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Gold is the most malleable of precious metals and is prized for jewelry because it does not corrode, tarnish or rust. It can be found nearly everywhere, in rivers, mountains and oceans, but it is very difficult and expensive to mine and refine.

The karat is a unit of measurement for the proportion of gold an item contains.

  • 24 karat (24K) gold is pure gold. Pure gold is very soft and it is usually alloyed (combined) with other metals for increased hardness and durability. Metals typically used in gold alloys are copper, silver, nickel, zinc, tin, palladium, and/or manganese. The metal used will affect the color of the gold: yellow, rose, green or white. (People with nickel allergies should be aware that white gold contains nickel.)
  • 18 karat (18K) gold contains 18 parts gold and 6 parts other metal, making it 75% gold.
  • 14 karat (14K) gold contains 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metal, making it 58.3% gold.
  • 12 karat (12K) gold contains 12 parts gold and 12 parts other metal, making it 50% gold.
  • 10 karat (10K) gold contains 10 parts gold and 14 parts other metal, making it 41.7% gold. 10k gold is the minimum karat designation that can still be called gold in the USA.

(Carat spelled with a "c" refers to the weight of a gemstone and equals 200mg.)

Gold-Filled (GF) is a layer of gold 10K or greater mechanically bonded under heat and pressure to a base material, then rolled or drawn to a given thickness or gage. Gold filled jewelry has a surface layer of gold that is very thick compared to gold plated or electroplated items. Gold-filled jewelry are considered LIFETIME products, and the gold layer will not quickly wear off, as it does with gold plated jewelry.

To be called gold-filled, the FTC (U.S. Federal Trade Commission) requires that gold makes up at least 1/20th (5%) by weight of the total product. Legal markings are 14K, 12K, or 10K Gold-filled and the karat measurement of gold content MUST be part of the marking or designation.

Jewelry labeled 14/20GF denotes 1/20 14K gold-filled; 12/10 denotes 1/10 12K gold-filled.

Rolled Gold Plate (RGP), also called Gold Overlay, is made the same way as gold-filled material, but with a lower gold content. The minimum standard states that 1/40th the total weight of the item must be gold of the karat the item is marked. Thus a product marked 14K RGP is 1/40th (2.5%) 14K gold by weight.

Gold Electroplate is a process in which a very thin layer of gold is deposited onto a conductive metal item. Utilizing an electrical current, positively charged metal "ions" travel through a liquid solution known as an "electrolyte", and are deposited onto the negatively charged metal object. Metals most commonly electroplated are silver, copper, bronze, and aluminum.

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