A Guide to the Different Types of Gold Jewelry

What comes to mind when you hear the word “gold?” For market-conscious investors, gold bullion might be the first thing that pops into their heads, while others imagine rare gold coins. Still, many people will immediately think of a sparkling piece of jewelry.

If you’re curious to learn more about gold jewelry, this guide is for you. Did you know that there are several types of gold that jewelers use in their designs? Discover the basics of each option below so that you can make an informed decision before gifting or investing in gold jewelry.

What Is Gold?

Gold is one of Earth’s most valuable natural materials. The precious metal has a rich history that dates back to ancient times and is still known for its malleability and tarnish resistance. Societies worldwide continue to view gold as an object of luxury, making it ideal for creating high-end jewelry.

Today, gold takes on several forms, including coins and bars for investing. Traces of gold are also used in everyday objects like smartphones, televisions, and even dental fillings. However, its most common use is in jewelry, so let’s dive deeper into how the industry uses gold to create stunning pieces for commercial purposes and collectors alike.

Gold’s Different Colors Come From Alloys

set of gold jewelry in different colors

The different types of gold jewelry go far beyond select necklaces, rings, and bracelets. Discerning jewelers employ a wide variety of colors in modern designs so that the accessories stand out.

Professionals achieve the different colors in gold jewelry by mixing the gold with other metals. Each alloy of metal has a different durability. So, when buying a piece of jewelry for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to not only focus on the style but on the quality of the metal as well.

Yellow Gold Is Still an Alloy

When people hear the word “gold,” they usually think about yellow gold, which is how many of us associate gold in its most natural form. However, in reality, yellow gold jewelry is an alloy of pure gold with silver, copper, and zinc.

Combining these elements creates the famous yellow shine that society associates with luxury and high-end value. Is yellow gold the best color option among all types of gold jewelry? As long as you enjoy the color, you can’t go wrong with a piece of yellow gold jewelry.

On the plus side, yellow gold requires the least amount of maintenance since it’s the purest of all the available colors. The higher purity level also makes it safer for those who experience allergic reactions to other metals.

White Gold’s Composition Varies Considerably

It’s common to confuse white gold and silver, which have a similar shine and finish. However, white gold contains zero traces of silver. Instead, it is typically a mixture of pure gold and platinum, though nickel and zinc may also feature.

This gold color has seen a tremendous boost in popularity, particularly for engagement and wedding rings. White gold offers a luxurious look and is often more durable than yellow gold. Goldsmiths find that yellow gold pieces are susceptible to scratching, while white gold pieces resist damage well.

If you’re wearing a ring daily, white gold is a wise choice since the metal is less prone to scratches and damage. You can perform daily activities like washing dishes or bathing without worrying too much about the ring’s quality diminishing.

Rose Gold Takes Its Pinks From Copper

heart shape rose gold pendant necklace on white background

Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular types of gold jewelry to take off in recent years has been rose gold. This metal alloy’s dusty pink hue consists of a gold, copper, and silver mix.

The typical breakdown of a piece of 18-karat rose gold jewelry tends to be:

  • 75% pure gold
  • 22.25% copper
  • 2.75% silver

However, tinkering with these specific percentages changes the appearance of the rose gold items, so countless variations exist from jeweler to jeweler. Objects with higher traces of pure gold, such as an 18-karat piece, tend to have a shinier appearance with a paler pink color. An object that is 14 karats of rose gold will have a higher concentration of copper for a deeper pink but duller finish.

Since copper is relatively inexpensive as a metal choice, consumers can often purchase rose gold products for a much lower price than yellow or white gold. The use of copper also benefits durability, so jewelry made of rose gold tends to be stronger and more resistant to tarnishing.

Many use the terms pink or red gold when referring to rose gold, but while all three tend to have similar appearances, they each have different alloy compositions. Pink gold alloys feature more silver and less copper. Red gold doesn’t use silver at all.

