 925 sterling silver)
15. Gold Plated
Like vermeil, gold plated jewelry is usually produced via electroplating. Unlike vermeil, the gold plated layer is a very thin 0.175 microns (7 millionths of an inch), and it’s placed over brass or copper instead of silver.
Gold plating is usually found on cheap costume jewelry that’s not designed to last long. It’s an ideal type of gold for trying out different trends, or for items that you don’t intend to wear often.
Common Gold Plated Stamp Marks:
- GP (Gold Plated) or GEP (Gold Electroplated)
- HGP (Heavy Gold Plate) or HGE (Heavy Gold Electroplate)
We hope you found this information about the different types of gold jewelry metals useful. You might also like to know about the different types of silver.