What’s the difference: 10k, 14k, 18k, 21k, 22k and 24k? KARATS!

Let’s start with what the “K” means. The “K” refers to karat, which is the proportion of pure gold in a piece of jewelry. The karat measurement uses a scale between 0 and 24. Jewelry that is 24K is 100% pure gold, while jewelry that is 0K would have zero gold in it (such as sterling silver).

When you are shopping for fine gold jewelry, the biggest differentiator is the number of karats. The higher the karat, the higher the price (the lower end is 10K, while the higher end is 24K). You also have 14K, 18K, 21K, and 22K in between. For jewelry in between, such as 14K, only a certain percentage of the jewelry is pure gold. The remaining percentage consists of various alloys and metals, such as copper, palladium, nickel, or silver. Since pure gold is a valuable precious metal, a 24K gold piece of jewelry is more expensive than one with fewer karats.

When you look at fine gold jewelry, it should have the number of karats stamped on it (usually somewhere less obvious). The most common karats used for jewelry are: 10K, 14K, 18K, 21k, 22K, and 24K. It is unlikely you will come across 5K, 6K, 7K, or any other usual karat measurements. 24 Karat jewelry (while not unheard of), is rare, as pure gold is a soft metal that is easily scratched and bent (the technical terms we jewelers use is malleable and ductile). Jewelry Lane does not typically sell 24 karat jewelry.

To calculate the percentage of gold purity in a jewelry piece, you must divide the number of karats of pure gold by 24. For instance, if you purchase an 18K piece of gold jewelry, then you divide 18 by 24. The answer is 0.75, which is the same thing as 75%. That means an 18K gold jewelry piece contains 75% of pure gold in it.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just print the percentage of pure gold onto the jewelry piece? Although that would be the logical thing to do for the average consumer, not all gold is used for jewelry. You’ve probably seen movies about bank robberies and gold bars. The term karat is used for the "proportion of fine gold in an alloy", and gold alloys have important industrial uses as well. Using karats instead of percentages, is more precise.

Typical Bank Gold Cards

Now that you know what a karat is, you’ll understand why the prices are higher for 24K items!