Gold Jewelry Buying Guide
There’s no doubt that gold is one of the most intriguing and beautiful of all precious metals. No other metal has held such a prominent role in the history of civilizations, cultures, and science.
Gold is one of the best materials to wear as jewelry –- it’s hypoallergenic, non-reactive to the elements, and malleable enough to repair and resize, so you can wear it for a lifetime.
There’s a lot of fascinating knowledge surrounding gold–-from its properties and colors, to how to care for it and tell real gold vs. fake gold. We’ve put together the ultimate gold jewelry buying guide for anyone who loves gold and wants to learn more about it.
The Benefits of Gold
It’s no coincidence that gold has been the most popular metal for fine jewelry since the earliest civilizations. Wearing gold is a symbol of how our history collides with the present, and how despite changes in the modern world, we are very similar to our ancestors in our emotions, ambitions, and desires.
- James Dyegold.
There is no other metal that looks like gold and has the same properties, so it’s truly one-of-a-kind. While the metal is so unique that a color and the element share the same name, there are other reasons why gold is excellent for making jewelry; it’s durable, malleable enough to design intricate forms, and it doesn’t react with oxygen or corrode. Its elemental properties make it indispensable for scientific and technological uses.
Gold Purity and Karats
Pure gold is too soft to maintain a shape, so it's mixed with other metals to give it the strength to avoid bending and losing its artistically crafted designs. The karat number defines the percentage of gold used in the alloy. For example, 10K consists of 46.6% pure gold, 14K contains 58.3% pure gold, 18K is slightly over 75% pure gold, and 24 karats is 10% pure gold. Here is conversion list between gold karats and percentage of pure gold:
- 58.33–62.50% = 14K ( 58.33%)
- 75.00–79.16% = 18K ( 75.00%)
- 91.66–95.83% = 22K ( 91.66%)
- 95.83–99.95% = 23K ( 95.83%)
- 99.95–100% = 24K ( 99.95%)
Gold can be categorized into three main different colors, but there’s only one type of gold, made of the pure element (Au). The different colors of gold are yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold. The colors are achieved by using different metals used in the alloy mixture.
The Different Colors of Gold Jewelry
The different colors of gold have different appearances due to the changes in types of metal alloys used with pure gold. Yellow gold uses silver and copper metals in its alloy to maintain the color of pure gold.
Yellow gold maintains the appearance of pure gold. Yellow gold is striking in appearance because there are no other metals that share its aesthetics.
Yellow gold chains pair well with warm skin tones, and is particularly striking on darker skin tones, as well as darker colored clothing. If you wear a lot of black, yellow gold is a great choice to make your outfit impressive. Because it's the most classic jewelry metal, yellow gold rings is an iconic option that works well in cultural styles and vintage looks.
Pure gold is a hypoallergenic metal, so if you have strong metal allergies, you’ll want to opt for yellow gold in higher karats because of the greater percentage of pure gold. 10K gold, for example, might contain copper in its alloy, which could cause irritation if you’re allergic to copper.
Although still a relatively soft metal, yellow gold is pretty durable, and can withstand daily wear.
Yellow gold above 18K is slightly softer than lower karats, so it may require more polishing. Fortunately, it’s malleability makes it easy to repair. Gold is a great choice for wedding rings because even if your finger gets smaller or larger when you’re older, it can be resized.
Rose gold jewelry is the latest gold color trend. It’s associated with sleek and classy styles, and works well in statement jewelry. It gets its color from its alloy mix which is primarily copper, along with some amounts of silver or other metals. The most popular choice of karats for rose gold engagement rings is 18K and 14K, for the strongest rose coloration.
The color combination of copper and gold provides a strong coloration that’s unique. This particular color creates an interesting contrast with diamonds. The color is more subtle in higher karats, which will be more yellowish.
Because it contains copper, rose gold can be an issue for those with sensitivity to copper allergies.
Rose gold has similar maintenance to yellow gold. It’s pretty simple to care for, but 18K rose gold may get scratches over time, so remember to keep up with polishing it.
