Gold is a symbol of wealth and achievement in almost every culture throughout the world. Most people have heard the expression “14 carat gold” or “18 carat gold” but few understand the true meaning of the term. The following article will explain the origin of the term and how it relates to gold.
First Use of “carat”
The word carat (US. karat) is derived from the ancient word “carob.” A carob was a bean that was used on scales when merchants weighed precious metals such as gold and silver. The higher the carat count per ounce the more pure the gold is. The count is based on 24 parts. Therefore, 24 signifies the purest gold because it is 24 parts gold. This highly pure form of gold is not as durable as lesser carat gold since alloys are bonded with the gold to enhance its longevity and strength.
Different levels for different regions
The European countries have held fast to their 18 carat gold as the standard bearer. This level of carats represents a product that is 18 parts out of 24, or 75%, gold. The attractive color and beautiful sheen make this a beautiful grade of gold for all types of jewellery. In the United States of America the 14 carat designation has long been the standard by which other gold is judged. Incidentally, all gold sold within the United States must be at least 10 carats in order to apply with the law. However, there are some countries that appreciate and sell 8- or 9- carat items. The oriental areas tend to favor only pure gold, 24 carats.
Level of Fineness
Another way to describe gold purity is by the level of fineness. The amount of fineness of gold is a percentage expression that refers to the number per thousand parts. For example, 14 carat gold is 14 parts out of 24 which equals 583 parts per thousand.
The European countries prefer to mark their gold as either 18k or use the number 750 to denote its 75% level of purity.
Why Alloys are Used
Some people wonder why other metals are used in conjunction with gold in the manufacturing of jewellery and other items. Quite simply, gold is too soft on its own to make anything that would last a significant amount of time. Pure gold typically shows scratches very easily and it is prone to dents. By combining it with other alloys jewelers are able to achieve the desired level of hardness that will make a piece stand the test of time.
In order to accurately determine the level of purity for a piece of gold one must have it tested by an experienced precious metal handler. The acid used in the testing process can be quite harmful to novices unaware of the necessary precautions. Another testing method involves extremely expensive equipment designed just for gold testing. For these reasons it is advisable to purchase gold from highly reputable dealers in order to assure the finest quality of the piece.