There are many more types of gold used to make jewelry than most people realize. Gold comes in a range of different colors, karats, and coatings, each with their own unique properties.
To clear up any confusion, this guide provides information about 15 different types of gold available on the market today.
Types of Gold Karats
Gold’s purity is measured in karats, with 24 being the purest. Most gold used in jewelry is alloyed (mixed) with other metals. The more karats, the more pure gold used in the alloy. Gold jewelry is sometimes stamped with a quality mark to show its purity.
The purpose of creating different types of 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 common types of gold jewelry karatages you’ll see in the United States are: 24, 18, 14, and 10 karats.
1. 24 Karat Gold
24k gold is the purest form of gold, measuring 99.9% pure. This metal is the shiniest, yellowest, and most expensive of all the different types of gold.
Pure gold is hypoallergenic, which means it never causes skin irritation. It also has high resistance to tarnish and corrosion.
However, due to being very soft and malleable, pure gold is not practical for most types of gold jewelry.
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 copper and zinc. It’s less bright but much more durable than 24k gold.
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% gold and 41.7% other metals.
While 14k gold isn’t as bright as 18k, it’s more affordable and durable. For example, a 14k gold ring can cost 30% to 60% less than a 18k gold ring, and is strong enough to withstand everyday wear.
Skin reactions to nickel-containing 14k gold are rare, but if you’re concerned about sensitivity, ask to know the piece you’re buying is nickel-free.
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% 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 form of gold for special or meaningful types of jewelry, such as engagement rings.
Nickel-containing 10k gold alloys are also more likely to cause problems for those with nickel sensitivity, 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 is the color most people automatically think of when we hear the word “gold”. According to the World Gold Council, yellow is the most popular color for gold jewelry around the globe.
Yellow gold actually comes in a range of hues, depending on the proportions of different metals in the alloy. A lighter or slightly green hue suggests higher silver content, while a darker or reddish tint usually means higher copper content.
Zinc and nickel are also sometimes used in yellow gold jewelry. When mixed 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. Jewelery manufacturers must meet the minimum gold content for each of the types of gold karatages, but will often vary the types and amounts of the non-gold metals they use.
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 2019 study, 54% of US couples opt for a white gold setting.
White gold is an alloy of yellow gold and white metals, and sometimes also copper. The less gold and copper used 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 with higher value 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 higher silver and lower copper, to give the metal a more soft 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, to get a darker red quality from the jewelry metal.
|18K Red Gold||75%||25%||0%|
|14K Red Gold||58.3%||41.7%||0%|
|10K Red Gold||41.7%||58.3%||0%|
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 in 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 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 yields a strong blue color.
Oxidized blue gold is created by subjecting certain types of gold alloys to heat. The richest known 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 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 mechanical bonding. 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.
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 usually made by 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 off.
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.