White gold gets its platinum appearance from an alloy ratio that includes white metals such as silver, nickel, and palladium. It has an extra shine to it due to often being coated in rhodium plating. Rhodium is one of the most precious metals. White gold is the most popular choice for wedding and engagement rings in today’s styles.
White gold is hypoallergenic due to its rhodium coating. Rhodium is hypoallergenic, so your rhodium-plated white gold will be hypoallergenic, regardless of whether it’s high or low in karats. The rhodium coating not only adds luster to the white gold, but adds strength and durability.
Despite being quite durable, white gold requires slightly more maintenance when they’ve been worn for several years. White gold jewelry may need to be re-plated every few years or so if the outer coating starts to wear off. However, this is usually inexpensive. Consult your jeweler for information on caring for specific types of white gold jewelry.
One of the most important tips for how to buy gold jewelry is making sure you’re buying real gold. There are several ways to tell if gold is real. Here are the ways to determine real gold vs. fake:
This is the best way to tell if the gold you’re buying is real or not. A hallmark is a small stamp on the gold jewelry that indicates the gold’s karat weight. There will be different measurements depending on the location. In the USA, the hallmark describes karats out of 24 (i.e. 10k, 18k, etc.). In Europe, the number will be a decimal percentage (1.00 would be pure gold, .916 would be 22K, .75 would be 18K, .417 is 10K, etc).
If the gold jewelry has the letters GP, GF, or GEP stamped or engraved onto it, it is not real solid gold. GP means gold plated, GF means gold filled, and GEP is gold electroplate. These are different ways that gold may be filled or plated in layers on other metals that aren’t gold. The gold plating is real gold, but it’s often thin and far less valuable, so an unusually cheap price could be an indicator. It’s not considered true gold. Hollow gold, on the other hand, refers to real gold that has been hollowed out to make jewelry more lightweight. Look for solid gold and hollow gold for the most valuable and durable gold jewelry.
If you’ve purchased gold earrings and have doubts about their authenticity, there are a few tests you can do at home. You can test them with nitric acid, test its density, and scratch it against a ceramic tile. Magnets may also help you decide if gold is real or not because gold is not magnetic, so if a magnet reacts with gold it’s most likely gold plated or gold filled and not true gold. Before testing gold, make sure to research it and combine different tests to gain a full amount of evidence to decide. A better option is to take it to a jeweler or gold expert to have them test it for you.
Gold Buying Tips
Here are some tips for buying gold to keep in mind in addition with the other information we’ve provided above:
1. Compare prices
Just because it’s real gold doesn’t mean it has to be incredibly expensive. You can often get real gold cheap on sale in clearance sections, although you may have fewer options for designs. Wholesale jewelry is also a great way to find cheap real gold jewelry.
2. Look at the styles
The types of gold jewelry styles a seller offers can give a good indication of how the seller responds to buyer demand. If they offer limited selections that don’t change much and can’t be customized, they’re probably not keeping up with the trends. This means they might not sell a ton of inventory, and are less likely to have the lowest prices.
3. Check the customer service
Do they offer a money-back guarantee for the first 30 days? If the seller doesn’t offer any kind of return policy or satisfaction guarantee, it should raise your suspicions. Good sellers should be open to answering any questions about returns or warranties very clearly and with specifics.
4. Look for reputation
How long has the seller been in the gold business? There are new businesses out there that sell gold, of course, but it’s a good sign if a gold seller has name recognition and reviews for their products. The longer a gold business has been active, the more likely the jewelry is to be authentic, since there’s been plenty of time for customers to call them out. The more customers they’ve had, the more they can stand by their quality.
5. Look for reviews
Are there any reviews on the gold jewelry? New sellers might not have many reviews, and new products might not have any either. This is totally fine. But more established sellers should at least have some reviews for their products. If there are no reviews at all, or if there are many 5-star reviews for every product that don’t seem real, the seller may be suspicious. When in doubt, contact the seller for clarification.
6. Look for contact info
Does the seller supply multiple ways to contact them? Does their contact info seem valid? Before you buy, it’s often a good idea to contact them first. Many fake websites sell gold without real contact info, and no personal information or store address. This is a big red flag–-they could delete their website after you purchase gold jewelry so that when you find out it’s fake, there’s no way to find them.
