Gold is beautiful, and often symbolic, but it can also be expensive. Understanding the unique value of 18k, along with its limitations, will help you make sure you use this form of gold for the right jewelry pieces.
What is 18k gold? 18k Gold is an alloy that consists of 75% 24 karat gold and 25% from other metals that increase the hardness of the mixture and influence color. Metals like copper add both hardness and a pink overtone to 18k Rose Gold. 18 karat gold offers a great blend of enhanced durability and high purity.
In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll give you more detail on how 18 karat gold is made. I’ll also share information on how the look, and durability, of 18k gold compares with the look and durability of other common options, like 10k, 14k, and 24k.
Where is 18k Gold From?
Yellow gold is mined from the earth and refined to remove impurities. Pure gold is much too soft to wear as an engagement ring, or some other jewelry item that will be worn regularly. It’s easily scratched and marred by the accidental bumps that happen in everyday life.
In order to add hardness, other metals are added to a gold alloy, but which metals and what ratio depends on the objectives of the gold mixture. Carefully selected non-gold metals can add durability (scratch resistance) to the final metal mixture. It can also influence color, making the mixture lighter or darker.
Again, the MAIN ingredient in 18k gold is yellow gold, but the second-largest ingredient is Copper. From there, a number of other metals like Zinc, Silver, or Nickel could be added, as needed, to influence hardness and color.
Is 18k Gold Real?
While 18 karat gold isn’t completely pure, it still has very high purity, compared to other options like 10k and 14k. The fact that non-gold metals have been added doesn’t make 18k gold ‘fake’.
Again, these metals are intentionally added to improve the practicality of gold for many purposes that it couldn’t serve well in a pure form.
The 18k mark clearly discloses the fact that the piece isn’t made of pure gold. This helps consumers to be well informed before purchasing jewelry.
What is 18 Karat Gold Worth?
As we look at 18 karat gold price (or value) remember, that this metal is 75% gold (18 parts yellow gold and 6 parts non-gold metals like Copper, Zinc, or Nickel). If you want to calculate 18k gold price, at any given point, all you need to do it obtain the current spot value of 24k gold and then multiply it by .75. If 24 karat gold is valued at $49.89 per gram, for example, 75% of that value will be $37.42. 18k gold would be valued at $37.42 per gram in that instance.
Why is this information useful? If you’re selling used 18k jewelry to a refiner, it would certainly be helpful to be able to calculate the value of the gold you’ll be selling. It’s less valuable when you’re simply shopping for an engagement ring, for example, because the cost of gold isn’t the only factor involved in pricing.
Other factors influencing the cost of an 18k gold engagement ring could include:
- The design of the ring (both how thick and heavy, and also how intricate)
- The size of the ring (a size 14 will be heavier and require more gold to produce than a size 5 ring of the same style.
- Any stones that are also mounted
- The markup of a particular retailer (this might include a premium that you’re willing to pay for a shop with a stellar reputation for quality).
- The warranties, cleanings, resizing, and other non-tangible value included by a retailer
- Taxes paid on the item
If you want to purchase gold at a discount (less than retail prices), purchasing used rings private-party may be your best bet. There are often people getting out of relationships that may be willing to sell an engagement ring or wedding ring, for example, at a real discount. Why? Because they may need the cash quickly, because pawn shops are offering so little, or because they want to unload the jewelry right away for emotional reasons.
If you buy this way, please exercise extreme caution by testing the pieces. We’ll briefly explain the process below.
18k Gold vs 24k Gold
24 karat gold is the purest form of gold. That certainly comes with pros AND cons. Some quick reference information follows.
|Purity:||18 Parts Gold + 6 Parts Non-Gold (75% Pure)||24 Parts Gold + 0 Parts Non-Gold (100% Pure)|
|Hardness:||Significantly harder||Soft/easily scratched.|
18k Gold vs 14k Gold
How will an 18 karat gold ring be different than a similar ring made out of 14k gold? Here again, the 18k gold ring will have some pros and cons when compared with the other. The same would obviously also be true of an 18 karat gold necklace and other types of jewelry.
|Purity:||18 Parts Gold + 6 Parts Non-Gold (75% Pure)||14 Parts Gold + 10 Parts Non-Gold (58.3% Pure)|
|Hardness:||Softer (more likely to scratch)||Harder (less likely to scratch)|
Does 18k Gold Tarnish?
