Karat Definition for Gold Jewelry

Learn what karat means: Karat definition and other solid gold facts.
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Karat helps us determine the gold content or purity of an item. The higher the number linked to the karat, the more pure gold there is. This guide will teach you the differences between 14K and 18K and help you understand why karat is such an important term to know. 

Karat Definition

The karat system is used to measure the amount of pure gold found in solid gold jewelry. In the US, numbers are associated with the percentage of pure gold in a piece.

 Karat values range from 24K down to 9k. The gold content on anything 8k or less is so low that it wouldn't be considered solid gold jewelry. 

Solid Gold vs. Pure Gold

The phrase "solid gold jewelry" is a misnomer because, most times, this jewelry is not made up of solid gold. This term references jewelry that has a gold alloy throughout the entire piece.

On the other hand, the phrase "pure gold jewelry" is used to describe jewelry that is made up entirely of gold with little to no alloys present.

How a Gold Alloy is Formed

A portion of the gold is mixed with different alloys or metals, which creates a specific formula. Each gold color, like white gold or rose gold, uses a different combination of alloys. 

Karat Used in Costume Jewelry

The term karat is also used on gold filled and gold plated jewelry. Even though these pieces are not solid gold, the gold portion of the jewelry has a certain percentage of pure gold designated through karats.

 

Expert Tip: If your piece of jewelry is marked 14KGF or 10KGF, that is a common indication that the item is gold filled and is not solid gold. However, the marking 14KP or 14KP does not necessarily mean gold plated. It also can stand for 14K gold plumb, which is solid gold.

If your piece of jewelry has a P in the marking, be sure to have the gold tested.

Technically you should never depend solely on a gold hallmark to determine gold value. Some people will illegally mark plated gold with 14K gold stampings to try to sell for a profit. 

Ranges of Karat Values

  • 24 karat (24K) gold is pure gold.
  • 18 karat (18K) gold contains 18 parts gold and 6 parts another metal or metals, making it 75% gold.
  • 14 karat (14K) gold contains 14 parts gold and 10 parts another metal or metals, making it 58.3% gold.
  • 10 karat (10K) gold contains 10 parts gold and 14 parts another metal or metals, making it 41.7% gold. 10k gold is the minimum karat designation that can still be called gold in the US.

These values are primarily used on gold from the United States. You will see a lot of 22k gold and 9k gold in other countries. Gold jewelry from other countries may have an entirely different set of gold markings they use. 

Karat vs. Carat

The term carat, spelled with a "c," is often confused with the term karat. They are both pronounced the same, but carat refers to the weight of a gemstone. You could have a 1.5 carat diamond set in an 18 karat gold setting. 

Edited by: Lauren Thomann