Gemstone Education

What Karat Gold is Best for Rings?

When you are shopping for gold jewelry, perhaps a wedding band for your fiancée, the higher the karat the better, right? Not necessarily. It’s true that 24K gold is the “pure” choice, and must actually contain 99.95% gold.

But there are drawbacks with pure gold, namely that gold is a soft metal. For that reason, you might want to consider 18K or even 14K gold for your fiancé’s ring. 18K gold is “eighteen twenty fourths” gold, which comes out to 75%. 14K gold is around 58% pure, with alloy metals making up the remaining 42%.

How is karat gold made? Jewelers melt gold together with other types of metal to create an alloy. A number of different types of metal can be used to create the alloy. Silver and copper can be used to create yellow gold, a popular traditional color for engagement rings and wedding rings.

Then there is white gold, which is often created by adding nickel (if you are shopping for white gold rings, make sure you check if your recipient has a nickel allergy first).

Palladium is another metal which can be used to create white gold. Rose gold is created in a similar manner to yellow gold, but with a higher percentage of copper.

Anything ranging between 20-24K is considered relatively pure. Gold rings in this range tend to be very soft. Their colors are deep, and they are certainly considered very precious. High karats like these are the standard in certain parts of the world, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, where they are considered traditional.

14-18K is much more common in other parts of the world. Rings in this karat range still have the luster and allure of purer gold, but are much stronger because of their alloy metals.

10-12K gold is rarely used for rings. 12K is a half-and-half alloy, with gold comprising 50% of the whole. It is considered by many to be the strongest gold you can buy. Sometimes it is used as an overlay on gold filled pieces.

What about 10K gold? A piece made out of 10K gold would be less than 50% gold, so it is typically not considered a gold jewelry item at all. It is considered to be quite low-end, easily tarnishes, and has a lighter, more washed-out color. Like 12K gold, it is rarely used for rings.

How to Decide What Karat Gold is Best For Your Ring?

Ruby and diamond ring in yellow gold - What karat gold is best for rings?

Ruby and diamond ring in yellow gold – expensive gemstones like ruby are usually set in high karat gold – Image credit to Artemas Liu – CC-BY-2.0

As you can see, you have some choices here. If you live in a region where the highest karats are considered the norm, you may want to go with 20-24K for cultural reasons. You may also want to choose a high karat like this if you know your recipient would prefer it.

It is important though to remember that high-karat gold is very soft and can easily be scratched or deformed. For particularly ornate rings, it may also not be a wise choice, since it can be harder to create the designs you are looking for.

If you want a strong gold which is also beautiful, consider 14K or 18K. Here is what you should know when comparing the two:

  • 18K is heavier than 14K.
  • 18K has a richer, deeper color (for yellow gold).
  • 14K makes for a whiter color (for white gold).
  • 14K is stronger and harder. It is best for intricate patterns and tiny prongs. Softer gold may cause these settings to break.
  • 14K is harder to scratch.
  • 18K may develop a beautiful patina.

Neither choice is better as a rule than the other, because your needs determine which you should buy. If your recipient likes a heavier ring, 18K may be better than 14K. If she wants a rich yellow gold, 18K may also be better.

On the other hand, if she wants a white gold, 14K may be superior. And if she is worried about damaging the ring, or wants a ring with intricate designs, 14K may be best.

While we are on the subject of karats and alloys, it is helpful to point out that gold rings do tarnish. Many people believe they do not, because gold is rather tarnish-resistant, but the alloy metals will tarnish—and gold itself can tarnish as well under certain conditions.

For this reason, you will need to polish a gold ring from time to time to keep the beautiful shine (unless you are deliberately aiming for a patina).

Whatever type of gold ring you decide to buy, taking karat into account is important. Remember that the “best” option will always be the one which makes it possible for you to choose a ring that will suit your recipient. For one person, that might mean a 24K gold ring, while for another, a 14K gold ring may truly be preferable, despite being less “precious.”

All that is important is that your recipient loves her ring and can treasure it over the years to come.

Gem Coach

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