Understanding Gold Jewellery and Carats


For thousands of years, humans have been captivated by gold. The Ancients’ fascination with this precious metal and the monetary significance eventually they attributed to it tells us that we were just as enamoured with gold back then as we are today. First discovered twinkling out from between the rocks and silt of riverbeds and streams, it is very likely that gold is the first metal that humans became acquainted with.

Gold is found across the globe, and early societies far and wide showed a similar level of adoration towards this glittering “gift”. Throughout written history, we find enlightening nuggets of information about the role this metal played in individual societies. We can see that gold was associated with gods and great leaders, with citizens venturing to find and mine gold in the name of such deities and rulers.

The ancient Egyptians had assigned value to gold by 3100BC, with written codes stating that one part gold equals two parts silver. Across the world, because gold was viewed as precious, it became a commodity of the powerful and wealthy. Gold was fashioned into artefacts of worship, and like today, it was a popular material for making jewellery.

Gold is thought to have contributed to the concept of money – replacing bartering and trading. Coins made of gold date back to at least 700BC, and specific measurements of gold were also used as a form of currency.

Gold’s allure has lasted across the centuries up to the modern day, with jewellery crafted from this high lustre metal still sought after and deemed fashionable. From sentimental wedding bands to bracelets and pendants, gold jewellery is still deeply ingrained in our lives and personal aesthetic.

If you’d love to learn more about the different types of gold jewellery and have the gold carats explained to you, read on to discover all about our most prized and arguably most pretty metal.

Why is gold jewellery still so popular?

It would appear that we humans have always been drawn to sparkly, shiny things. There’s something irresistible to us about that glint and glimmer from a natural material like gold. Being a highly malleable metal and one that does not tarnish, we’ve always been able to craft the finest jewellery, long-lasting jewellery from gold. Couple this with the intrinsic value we’ve assigned to gold, and you’re left with a style of jewellery that we view as classy, luxurious and desirable.

The Central Banks rate gold as a ‘Class A’ investment type. Invest in an expensive piece of gold jewellery, and you can feel confident that the item will retain its value. This isn’t just down to the enduring popularity of gold, but rather it is thanks to the metal’s rarity.

With carats of gold to suit any budget and a range of colours to choose from, the sheer versatility of this metal helps to maintain its popularity.

What do the different carats of gold mean?

Even if you’re not a connoisseur of fine jewellery, you’re probably aware that gold jewellery pieces come in varying carats. You may have noticed that the higher the carat, the higher the price tag.

You’ll find the carat of the gold used in a piece of jewellery stamped on it, represented as two numbers, followed by K or KT. The numbers refer to the type of gold used and the gold content within the item of jewellery. Carats can therefore be considered a ratio of gold to other metals or alloys within jewellery. The carat scale runs from 0-24, and the higher the carat, the higher the gold content.

This makes 24-carat gold the purest form of gold you can make jewellery from. It features the least additional metal content (such as copper, palladium or silver), being around 99.99% pure gold.

Adding other metals to gold has always been common when crafting pieces. Gold’s malleability is advantageous when forming the metal, but it is also a disadvantage because it can weaken the final product. By adding other metals, you can change the strength of the jewellery, as well as the colour.

If you have any gold jewellery, you can check the carat stamp and use the number to calculate the purity of the gold in your jewellery. If you have an item that is 18 carats, knowing that 24 carats is the purest, you can work out the purity by dividing the 18 by 24, resulting in 0.75. Expressed as a percentage, this means your item has a gold purity of 75%.

Although lower carats of gold cost less for jewellery makers to purchase, this isn’t the only deciding factor when choosing which carat of gold to work with on an item.

  • 24-carat gold is so pure it can be too soft and malleable for intricate jewellery work.
  • 22-carat gold is also very high in pure gold and therefore unsuitable for finer work. However, it is a popular choice for simple pieces such as wedding bands.
  • 18-carat gold contains 25% added metals, strengthening the gold notably. These added metals can also make a mark on the colour of the gold, offering pleasant variations.
  • 14-carat gold is popular for its warm, yellow tones and affordability due to the lower gold content. This makes it a common choice for mainstream jewellery pieces.
  • 9-carat gold is used in the most affordable gold jewellery pieces, containing just a third gold. Comprising two-thirds stronger metals, 9-carat gold is used for intricate jewellery, ensuring a durable final piece.

What are the different types of gold jewellery?

Many different categories of gold jewellery are produced by adding other metals to the gold. As you know, the different types of metal can change the colour of the gold, creating the likes of white, rose and yellow gold. These are often referred to as cosmetically enhanced gold – in other words, the appearance has been altered to make the gold more appealing to individual tastes.