Green Gold

Compared to the other types of gold colors, green gold is less mainstream. This metal alloy, also known as electrum, combines pure gold, silver, and occasionally copper. The result is a striking pale green finish that adds a unique flair to any piece.

It’s also possible to achieve a darker green by adding cadmium to the gold, silver, and copper alloys. However, this process is rare since cadmium has toxic properties that may harm humans.

Still, if you have your heart set on finding a piece of green gold jewelry, you may be in for a lengthy search. This metal combination is not as popular as other colors, and jewelers don’t produce as many objects containing green gold. That’s why you’re far more likely to find a green gold object at an obscure, independent collection than at a major retailer.

Gold Karat or Purity Matters More Than You Think

two gold rings magnifying glass and dollar banknotes

When discussing different types of gold jewelry, terms like karat and purity are bound to pop up. These terms are crucial for determining the price and quality of gold items. However, while they are related, it’s important not to use them interchangeably.

In particular, gold purity refers to the percentage of pure, natural gold that appears in an object. The higher the purity level, the more valuable the object will be on the open market. For example, you can usually confirm an object’s gold purity with simple tests to make sure you aren’t overpaying only to end up with a counterfeit.

One test is to take note that pure gold has no magnetic properties. Putting a magnet near an object—be it a gold ring, coins, or something else—and feeling it pull means the object contains other metals.

If a jeweler mentions gold karat, they will be referring to the purity measurement within a piece. The industry measures gold on a scale of 24 karats (the highest purity level). At 24 karats, the gold piece does not contain any other metals.

Many jewelers create products from 10-karat to 20-karat gold compositions since pure gold is highly malleable and may lose its shape. That’s why combining traces of pure gold with stronger metals can make jewelry more durable for daily wear.

Be careful not to confuse karats with carats. Both terms are used throughout the industry, but a carat generally refers to the weight of diamonds and other gemstones. For example, you could purchase a gorgeous ring made of 14-karat gold that features a 1.5-carat diamond.

Side Note: Gold Plating Options

Among the most affordable types of gold jewelry is a gold-plated item. These objects feature layers of real gold, but the thickness and durability vary. For example, common gold plating options include the following:

  • Gold-filled jewelry
  • Gold-plated or electroplated jewelry
  • Gold overlay jewelry

If you look closely at a piece of jewelry and see a marking that says “GF,” this signifies gold-filled. Items that are gold-filled usually contain two layers of gold bonded to a base metal like brass or copper. A combination of heat and high-pressure bonds all the layers together to create a durable piece of jewelry (typically containing at least 5% gold).

If you notice an item has “GP” or “GEP” stamped on it, this marking means it’s gold-plated. The process involves a thin layer of gold placed over a base metal. Gold-filled jewelry requires that gold make up at least 5% of the metal content, but gold-plated jewelry’s requirement is lenient—the gold layer must be at least seven millionths of an inch thick and feature 10-karat gold or better.

Lastly, gold overlay jewelry is slightly more durable than gold electroplated items. It is similar to gold-filled jewelry that uses heat and pressure to bond the gold to a base metal, but the gold content can be less than 5%. These objects have “GO” or “RGP” to indicate rolled gold plating.

A Word About Vermeil Jewelry

While a gold-plated piece of jewelry uses brass, copper, or nickel, vermeil jewelry is a special type of gold plating that goes over a sterling silver base. The gold coating is just as thin and susceptible to tarnishing. However, using sterling silver as a base metal makes the object slightly more durable.

Vermeil jewelry is also ideal for sensitive skin or anyone allergic to harsh metals like brass or nickel. These pieces of jewelry are usually within the price range of other gold-plated options.

Learn About Gold Investment and More

Now that you understand more about the different types of gold alloy jewelry available, you can use the information in your purchasing or investing journey. When buying this precious metal, be mindful of the purity level and karat measurement before settling on an accessory choice or something you want to put into an investment bundle.

Why not reach out to the experts at Learn About Gold? They can provide more information about gold investments, how to open your own gold IRA, or anything else you’d like to explore in the exciting world of precious metals.

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