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Gold What?!
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As a warning from my experiences dealing with precious metals, you will be correct more often than not if you assume the (silver, gold) you are buying is fake.

What do all the terms describing "gold" mean when it comes to products containing them? Most of us are familiar with the 10k, 14k, 18k, and other numbers, which stands for karat. Solid, pure gold is 24k and any number less than this represents the number of units per given weight that is composed of gold.

The alloying agent doesn't matter as long as the weights hold true. Thus, 10k gold has 10 units of gold per 24 units of weight. Some countries allow it to be written as a percentage. Ergo, 10k gold would be 0.417 (10 divided by 24).

In the USA until recently, it must be a minimum of 10k to be called gold. USA laws were recently changed and as long as it is clearly identified and marked, any gold alloy may be sold. In the UK, it can be as low as 9k gold.

Gold-filled isn't filled with any gold at all!
Gold plated can have several markings including EGP, HGE, GP, GEP, and HGP. The gold must be a minimum thickness as established by law and it must be a certain purity as well. The layer can be quite thin, prone to wearing away in no time. While gold is one of the least reactive metals (from an oxidation standpoint) the base metals may "peek" through the surface.

Anything with a hint of gold on it can be called gold-washed. The legality of gold layered, gold overlay, and similar terms may be the manufacturer's interpretation. Those terms usually mean there is no appreciable gold content.

Vermeil has a legal definition which requires at least sterling silver for the base material and 10k gold of a certain thickness over the entire piece. Some companies may be generous with their gold coating so it will last much longer than plating.

Gold-filled isn't filled with any gold at all! The gold is mechanically bonded to the outside of the base metal. It is the thickest "coating" method. Unless soldered perfectly, the base metal will shed chunks of gold as it deteriorates. Legal markings include 12K GF 1/20, 14K GF 1/10, or 14/20 GF. The karat number is the gold used for the coating. The second number, usually 1/10 or 1/20, refers to the fractional weight of the gold in the given piece.

Some quick math should help explain it:
Bracelet weighs 15 grams
Made with 14k 1/10
The weight of the 14k gold is 1/10 of the 15 grams, so 1.5 grams of 14k gold

To get the actual gold weight (AGW), take the karat decimal (14/24 = 0.583) and multiply it by the gold alloy content (1.5 grams). The 1.5 grams of 14k gold yields 0.875 grams of pure gold (15 grams x 1/10 x 14/24). Gold-filled items can be a bonanza for the astute buyer!

Rolled gold is like gold-filled except it has less gold, say 1/50 instead of 1/10 or 1/20. Basically, anything less than 1/20 weight of gold is called rolled gold plate. Karatage should be stamped on the piece along with Rolled Gold Plate or RGP.

When it comes to karat gold there is some leeway for soldered pieces, just as there is for soldered silver. However, 24k gold ("pure" gold) should not be confused with 0.999+ fine gold bullion as there is no wiggle room with gold bullion.

Posted by M: May 7, 2017

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