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What does K mean in gold?

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

The “K" in 18K ,14K and 9K gold refers to the karat of gold. The term "karat" (K) designates the amount of gold found in a piece of jewelry.

The term "karat" (K) designates the amount of gold found in a piece of jewelry. 18K, 14K or 9K

Pure gold is 24K and signifies 99.9 percent purity, the highest you can buy. Pure gold is very soft and not suitable for everyday wear. Pure 24K gold is really never going to be used in jewelry, especially engagement rings and wedding bands that face a lifetime of wear and tear. It is the most malleable and ductile of all elements, so it is easily bent, scratched, and reshaped. Pure gold does not offer a secure setting for gemstones and is quite heavy, so would be uncomfortable to wear. The color of pure gold is a very rich yellow-orange, so when other metals are added, you can achieve the softer golden color associated with yellow gold jewelry, the iciness of white gold, or the smooth warmth of rose gold.

Jewelry is often made in 9K, 14K or 18K. These indicate the content of gold per karat.

9K gold is 37.5% gold

9K gold is the least pure, least expensive, yet most durable, form of gold used widely in jewelry today. It is very hard, durable and more affordable than other karat weights. With its low gold content, it’s not very popular for engagement rings and wedding bands.

14K is 58.33% gold

The main benefit of 14K gold is that it’s highly durable and affordable. It’s an excellent and practical choice for engagement rings and wedding bands since those are staple pieces of jewelry and worn every day. Scuffs and scratches aren’t really an issue with 14K gold. It is a perfect choice for those who don’t have a strong feeling about the level of pure gold present in their ring. It offers a classic gold appearance without ever looking overly yellow as 18K gold sometimes can.

18k is 75% gold.

This is the purest form of gold used extensively in jewelry and watches. It has a rich, warm golden hue and is what people typically imagine when they think of gold jewelry. But because gold is naturally so soft, and 18K gold is 75% pure, it can be easily scratched with daily wear and tear.18K gold is significantly more expensive than 14K and 9 K gold because it has such high purity. But a nice benefit of that high purity level is that there’s less risk of jewelry made with 18K gold causing skin irritations or allergic reactions.

Gold is mixed with other alloys to produce a harder, more workable metal that can be used for making jewelry.


The colors of Gold

The colors of gold: white, yellow and rose

Due to its highly malleable nature, pure gold is too soft for jewelry production on its own. To create jewelry that is practical for everyday wear, gold must be mixed with other metals referred to as alloys. The most common types of alloys used to solidify gold are silver, copper, and palladium. Differing combinations of gold and alloys create various shades and hues of lustrous metal.

The Origin Of Colored Gold

Colored gold has existed for centuries, with rose gold being reported to have been used as early as the first millennium. Then in the 19th century, jeweler to the czars Carl Faberge popularized rose gold with his decorated Faberge eggs. Later in the early 1900s, it was widely used by high society women in fine jewelry and engagement rings.

What Are The Shades Of Gold?

While each shade of gold can have a different hue, here are 4 different types of gold used in jewelry. Let’s look at each of them!

  • Yellow gold: since pure gold is too soft to use on its own, metals such as silver and copper are added in varying ratios resulting in the yellow shade you see in most jewelry.

  • White gold: the white gold variation results from mixing pure gold with white metals such as silver, nickel, and palladium.

  • Rose gold: (most rose and yellow gold variations use the same alloys – copper and silver – but in different quantities. For instance, rose gold has more copper than silver, while yellow gold contains less copper than silver. Sometimes rose gold is referred to as red gold, depending on the alloys used.

  • Black gold: various ways are used to derive the black gold shade. For instance, cobalt oxide involves mixing pure gold with cobalt and then heating it at a specific temperature. Another common method to create black gold is called electroplating, where the gold jewelry is plated with a black finish – usually with black rhodium or ruthenium.

MK Fine Jewelry offers a selection of 9K, 14K and 18K white, yellow, rose and black gold.

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