Understanding Your Karats

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What are Karats?

Karats, spelled ‘carats’ outside of North America, are the little numbers stamped on a piece of gold in the format of ‘xxK’ or ‘xxKT’ and it serves as a reference for the type of gold it is stamped on. It refers to the actual gold content in that particular piece of jewelry. Here’s some info on Karats:

  • The higher the Karat, the

    more pure

    the gold.

  • Lower Karat jewelry contains less gold and more of an alloy metal, such as copper, nickel(not as common anymore), silver, or palladium.

  • Other metals are added to gold to strengthen it from its malleable state or even to enhance color, such as in rose gold.

Karats serve as a way to determine just how pure that gold really is! 24 Karats is the highest Karat you can buy with the most purity that is readily available for purchase. Knowing this little piece of information is vital to you being able to calculate the gold content on your very own! Say you purchase a ring that is 14K gold, since the maximum amount of Karats you can have is 24K, you divide the 14 Karats by the 24 max Karats, and you get .583, or 58.3% pure gold. Is it getting a bit easier to understand now? Let’s move on!

Low Karats vs. High Karats

More purity of gold does not necessarily mean better, it simply means more pure, worth more money, and more expensive! With gold, the phrase “less is more” can certainly apply. As stated earlier, the less pure the gold is, the more alloy metals it contains, which means it’s stronger! This is good especially when it comes to jewelry as 24K gold is way too soft to make jewelry with. The lower the karats in that ring, the stronger it will be with other metals. Let’s compare lower and higher Karats:

  • The lower the Karat, the stronger it will be, while higher Karats will be softer.

  • Lower Karats are not very tarnish-resistant, but higher Karats are much more resistant to tarnishing.

  • Lower Karats are not worth as much monetarily, while higher Karats are worth much more as they are

    more pure

    .

  • Higher Karat gold will appear more yellow.

The purity of gold you should go for all depends on what you intend to use it for, if it will be subjected to a lot of force that can damage it, and your personal preferences as far as gold goes!

Purity Conversion: Millesimal Fineness to Karats

Sometimes the numbers can get confusing, especially if you are used to one system such as Karats, but are shopping in a foreign place which uses an entirely different purity identification system. To make it easier, here is a chart that lays it all out.

Gold Purity Conversion Chart

Millesimal Fineness
% Gold
Parts Gold
Karats (Carats)
375
37.5
9/24
9K
416/417
41.7
10/24
10K
500
50.0
12/24
12K
583/585
58.3
14/24
14K
750
75.0
18/24
18K
916/917
91.7
22/24
22K
999
99.9
24/24
24K

As you can clearly see by the above chart, Millesimal Fineness basically lists the percent of gold, while Karats lists how many parts of gold are contained in the piece. The remaining percent or parts that are not gold are alloys. Converting between the two is rather easy when you convert the percent to fraction form or vice versa.

Common Uses for Gold

Gold is used in many industries from jewelry-making to food! Although about 75% of gold used annually is for making jewelry, other industries include:

  • Coins/bullion: Currency is one of the greatest uses

    as

    gold will always hold value even if the dollar collapses. Take American Buffalo coins, for example; they are 24K gold, pure as pure can be!

  • Computers/technology: Since gold is a terrific conductor of electricity, it is often found in computers and technology. You will even find small amounts in cell phones, about $.50 worth!

  • Aerospace: Being such a great conductor, gold is used in various circuit boards for spacecraft and also as a shield to keep the temperature of the spacecraft stable.

  • Dental: We’ve all seen rappers with golden grills. Gold is not just for looks, though! It’s highly useful in the mouth and can be found in fillings, crowns, bridges and other dental applications.

  • Medical: Not only is gold used in medical appliances and instruments, but it is also literally used as a “drug” for medical purposes for various conditions, including radiation treatment for certain types of cancer!

As far as food goes, don’t go eating that engagement ring in a life or death situation! Gold leaf is often used as a decorative, but edible garnish for food since the food-grade gold is non-toxic. You may also be familiar with the liquor Goldschläger, which contains visible pieces of gold flakes. So forget the cake, you can have your gold and eat it too!

Common Gold Purities

Although a bit more than 75% of gold used each year is for making jewelry, there’s many other purposes. Gold is a very flexible resource and is used in many different industries for various purposes, depending on the purity. Here’s a list of stamps that you might find on a piece of gold, what they mean, and what they can be used for. gold_purity_pic01_1

  • EPNS: If someone is trying to sell you a piece of “gold” marked “EPNS,” run away. It stands for “Electroplated Nickel Silver” which is silverplate. I.e. it’s not gold and it’s worthless.
  • EPBM: Again, if someone is trying to sell you “gold” marked “EPBM,” go elsewhere. This stands for “Electroplated Britannia Metal” which is not gold at all, rather a silver/tin alloy consisting of copper, lead, or zinc.
  • GE: Gold Electroplate. This is a piece consisting of a base metal, often brass, with a certain thickness of gold electrolytically deposited onto the base. The minimum standards require to be considered GE is 7 millionths of an inch and at least 10K gold as the plating.
  • HGE: Heavy Gold Electroplate. This is the same as GE above, but may only be classified as “heavy” if the plating is at least 100 millionths of an inch.
  • GF: Gold Filled. This is similar to gold plate, but the gold is heat and pressure bonded to the base metal. It must have a minimum purity of 10K gold and the gold content must be at least 1/20th of the weight of the metal piece.
  • 375: 37.5% gold, or 9K. In the US, the minimum standard for gold is 10K. Many other countries allow this to be marketed as gold and it’s been used from jewelry to dental purposes.
  • 417: 41.7% gold, or 10K gold. Very commonly used in jewelry in the US and very strong. Great for jewelry for those who work industrious jobs who need something that will hold up.
  • 585: 58.5% gold, or 14K gold. Good, strong gold but with a bit more gold than 10K.
  • 750: 75.0% gold, or 18K gold. Much more pure than 14K, still has good strength with a wonderful balance in purity.
  • 916: 91.6% gold, or 22K gold. This is probably the softest and most pure gold that you would want to have for a piece of jewelry.
  • 999: 99.9% gold, or 24K gold. This is the purest that you can buy, and although purity can be up to six nines fine, or 999.999, it’s highly rare to find it so pure. Such fineness in gold was last refined in the 1950’s by The Perth Mint in Australia.