The History of Gold
We have been using gold for monetary and aesthetic purposes since before written history. It’s hard to put an exact date of when gold was first mined, but we do know that historically, the Egyptians, Ancient Romans, and Greeks developed financial and commodity trading based on its value. Egyptian royalty tombs were made of gold, dating it back to at least 7000 years ago.
People have been making jewelry out of gold since 4,500-4,600 B.C. The oldest gold jewelry ever found was discovered in Bulgaria in 2016. It’s believed that the gold discovered may have been worn as a sign of status by either a man or woman, similar to its uses in jewelry today.
As far back as 3000 B.C., the Ancient Egyptians knew the importance and value of gold. Gold played a very important role in Egyptian history and mythology.
Did you know the Egyptians created the first measurement of how much silver has a lower value than gold? According to the Egyptians, it would take two and a half parts of silver to equal one piece of gold. Surprisingly enough, the Egyptians didn’t use gold as a form of money or trade. They instead opted to use agricultural items as a form of currency.
As the years progressed in history, the ancient Greeks began to discover gold. For the Greeks, they looked at gold as a symbol of social status and wealth. Gold was also glorified amongst the gods.Unlike the Egyptians, the Greeks actually did use gold as a form of currency.
The earliest historical examples of wedding rings came from the ancient Greeks, who may have borrowed the idea from the Ancient Egyptians, but decided to make the rings out of metal rather than woven hemp. In mythological tales, gods used rings as a token to remember prominent encounters they had with other gods. The Myth of Prometheus is perhaps the first story of jewelry being used as a reminder of someone.
During the height of the Roman civilization, gold was an important metal as a status symbol of wealth and nobility. It is also in Rome that gold engagement rings first became a thing.
In the second century B.C., a man showed a woman that he wanted to marry her by giving her two rings: a gold one which she wore for the public to see, and another one made of iron, which she would wear at home. Today, many people also opt for beautiful gold wedding rings that are flashy public statements on their marriage. The Romans liked gold for its capabilities for personalization–-they could carve pictures of themselves into their gold engagement rings.
Gold is mentioned frequently in the Bible, stating that Havilah is where the good gold can be found and that the genuineness of one’s faith is more precious than gold. The prominence of gold in the Bible has led to its significance in Christianity. When Rome fell and the Middle Ages began, people started carving crosses into gold as a symbol of Christ blessing their marriage. Gold cross necklaces became popular as well.
Gold as Currency in the U.S.
In 1792, the United States passed the Mint and Coinage Act. This was a historical event that changed the history of gold. This act established a fixed price of gold converted to U.S. dollars...this made gold and silver coins legal in the United States.
During this time, gold was 15 times more valuable than silver. Because of this, the U.S. Mint made it a requirement that silver and gold had to be sold and bought at a rate of 15 parts silver to 1 part gold. Silver’s primary purpose was for smaller purchases, while gold was for the larger purchases.
This rate was changed after the Civil War because the U.S. wasn’t able to completely pay off all it’s debts in gold or silver. With this debt at hand, it was declared in 1862 that paper money would be the new form of currency.
A few years after that, silver was completely removed from the U.S. Mint’s fixed rate system through the Coinage Act of 1873. This act took the silver dollar out of circulation and American citizens criticized it calling it the “Crime of ‘73.” From then on, the United States never used silver dollars again.
The significance of gold in early United States history led to the 1800s Gold Rush madness, and the expansion into the West. It’s interesting to think how gold is one of the reasons that states like California were created.
Gold jewelry remains to captivate our interests, even thousands of years after its discovery. It has historical meaning all around the world. From Africa, South America, Europe, North America, and Australia to Asia, gold can be traced back in historical significance on every continent (except Antarctica, although penguins probably would love gold too if you showed them).
There’s something fascinating about holding gold and realizing that it’s been both traded by Mayans, and worn in space (astronaut’s visors are coated in gold). Gold has undoubtedly cemented its place in human achievement.