Choosing the Right Gold:
Comparing 10K, 14K, 18K, 22K and 24K

When designing your perfect engagement ring, deciding on metal choice may at first seem like a choice between colors of yellow, white, or rose. But if you’re going with gold, you have a wide variety of options – does 10K, 14K, 18K, and 24K gold ring a bell? Each of these can make a huge impact on the appearance, durability and feel of your ring. They will also have a big impact on what you’re spending and how you can allocate your budget. So let’s get into what you need to know to choose the right gold for your engagement ring.

What’s In A Karat: How Gold Purity Is Measured

Everyone is different, so the best type of gold for you should be based on a breakdown of various factors. When deciding on gold for your engagement ring, factors such as your career, activity level, aesthetic taste, budget, and skin sensitivity all play a role in your decision.

The numbers of 10K, 14K, 18K, and 24K are markers of the purity of gold and expressed in terms of ‘karat’, hence the abbreviated K. It is often confused with carat, which is the measurement of a gem’s weight. Pure gold is notated as 24K – this is the highest karat level for gold meaning it is 100% pure gold. 18K gold is 75% purity level, 14K is 58.3% purity level, and 10K is 41.7% purity level.

As you can see, the higher the karat number, the more pure gold comprises the metal. Anything other than 24K is mixed with metals such as copper, nickel, and silver to create an alloy. Whichever metal is used to create the alloy brings its own characteristics in terms of color, heft, brittleness, and malleability. But generally speaking, these non-gold metals are less expensive, harder, and lighter weight than gold.

Pure gold is very soft and not suitable for everyday wear. 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.

What’s The Difference Between 10K, 14K, 18K and 24K Gold

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. But it has become more popular to use 22K gold in jewelry. So how do these different purity levels compare?

22K Gold

Pros: very close to pure gold without the drawbacks of pure gold, a bright yellow color

Cons: not suitable for setting gemstones

The purest gold that is still used in jewelry is typically 22K gold. It is 91.7% pure gold with the remaining amount comprised of metals like silver, zinc, or nickel. The added metals make the texture of 22K gold harder and thereby more durable for making jewelry. 22K gold is best suited to making simple gold jewelry like wedding bands.

18K Gold

Pros: highest purity for all practical jewelry use; has amazing depth of golden color

Cons: higher purity makes it a more expensive karat weight; still easily scratched

This is the purest form of gold used extensively in jewelry, including 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 10K 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.

10k, 14k, 18k and 22k gold rings

14K Gold

Pros: very durable while still retaining a large amount of pure gold; a very good value

Cons: more likely to cause instances of skin irritation

The most popular gold for rings and other wearable jewelry in the US, 14K gold accounts for the metal used in about 90% of all engagement and wedding rings. 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.

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, but it could possibly exacerbate skin issues for those who have a copper, zinc, silver, nickel, or iron allergy.

10K Gold

Pros: very hard and durable; more affordable than other karat weights

Cons: contains more alloyed metals so more prone to cause skin issues; pale yellow color

10K gold is the least pure, least expensive, yet most durable, form of gold used widely in jewelry today. With its 41.7% gold purity, it’s the most impure gold available on the market that can still legally be called “gold” in the US and most other countries.

Due to its low gold content, it’s not very popular for engagement rings, wedding bands, or fine jewelry. It has a pale yellow appearance that appears stuck between a white gold or a yellow gold. It also has 58.3% alloy metal, which makes it likely to cause skin irritations or reactions if you’re allergic to nickel, silver, copper, zinc, or iron.            

14k yellow gold pear diamond ring

18k yellow gold diamond ring (shown in a stack)

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What Type of Gold is Best For You?

Everyone is different, so the best type of gold for you should be based on a breakdown of various factors. When deciding on gold for your engagement ring, factors such as your career, activity level, aesthetic taste, budget, and skin sensitivity all play a role in your decision.

Most often, 14K gold offers an ideal combination of depth of color, strong durability, and reasonable affordability. All these features are why 14K gold comprises about 90% of gold jewelry sales in the US. 14K gold is also often considered to be the best formulation for rose gold and white gold. This is because the percentage of alloy mixed with pure gold creates a lovely, warm rose gold when mixed with copper or a crisp, icy white gold when mixed with silver or nickel.

The 18K versions of rose gold and white gold may contain too much yellow gold at 75% purity that prohibits the desired color appearance for some. Rose gold and white gold both resist tarnishing over time, but white gold will need re-application of rhodium to maintain its icy appearance, rose gold will maintain its shine for a lifetime. 14k white gold and 18k white gold with rhodium plating will initially look the same.

And if you really love a rich, golden color, 18K gold delivers that with only slightly less durability. Just be aware that this type of gold is quite soft and could scratch easily with more consistent wear through more strenuous activities. It’s also going to be the more expensive option when compared with 14K gold, but it will be more hypoallergenic.

If you prefer to get as close to pure gold as possible, 22K gold is your best choice. It will be expensive but also offer a very rich yellow hue that is the closest to pure gold. Keep in mind that it’s best suited to wedding bands that are not meant to support large stones since it will be softer and less durable, so less protective of the stone.

All of these various levels of gold purity are available as either newly mined metals or recycled metals. New gold is primarily mined in South Africa as well as Peru, Russia, the US, and Australia, but these practices are often fraught with ethical and ecological concerns. Recycled metals produce jewelry of identical quality to newly mined metals without contributing to dirty mining practices. At Ken & Dana Design, we exclusively use recycled metals for our jewelry and many other professional jewelers have continued to adopt this practice as well.

Finding your perfect metal may now seem to be as intricate a process as finding your ideal diamond or setting! But while there are a lot of factors to consider with your metal choice, the most important is that you love seeing the final result on your finger. Make your decision with that idea in mind and you can’t go wrong.

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