General Jewellery Learning Metals

A Guide to Understanding Gold Karats

Yellow gold ring

What is a gold karat?

The term ‘gold karat’ is a jewellery term used to describe how pure the gold content is. That is, how much gold there is in the piece, vs. other materials that it may be alloyed with. Gold karats tend to range from 24k to under 10k. A high karat is usually indicative that the piece is of a higher quality. However, that is not to say that a lower karat is a negative thing – in fact there can be different pros and cons to different karats, depending on what you are looking for, and factors such as your lifestyle. Read on to learn more about gold karats. 

What are the different gold karats? 

  • Gold jewellery typically comes in the following karats: 24k, 22k, 20k, 18k, 14k, 12k, 10k and below. 
  • The higher the karat number, the purer the gold the piece is made from. The lower the karat number, the more alloys are included in the piece (and therefore the piece is made up of less pure gold). 
Yellow gold necklace

What does a higher gold karat mean? 

The highest gold karat is 24k, which means 100% pure gold. It is sometime also referred to as ‘999’. This is because no other metals are alloyed with it, meaning the piece is made up of only gold and nothing else. Because of this, 24k gold is extremely yellow in colour, as it’s not mixed with anything else that can change the colour of it. It is also quite a ‘soft’ metal and can scratch easily – which is why – contrary to popular belief – 24k gold is not always actually the best choice for jewellery. 

What does a lower karat gold mean? 

The lowest gold karat is 10k or below, which means the gold is alloyed with a higher number or proportion of other materials. You may think that it is a negative thing being the lowest karat, but for many people, this material makes for the perfect everyday jewellery. Being the least ‘pure’ gold karat, it is incredibly durable, and actually often feels weightier than pieces made in a higher karat.  

Yellow gold earrings

What is the best gold karat for every day? 

Each gold karat has different advantages and disadvantages, and both your personal lifestyle and how you want to wear your jewellery need to be considered before deciding. For example, if you would be very upset is your piece were to become scratched, it might be best to opt for a lower karat. Alternatively, if you are prone to skin irritation, you might need a piece made of purer gold, and therefore would want to go for a higher karat. However, if you’re looking for a piece with great durability, but also the quality of a higher karat piece, our experts would suggest opting for an 18k option. 18k is a great quality material, and because it is made from 75% pure gold with 25% alloys, so is still incredibly strong and tough. 

Looking for more jewellery advice? 

Take a look at our gold jewellery cleaning guide – or our jewellery hacks and tips – to find out The Diamond Store’s expert advice to keep your new gold pieces looking brand new. You can also learn more about the history of gold, here.