When it comes to buying jewelry, it’s important to know exactly what you’re paying for. Sure, a piece can look attractive, but does it have the quality gemstones and precious metal content to back up the price tag? Let’s find out.
One of the most frequently asked questions from jewelry shoppers is ‘what do karats mean?’ You’ll be surprised to hear just how many people get the answer wrong! You see, while karats are a measurement used in the jewelry world, the term (and it’s spelling) varies, depending on whether you’re dealing with gold or gemstones, like diamonds.
To help you out, we’ve put together a diamond and gold karat guide. We’ll educate you on the difference between ‘karats’ and ‘carats,’ so you don’t get caught out and provide a quick rundown on how to measure karats. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to make wiser jewelry purchases – securing the most gold and best stone for your money!
What does karat mean for gold?
When buying jewelry, the term ‘karat’ refers to the unit of gold purity. You’ll most likely come across jewelry that is either 14-karat gold or 18-karat gold. 24-karat gold is considered the highest gold purity. However, this is rare in the world of jewelry, as used alone, pure gold is too soft.
Instead, gold is mixed with another metal like copper or silver to create an alloy. This increases its hardness and durability, preventing it from scratching or becoming easily damaged.
You’ll find that the higher the gold karat, the stronger the yellow gold color of the metal will be. This is why higher karat gold is preferred for yellow gold engagement and wedding rings. It gives them a warm, romantic look, whilst making any diamonds or other gemstones really pop.
How to measure karats
The process of measuring karats is actually very simple. Each karat signifies 1/24th of the whole. So, if a piece of jewelry is made from 18 parts gold and 6 parts copper or silver, it will be classed as 18-karat gold. Divide 18 by 24 and you’ll get 0.75 so a piece of 18-karat gold is made up of 75% gold.
Shall we try another example?
14-karat jewelry is made up of 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metal. 14 divided by 24 rounds up to 0.58, so a piece of 14-karat gold is made up of 58% gold.
Which karats are most affordable?
Here in the US, the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for setting the rules regarding karat value markings on jewelry. Under its regulations, all gold jewelry that is 10-karats or greater must be stamped with a ‘K’ or ‘Kt.’ When you are next shopping for gold jewelry, look out for these stamps so you know you’re buying real gold.
What do karats mean in terms of value? You’ve probably already guessed but the amount of gold used in a piece of jewelry will greatly impact its value. The higher the gold content, the more you should expect to pay.
For example, 10-karat gold is less than half gold, as it is made up of 10 parts gold and 14 parts copper or silver. This will make it less expensive than an 18 karat gold piece, which is 75% gold.
18-karat gold tends to be the purest gold jewelry available and is therefore much more expensive than jewelry containing lower karats like 14 and 12. It offers the perfect balance between strength and purity. 18-karat gold is often used for diamond and other precious gemstone jewelry.
14-karat gold is also considered very good quality, however, it is a little more reasonably priced than 18-karat gold. It is the most popular choice for wedding and engagement rings, as it is fairly durable and does not scratch easily. We’ll let you into a little secret – most people have a hard time telling 14-karat and 18-karat gold apart, so you may be wise to save your money and go for the slightly cheaper option!
As we mentioned above, 10-karat gold contains more alloy (copper or silver) than pure gold. It is, therefore, more durable than pieces with a higher gold content and also a lot cheaper. If you are not looking to pay a lot for a piece of gold jewelry, 10k is the way to go.
However, it should be noted that many jewelers will not design or stock 10-karat gold as it’s too hard and often unsuitable for setting diamonds and other precious stones.
What does karat mean for diamonds?
So now we’ve answered your question ‘what do karats mean for gold?’, you’re probably wondering what the term means in relation to diamonds. Well, whilst ‘karats’ measure the purity of gold, here they measure the weight of diamonds.
Before grams and ounces existed, diamonds were weighed using carobs – a long green bean containing seeds. Sounds weird but stick with us! The beans inside the carobs were nearly identical in size, so traders in the Mediterranean began using them for weighing gemstones.
The carob seeds were used to balance a scale when weighing out precious stones, like diamonds. The higher number of seeds needed to balance out a gemstone, the heavier and more valuable it was considered. This method of measuring gemstones was prevalent in Europe and the Middle East, where the Carob tree was common. However, similar methods of measuring diamonds, using grains of wheat or rice, were used elsewhere.
Why are we telling you this? Well since ‘carob’ sounds a lot like ‘karat’ it’s very likely to have influenced the measuring terms name.
It’s actually ‘carat’…
We should also point out that when it comes to diamonds, the term ‘karat’ is usually spelled with a ‘c’ instead. ‘Carat’ is the correct unit of measurement for diamonds, however, it is sometimes confused. We think it’s important to know this information and remember it when you’re jewelry shopping. It could prevent you from getting caught out!
How are carats measured?
In terms of weight, one carat equals 200 milligrams (0.2 grams). Each carat is also subdivided into 100 points. This allows jewelers to offer very precise measurements, to the hundredth decimal place. For example, a jeweler may refer to a diamond that weighs 0.25 carats as a ‘twenty-five point diamond.’
What do karats mean in relation to pricing?
Generally speaking, the higher the diamond carat weight, the more expensive it will be. This is because heavier and larger diamonds tend to be rarer and therefore more desirable.
However, weight isn’t the only factor when it comes to valuing diamonds. Color, Clarity, and Cut are also very important and must be considered when choosing a piece of diamond jewelry.
It’s also worth remembering that weight isn’t always synonymous with a diamond’s size. The way a diamond has been cut will also affect its size. Some diamonds may be heavy but smaller in size as they have been poorly cut and sink deeper into the setting.
Diamond carat buying tips
Now you know what carats mean in relation to diamonds, we thought it’d be useful to share a few buying tips. Buying diamond jewelry can be quite a minefield so it’s worth doing a little research to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting for your money.
1. The bigger the diamond the more it’s likely to cost
Bigger diamonds tend to be more expensive. In general, if you double the size of your diamond, you should expect to pay at least three to four times more in price.
2. Some diamond carats carry a heavier price tag
Highly sought after diamond weights such as 1, 1.5 and 2 carats tend to come at a premium. If you’re looking to save a little money on your diamond jewelry purchase, you’re better off buying a diamond just shy of these weights. They’ll appear almost identical in size to an untrained eye but will help you make significant savings.
3. Bigger isn’t always better
Our final tip is to remember that a bigger diamond isn’t always a better diamond. The 4 Cs (Carat, Clarity, Cut and Color) should all be considered. Your focus should be on buying the best quality diamond you can afford and then balancing out the remaining three Cs.
As a side note, if you’re buying a diamond engagement ring, it’s worth considering how it will look on your partner’s hand. If they have quite large fingers, a bigger diamond will look better. Whereas, if they have smaller or thinner fingers, a more modest, quality diamond may sit better on their hand.
Know your karats from your carats (and don’t confuse either with carrots)
You started this article wondering what do karats mean? We hope now you’ve got to the end you feel clued up and ready to shop for your next piece of jewelry. Keep in mind the difference between karats and carats for measuring gold and diamonds and remember that a higher gold content or bigger diamond isn’t always better. It’s about choosing the best quality piece of gold or diamond jewelry for your budget.
What do karats mean to you?
Are purity of gold and diamond weight something you personally consider when buying a piece of jewelry or are you more about how the piece looks? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!