Gold isn’t a reactive metal. Pure gold won’t tarnish. 18k gold does have some non-gold metals mixed in. The non-gold metals could open the door to a little tarnish over time—but it isn’t likely or common. If tarnish does appear at some point, you can remove it with a good cleaning.
Will 18k Gold Turn Your Finger Green?
The same way that it’s possible, but unlikely, for 18k gold to tarnish, it’s also possible, but unlikely, that it will leave a green mark on your finger. Why will 18k gold turn skin green for some but not others?
All gold other than 24k will have non-gold metals mixed in to add hardness. The most common metal additive is Copper. Copper is known to tarnish. Jewelry items with lower purity have high Copper contributions, and a much greater chance of oxidation and tarnish.
Because of that, 18 karat gold is far less likely to oxidize or leave a mark on your finger than 10k or 14k gold for example. Despite the high level of purity, some people still get green or black marks on their skin when they wear 18k jewelry. The cause often comes down to one of the following issues.
- Hormone levels
- How sweaty your hands are
- Skin composition. The PH of your skin and sweat can influence marking
- Medications that you’re taking and the way they impact your body
- Lotions and hand creams that you use
If you notice marks being left on your fingers, you may want to try changing any lotions or skin creams that you might be using to see if things change. You can also create a clear barrier on the inside of your ring with clear fingernail polish. That coating should help to stop the marks on your skin until the barrier wears through. You’ll need to reapply the clear nail polish every few weeks to keep the coating intact.
Will 18k Gold Fade?
Solid 18k gold will not fade. The color remains consistent over time. It’s possible, however, for some fading to occur when gold is plated over some non-gold base metal. Fading doesn’t always happen with plated metals, and the fading process would take time and may not even be noticeable in many cases.
Will 18k Gold Rust?
Gold is incredibly non-reactive. It’s not prone to corrosion. The type and quantity of non-gold metals added to 18k gold don’t make the mixture susceptible to rust. Because of this, rust isn’t a form of metal corrosion that you’ll have to worry about with 18k gold jewelry.
Can You Wear 18k Gold in the Shower?
It’s not a good idea to wear gold jewelry of any kind in the shower. Your jewelry won’t immediately fall apart if you do. The damage takes time and won’t be immediately apparent. Chlorine and gold aren’t friendly with each other. It can do microscopic damage to gold (especially the prongs that hold center stones in place) that can eventually lead to bending or breakage.
Beyond those risks, hard water and soaps can build up and dull the appearance of your gold jewelry. My wife has worn her gold ring in the shower for years. On the surface, the ring looked undamaged, but it was weakened over time by chemical reactions, and the prongs eventually bent. We, fortunately, noticed the issue before the diamond fell out and got lost, but that’s a very real risk with this type of damage.
What’s 18k Gold Plated?
Gold plating is simply a layer of gold over a base metal that consists of something other than gold. Brass, for example, could be covered (or plated) with gold for example. The finished product would look identical to a solid gold piece from the outside. The main difference is durability. A solid gold piece could last a lifetime, while a plated piece might last weeks, months, or years.
The term plated is short for ‘Electroplated.’ Electroplating is the process that’s used to apply the gold over the base metal. Jewelry made from a non-gold base metal is submerged in a tank of special solution. A chunk of 18k gold is submerged in the same tank and solution. An electric current is then run through the solution in the tank.
The current causes gold atoms to separate from the gold chunk and settle on the base metal, creating a gold coating. The thickness of the layer will depend on the amount of time that the base metal is left in the tank.
Sometimes plated pieces only contain the thinnest of coatings. They look nice when they’re brand new, but can wear through and look terrible within days. Other pieces have thick coatings that may last for years before needing to be replated.
