All That Glitters: Know Your Gold

I was struck by the headline on the one-page fashion piece in the July 2018 issue of Elle Magazine:  “24-Karat Magic:  Glam up a chill ensemble with GOLD BOHO CHAINS and DELICATE PENDANTS—the more the merrier.”

24 karat gold is, of course, pure gold – and it is unlikely you will ever come across any jewelry represented as such. 22 karat jewelry is about the highest karatage one comes across. Much more typical in the United States is 14 karat and 18 karat gold jewelry. 18 karat gold is 75% gold and 25% other metals; 14 karat gold is 58.5% gold and 41.5% other metals.

None of the jewelry pictured in the piece is 24 karat gold. Here’s a rundown of the pieces by designer, magazine description, and gold content as determined from my research on the Web:

  • Stone and Strand “gold charm necklace”: 14 karat gold rose charm necklace
  • Ariel Gordon “diamond and gold hoop earrings”: 14 karat gold pave huggies
  • Seb Brown “gold, diamond, aquamarine, sapphire and topaz ring”: 14 karat gold
  • Theodora Warre “gold-plated necklace”: no additional information available online
  • Aurelie Bidermann “gold-plated earrings”: no information available online
  • Pandora “gold pendant necklace”: 14 karat gold dazzling droplet pendant with cubic zirconia
  • Alighieri Jewellery “gold-plated pendant necklace”: gold-plated Il Leone necklace
  • Jennifer Meyer “gold, diamond and turquoise earrings”: exact earrings not seen at Barneys.com site; however, Meyer works in 18 karat gold
  • Gabriel & Co. “engravable gold and diamond bracelet”: 14 karat yellow gold chain engravable
  • Johnny Was “gold vermeil bangle”: 18 karat gold vermeil snake bangle with wrapped tail
  • Nalin Studios “gold-plated coin ring”: 18 karat gold-plated over 925 sterling silver  – gold vermeil – love ring

Note that, of the pieces described as “gold,” all are 14 karat except the Jennifer Meyer earrings, which are crafted in 18 karat gold.

“Gold-plated” refers to a thin plating of gold over another metal. That metal is likely to be a base metal such as nickel, bronze or lead. Because of the thinness of the gold, items that are gold-plated may need to have the gold plating renewed from time to time to keep the same appearance.

“Gold vermeil” refers to sterling silver covered with a layer of gold (usually by plating). This differs from gold-plated in that the metal underlying the gold is not a less expensive base metal. The Nalin Studios ring should have been described as gold vermeil in the magazine article.

You may come across jewelry, especially vintage jewelry, described and marked “gold-filled,” which refers to a process by which the item is covered in a layer of gold at least 1/20th of the total weight of the metal in the piece, in 10, 12 or 14 karat. Gold-filled jewelry has more gold content than gold-plated jewelry.

By all means, glam up your look with “gold” chains and pendants. But do your homework,  know what it is you are buying, and then buy with confidence.