Some gold jewellery is actually “plated”. But what is gold-plated jewellery? Here, a piece of jewellery made using a strong metal such as copper or aluminium is coated in gold using chemical deposition or an electroplating solution. So, rather than being a solid gold or gold alloy item, the jewellery is simply coated (plated) in gold. This jewellery may contain very little gold, making them more affordable. The thin layer of gold is prone to wearing away, however, making gold-plated jewellery less durable than even the lowest carat pieces.

Gold vermeil is another type of gold-plated jewellery. It uses silver jewellery coated in gold, usually to a greater thickness than other plated styles, giving it a pleasing appearance for longer. It will only tarnish if the core metal is exposed.

Gold-filled jewellery is created by bonding gold to jeweller’s brass. Usually, up to a fifth of the jewellery item’s weight is used in gold, again making for a more affordable item. Both gold vermeil and gold-filled jewellery pieces are perfect for items that you’d like to wear every day, like rings, bracelets and earrings, thanks to their lower value and durability.

What is white gold?

Created to imitate the look of platinum, white gold is made by adding white metals such as zinc or nickel to gold. Most white gold jewellery pieces are also coated in a layer of rhodium as this helps add shine and enhances the colour. You can have your white gold pieces treated every few years to add a new layer of rhodium.

14 or 18-carat gold is usually utilised when making white gold. Thanks to the other metals added, the result is a robust and durable alloy that doesn’t readily scratch and maintains its luxurious appearance.

The appearance of white gold and its affordability compared to the similar-looking platinum makes it highly popular, especially among those who don’t like the yellow and warm gold hues. It is commonly used in rings, including engagement and wedding bands.

What is rose gold?

Rose gold was often referred to as Russian gold, thanks to the popularity of this alloy in Russia. When the iron curtain fell at the end of the last century and trade between Russia and the rest of the world grew, rose gold exports increased.

The distinctive rosy tone within this type of alloy is achieved by adding copper and silver to gold. The blushed tones of rose gold are very pretty, making it a popular choice for delicate and romantic jewellery pieces and engagement rings. It has the strength to withstand detailed crafting, so it can be used in complex jewellery.

Though rose gold hasn’t always been as popular as the other colours of gold, it has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity over the past decade. The colour has become widespread in interior design, and this has been accompanied by an increase in the demand for rose gold jewellery. Often, 18-carat gold is used, and due to the additional metals they contain, rose gold pieces are durable. Though they may darken over time (due to the copper), they won’t tarnish.

What is yellow gold?

The most traditional type of gold used in jewellery, pure gold has a naturally yellow tone which is complemented by the addition of white metals (which soften some of the brassier tones). These white metals also strengthen the gold, giving that classic gold look without the risk of weakness.

In the 1990s, though yellow gold had been the popular choice for engagement and wedding bands for decades, this colour fell out of favour, but in recent times, yellow gold has regained popularity within luxurious-looking, high-end gold jewellery pieces.

What is black gold?

Black gold is created by treating gold with oxidation, patination, chemical vapour deposition, adding a metal such as cobalt, electroplating (using rhodium or ruthenium) or by femtosecond lasering the surface of gold. These treatments result in a colour change on the surface of the gold. The striking black appearance makes black gold a popular choice for contemporary, edgy pieces of jewellery.

Electroplated black gold tends to be the most affordable option, but unfortunately, the surface colour can scratch or wear away, revealing the gold beneath. You can, however, have your gold replated to bring back the full black coverage. Because it contains gold, like the other coloured gold options, black gold jewellery holds the value of the gold used within it, even if the black surface colour deteriorates.

With a variety of colours available and the ability to adjust the strength and cost of the pieces made using it, gold remains a popular and versatile metal in jewellery making. You can invest in high-carat pieces or enjoy daily wear from the lower carat varieties. As a metal that doesn’t tarnish, gold jewellery stands the test of time. Though higher carat gold is prone to scratching and bending out of shape, if you’re willing to take great care of your pieces, your high-value gold jewellery can stay in your family for years to come.

Do you own gold jewellery that means a great deal to you? To protect their monetary value and the place they hold in your heart, be sure to keep them safe and sound with a jewellery insurance policy. When you buy high-quality gold jewellery, you’re making an investment that should be protected by specialist jewellery insurance.

TH March is a specialist in jewellery insurance with over 130 years of experience. With this notable heritage, your most prized possessions are in the safest hands when you entrust TH March with protecting your personal jewellery collection.

We can help you value your gold jewellery and other favourite items, offering exceptional and personalised service if you need to claim for loss, theft or accidental damage. Get in touch with one of our knowledgeable insurance experts today to discuss your individual jewellery needs.