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Gemstone Jewelry: About Gold Alloys

Carnelian in Black Gold Alloy
Carnelian in Black Gold Alloy

Jewelry design today has evolved in both innovation and technique. What once started out as a simple craft has now truly become a complex form of art. Modern jewelry includes simple designs featuring colored stones, seashells wrapped in leather or set in bone, and fine precision-cut gems carefully cast into colored gold, channeled with brilliant melee diamond accents. In the jewelry industry, gem settings or mountings are known as 'jewelry findings', and when most people think of 'findings', gold is almost always the first material to come to mind. Gold's stability makes it ideal for jewelry since it is one of the few noble metals that are resistant to oxidation and corrosion.

Gold is one of the most popular and traditional jewelry-making materials, but in its purest form, it is rather soft and therefore not ideal for most jewelry designs. For most of time, pure gold has been the standard and it still is in many Asian countries. But through innovation, jewelry trends have evolved - bringing about the introduction of various elements fused with gold or 'gold alloys'.

Tanzanite Gold Ring
Tanzanite in Yellow Gold Alloy

Many consumers are often surprised to learn that pure gold settings are rarely seen in jewelry findings anymore. Today, almost all gold jewelry mountings are actually forms of 'gold alloy'. An alloy can be any form of mixed metal compound; to be a gold alloy, it must contain at least one part gold combined with one or more other elements. In most cases, gold alloys are mixed with other metals; i.e., platinum, silver, palladium, copper or iron. Gold is ideal for forming alloys with other metals owing to its malleability and remarkable versatility. In producing gold alloy, the purity of gold is reduced and the results typically yield a far more superior material in regard to overall hardness and durability.

Blue Sapphire and Rose Gold Ring
Sapphire in Rose Gold Alloy Jewelry

By far, the most popular gold alloy is '18K' gold. The karat, which is abbreviated to 'K' or 'kt' is the unit of measurement used in reference to the purity of a gold alloy. 18K gold alloys are always stamped '18K' in the USA, or '750' in Europe to indicate their purity (75% pure gold). Most people are unaware that 18 karat gold is actually a form of alloy. Today, 18K gold has become the global industry 'norm' for most fine jewelry. It is the number one alloy used in the bridal jewelry industry, though 14K (58.3% gold) alloy is becoming increasingly popular. 18K gold is 75% pure gold alloyed with various other elements. Yellow gold is alloyed with copper, silver, zinc and/or cobalt. 18K yellow gold findings are prized for value, resiliency and durability. 18K yellow gold jewelry should not tarnish, or be affected by heat, moisture or oxygen, unlike many other alloys.

In many cases, gold alloys can be made to alter the color of gold. The most popular gold alloy color other than yellow, is of course 'white gold'. There are actually a few different forms of white gold alloy available. The most common white gold alloy is 18K 'nickel' white gold, which is yellow gold alloyed with copper, nickel, zinc and/or palladium (and then rhodium plated). Other forms of white gold were designed for those who suffer from nickel allergies, and also to help minimize the constant need to re-plate white gold with rhodium. White gold is often alloyed with chromium and iron - this gold alloy is a great option for those who are allergic to nickel. 18K 'palladium' white gold may also be a good option for those with a bigger budget. 18K 'palladium' white gold consists of only gold and palladium. Even though its purity is the same as other forms of 18K white gold, 'palladium gold' alloy is generally more expensive than 'nickel gold' alloy.

Emerald in Yellow Gold Ring
Emerald in Yellow Gold Jewelry

Other 'colored' gold alloys usually range in purity from 8K (33% gold) to 22K (91.66% gold). In the US, gold alloy must be a minimum of 10K (41.7% gold) to be traded as 'gold'. Gold alloy which consists of less than 10K, is usually termed 'gold plated' or similar in the jewelry trade. By reducing the purity, gold alloys can be made into many different attractive colors including red (which contains copper), pink and rose (copper and silver), black (chromium and/or cobalt), gray (manganese, silver and copper), green (silver, copper and/or cadmium), blue (indium and/or iron and nickel) and even purple (gold and aluminum). Owing to the many colors of gold available, consumers today have more options than ever before. When it comes to customizing jewelry, the possibilities are endless. There is a gold alloy to match any colored gem.

  • First Published: August-22-2014
  • Last Updated: November-06-2018
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