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01.09.22

K(C)arat Confusion? Our Guide to Gold Karat

By Stephanie Dore

Y’all know you gotta eat your veggies. And when it comes to your engagement ring, there’s plenty of both karats and carats — basically a salad. We know the “C” carat is part of the 4Cs of diamonds, and is all about weight. But what about gold karat? What does it mean? Is gold karat weight really a thing? And which karat is right for you? We’re here to break it all down so you know what you’re looking at when it comes to choosing a metal color and makeup for your engagement ring.

What is a Gold Karat?

First things first, let’s clear up some confusion. The word “carat” is a measure of weight we use when talking about diamonds and gemstones. Like, literally how much it physically weighs (as opposed to its visual size or measurements). It’s actually quite different from the word “karat” that we use to describe the proportion of purity when talking about gold. As in, how pure is the gold? 

18 karat vs 14 gold karat ring settings
While there is an occasional visual difference in gold karat weight, it is typically very minimal.
7 carat asscher cut lab created diamond half bezel engagement ring
Alloys help to make your rings strong enough for everyday wear as pure gold is very soft!

That 24 Karat Magic

Why 24? Well, ask the ancient Romans, babes. It’s an old coin measurement from way back when. But what you need to know is that pure gold is what we call 24 karat. It doesn’t get any higher, but it does get lower! One karat is equal to 1/24th part of pure gold in an alloy. So, what’s an alloy? An alloy is a metal that’s made up of multiple different metals, in nearly any combination. 18 karat, 14 karat, 10 karat and so on, are all gold alloys. In the case of 18 karat gold, 18 parts out of 24 are gold, and the remaining 6 parts are made up of other things. And these things can (and do) change based on the color gold you choose.

Yellow gold, or just “gold” is the starting point. And you won’t see a visible difference between, say, 18k yellow gold and 14k yellow gold. But the more copper you add, the pinker the gold becomes, giving us rose gold. Meanwhile, adding things like zinc, palladium, silver, and nickel will give you a paler yellow we call white gold. And no, white gold isn’t really white, white.

So What’s in Our Gold?

Well, here at Frank Darling, we care about the planet. So we use 100% recycled gold and platinum for our jewelry. It’s reclaimed from post-consumer sources and re-refined. It’s exactly the same as newly mined gold (yes, gold is mined out of the Earth just like diamonds!) without the environmental damage. Our sources include recycled jewelry, industrial products, and electronics.

  • Our 18K rose gold is 75% gold, 24% copper, 1% silver with trace elements of zinc. The zinc accentuates the color of the copper and gives it a lovely blush pink hue.
  • Our 18K gold alloy is 75% gold, 15% silver, and 10% copper.
  • Our 14K white gold is 58% gold, 23% copper, 9% copper and 10% nickel.
  • Our 18K white gold alloy is 75% gold, 14% copper, 5% zinc and 6% nickel.
  • Our platinum alloy is 95% platinum and 5% ruthenium, another member of the platinum family.
Recycled gold is a no-brainer. Looks exactly the same and better for the planet!
white gold men's wedding band
While rhodium plated white gold and platinum look nearly identical when brand new, they wear very differently!

Wait, What is White Gold?

Yep, circling back. White gold, at least as far as what you’ll typically see in jewelry stores, isn’t as white as you think. It’s usually plated with a very thin layer of rhodium, which is a precious metal in the platinum family, to give it that super-white shine. Rhodium is also wonderfully hypoallergenic and corrosion resistant, so it does have some additional benefits. Raw white gold, without rhodium plating, is more of a soft champagne hue. It’s quite beautiful, actually. It’s just not what has been made popular by the market. Any of our rings at Frank Darling can be made with or without rhodium plating, depending on your personal preference.

Does Rhodium Plating Wear Off?

Short answer: yes, rhodium plating will wear off over time, slowly revealing that subtle color shift to white gold’s raw state. You may start to notice this around the year mark, and you can definitely get your ring re-plated any time you like. But how quickly it wears depends on how you’re wearing your ring. The more it rubs against other jewelry, for instance, might make it wear away more quickly. It’s quite normal, and not any added hassle, really, as you should get your ring checked for stone security every 6-12 months anyway. Owning nice things is hard, y’all. Kidding. It’s worth it.

oval diamond white gold karat 18 solitaire engagement ring
White gold can be high maintenance when rhodium plated, but we love the soft warmth of unplated white gold.

oval diamond yellow gold engagement ring stack
Going for a simple solitaire? Opt for the more durable choice of 14k yellow gold.

So Which Karat Gold is Right For You?

Yep, circling back. White gold, at least as far as what you’ll typically see in jewelry stores, isn’t as white as you think. It’s usually plated with a very thin layer of

Choosing a karat of gold for your engagement ring is a matter of three things: color (which we already talked about), price (this part is easy — the higher the karat, the higher the price tag), and hardness (basically, how durable is it?). You won’t see a lot of modern jewelry in fine, pure, 24 karat gold because it’s very soft. Like, so soft you can bend it with your average lil hands. Hence the addition of harder metals, which harden the gold so that it stands up to fabrication and wear. 

So yes, 18 karat gold is softer than 14 karat gold. But either is suitable for everyday wear for most jewelry. You’ll see more detailed engagement rings created in the softer 18 karat gold because it allows for finer, more detailed fabrication. But these days, talented master craftspeople can do wonders with either of these metals. If you’re looking for the more budget friendly option, 14k will do the trick.

Our Best Advice

When it comes to choosing a karat gold for your own engagement ring or fine jewelry, think about your overall budget and what color metal you prefer. These are really the two biggest factors that should go into your decision. But also think about what stone you might set in your ring or jewelry. Diamonds, especially, can reflect the color of metal they are set in. So if you want your diamond to appear super bright white, but you love yellow gold, try a two-tone engagement ring with white gold or platinum prongs. The best of both worlds!

oval two tone bezel engagement ring
Two-tone rings are the perfect happy medium to satisfy warm metal and icy diamond lovers.

Helping Hands

You can click through our collection of signature engagement rings and wedding bands to see what different styles might look like in different metal colors. Or try designing your own dream ring with our style quiz and you’ll even get a free sketch! Need a little more help? Ping our team of designers at hello@frankdarling.com with a bit about what you’re looking for and your budget and we’ll get you sorted in no time.

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