The main benefit of 18k gold plated jewelry, is that it allows you access to jewelry designs you wouldn’t normally be able to afford—if they were made of solid gold.
What is 18k Gold Vermeil?
Gold Vermeil (pronounced ver-MAY) is a thicker coating of 18k gold over a Sterling Silver base metal. In order to legally use the term Gold Vermeil, jewelry MUST have a layer of gold that’s AT LEAST 2.5 microns thick. The base metal also HAS TO BE Sterling Silver.
If any of those requirements aren’t met, the piece can’t be marketed at Gold Vermeil. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the government agency that polices and enforces the proper use of these terms.
Gold Vermeil essentially allows you to get the look of 18 karat gold on a Sterling Silver budget! While Gold Vermeil jewelry will likely cost more than a similar piece of Sterling Silver jewelry, the cost often isn’t much higher.
What is 18k Gold Filled?
The name ‘Gold Filled’ can be misleading at first glance. It sounds like gold would occupy the inside of a Gold Filled piece of jewelry, right? In reality, Gold Filled jewelry consists of a thick layer of gold on top of a non-gold base metal. The generous application of gold is probably the biggest distinguishing characteristic of Gold Filled jewelry.
For Gold filled items, at least 5% of the total weight of the piece MUST consist of gold. That means that if you have a gold chain that weighs 40 grams, it has to contain at least 2 grams of gold. The gold applied to Gold-Filled jewelry also has to be permanently bonded to the base metal (not just plated on top).
18k Gold filled jewelry can be super durable, but still significantly less expensive than solid 18k gold jewelry. It’s very common for the layer on Gold Filled jewelry to last for decades. It’s even possible for the layer to last through multiple generations if it’s not mistreated.
Spotting Fake 18k Gold Jewelry
There’s nothing wrong with buying 18k Gold Vermeil or 18k Gold Filled jewelry if that’s all your budget will allow for, or it meets your need. There IS a problem with paying for solid gold but getting gold plated jewelry though. It happens!
I just came across an article tonight about a man in my community that was just arrested for selling fake 1 ounce gold bars. One many bought at least 10 at $1,000 each before discovering that they weren’t real when he tried to resell them. When the guy was arrested, they searched his car and found more “gold” bars, “gold” rings, and diamond (which were also fake, I’m sure).
The story is a good reminder of how important it is to stay vigilant and verify that you got what you paid for (real gold). There are several easy ways to test your gold.
- The ‘Sniff Test’: If an item is being sold too inexpensively, it should be a warning sign. The con man that I mentioned above was selling his ‘gold’ bars for $1000, when they’re easily worth $1,500 for example.
- The Law of Attraction: Many metals are attracted to magnets, but gold isn’t one of them. If you hold a piece of jewelry up to a magnet and it clings to the magnet, it likely has another base metal beneath its surface.
- The Acid Test: You can purchase special 18 karat gold acid (a Nitric Acid) that’s intended for testing purposes. If you place a drop of the acid on the surface of gold that isn’t 18k, or on a non-gold metal, it will begin bubbling and changing color. If it sits and does nothing at all, it indicates that you’re dealing with real 18k gold.
**Important Disclaimer** If you place 18k acid on the surface of something like an 18k Gold Filled ring, it may falsely lead you to believe the pieces consist of solid 18k gold. That’s because the gold layer is so thick. You may need to find a worn area on the jewelry, or file it down a bit to get the acid deeper in the item (closer to a possible base metal.
18k gold is a wonderful choice for those that want high-purity gold that’s also more durable than absolutely pure gold would be. This gold is typically a good option for people with sensitive skin that reacts when it comes in contact with less pure gold mixtures like 10k.
When you’re looking at Rose Gold, 18k Rose Gold has lighter coloring than 10k or 14k. Because 18k has more yellow gold and less copper, it takes on a light pink hue. 10k gold has less yellow gold and more copper, so it generally has a much redder, Copper-like, appearance.
18k strikes the perfect balance between cost, purity, durability, and appearance for many jewelry shoppers.