24K vs 18K vs 14K Gold: Which Karat Is "Better?"

Author Andrew Johnson
Date Jul 3, 2016

24K vs 18K vs 14K Gold: Which Karat Is

If you're trying to figure out the "best" type of gold jewelry to buy, the answer isn't as simple as it seems. Similar to the way diamonds are measured by the four C's gold is measured in karats. This unit of measurement tells us the percentage of gold in a piece, and the different karats of gold relates to the purity - and therefore the softness - of the metal.

Gold's prominence in the world of fine jewelry is second to none. However, pure gold is often combined with additional metals like silver, copper, nickel and zinc that provide the naturally soft gold with the strength necessary to craft earrings, bracelets, necklaces, etc. 18K and 14K are the types of gold most commonly seen in jewelry.

The karat amount accounts for not only gold's prestige and price, but coloring as well. That being said, determining the best karat gold for you is dependent on much more than gold purity and price. To answer this question, you must consider the type of jewelry, how often you will wear it, what you'll be doing when you wear it, coloring, and much more.

What’s the difference between 18K and 24K gold? Or the difference between 10K vs 14K vs 18K vs 24K? It’s not as straightforward as it seems, so we’ll walk you through these nuanced gold karat differences:

What Is 24K Gold?

Gold Bars

Many often ask, “is 24K gold, pure gold?” because it has the highest karat number - and they’d be right! Also known as "The Gold Standard", 24K is in fact 100% pure gold. While many then assume this makes 24K the "best" gold to buy, that isn't necessarily the case. While this karat amount is 100% pure, and it thereby is the most prestigious and expensive, as any jeweler will tell you, it's very rare you'll find jewelry made out of 24K.

Some common questions about this material are: does 24K gold tarnish and is 24K gold soft? Due to its high purity, 24K gold is the only type of gold that doesn’t tarnish, because it has no other metals mixed in. However, this pure gold is also very soft and tends to scratch and bend easily making it impractical for daily wear in most cases. There are some gold jewelry makers who have mastered techniques to make 24K gold more rigid but it is very labor intensive and rare to find relative to other gold alloys. More often, this karat amount is used in investing (those notorious gold bars you see in movies), decorating, electronics, and medical devices, rather than for use in jewelry.

What Is 22K Gold?

22K is 91.67% pure gold, with the remaining 8% composed of a mixture of other alloys. The addition of these other metals makes the gold just durable enough to be used in making jewelry. Pure gold has the distinctly bright golden yellow color many imagine when they hear the word "gold," and this coloring is one of the things that sets 24K and 22K apart from the softer coloring of lesser karats.

What Is 18K Gold?

18K gold (which is 75% gold) is the most traditional mix of gold and other alloys, and it lends itself to making beautiful jewelry. If you’re asking yourself, “is 18K better than 24K?”, these factors will often lead to a yes. When comparing 18K gold vs 24K gold, the former is less expensive but is very commonly used in fine jewelry making. Its coloring is a softer yellow than higher karats, but the deep golden tone is desirable in comparison to 14K and 10K coloring. You can tell when a piece is made of 18K gold by the "18K, 18Kt, 18k, 750, or 0.75" stamp that symbolizes the 75% gold contained in the jewelry.

What Is 14K Gold?

The most common type of gold used in jewelry in the U.S. is 14K, and it was created to make a gold piece more affordable, at the expense of having less gold. So what is in 14k gold? This karat amount contains 58.3% gold and 41.7% alloy, and similar to 18K, its strength is a good fit for rings and bracelets to necklaces and earrings. Because this gold is less pure and has a lower price, many also wonder, “will 14K gold tarnish” - and the good news is that it will experience very little tarnishing if any. Plus, 14K tends to have less of a strong yellow color relative to 18K or higher.

What Is 12K & 10K Gold?

Lower karat amounts like 12K (50% gold) and 10K (41.7%) create jewelry that is somewhere between fine jewelry and costume jewelry. That is why most fine jewelers do not carry 12K or 10K. While it is durable, it has less inherent value, as it is 50% gold or less. If you tend to work with your hands or have a very active lifestyle, you could consider this karat amount for a rugged, casual piece of jewelry.

The Full Overview Of 14K Vs. 18K Vs. 24K Gold

Hopefully now you are armed with a full knowledge of the difference in gold karats between 10K 14K, 18K, 24K gold, and more! It’s not so much about which one is better than the other, rather than understanding how the purity in each metal affects its color, durability, and whether it’s appropriate for use in fine jewelry.

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