Gold Hard Facts

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Gold has captured the imagination and desires of mankind since ancient times. Its aesthetic beauty, scarcity and value have made it attractive among investors, who typically buy gold in the form of gold bars, coins and certificates. For the same reasons, gold has remained popular in jewelry and will likely continue to be until the end of time. While the precious metal is a natural element with the same properties regardless of where on the planet it is mined, it's not made into jewelry in its pure, pristine state. Pure gold is heavy and soft - far too soft to be made into jewelry, so other metals know as "alloys" are added to it to make it harder and, in some cases, give it a variation in color. Because of these nuances, there are some things you should know when buying gold jewelry. Here are some quick facts.

The purity of gold, also referred to as "fineness," is a key factor of price. Purity is measured in karats, not to be confused with a carat - a measure of mass, as with a diamond. Pure gold is 24 karats (24K). A common level of purity in gold jewelry is 18K, which is 75% pure, with the other 25% consisting of alloys such as palladium, nickel, silver and copper. More popular, however, is 14K gold, which is 58.5% pure. The greater the purity, the higher the price tag. The more the alloy, the lower the price tag and the harder the gold piece.

Karat level is sometimes, but not always, identified on the jewelry piece itself. (It's not required in the US as it is in other countries). If not there, it should appear in the signage somewhere close to the item. If it does not appear anywhere, be sure to inquire about it and probe any verbal representations made by the jeweler when in question.

The weight of gold is measured in Troy ounces - a weight measure created in France during the 1300's. Just about everything else in the US is measured in ordinary ounces under the avoirdupois system. A Troy ounce equates to 1.097 ordinary ounces. It's a minor difference, but one worth noting.

Alloy also plays a role in the color of gold. With 18K yellow gold, which has 25% alloy, the color is a deep, rich yellow; whereas, with 14K gold, the color is a brighter and lighter tone of yellow. In white gold, the alloys are manganese, palladium, silver and other white metals. In addition, a rhodium plating is also applied to render a greater whiteness. With rose gold, copper is the alloy that renders a lovely pinkish color. With white and rose gold, as with yellow, purity is also measured in karat levels - 18K, 14K and 10K.

Gold plate is a term that refers to an ultra thin layer of the precious metal applied over a cheap base metal. When you see an advertisement for, lets say, an 18K gold bracelet with an unusually low price, be sure to question if it's 18K gold plate.

Of course, in buying any jewelry, the reputations of both the jeweler and jewelry designer are an important consideration, especially when you're interested in an expensive piece. It's usually safe to assume that when a jeweler has established many years of success as a reputable jeweler, like Gold and Gems Fine Jewelry, the designers it represents are also reputable.