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Gold in Jewelry

The use of gold in jewelry can take many forms but, for the purpose of statistics, it is typically measured only when in “karat” form. This specifically excludes an article of costume jewelry made from, say, brass to which a gold plating has been applied. A karat is a measure of purity of gold,defined as parts per 24. Some jewelry, such as that in China, exists in 24-karat form (essentially pure gold), but the highest caratage typically sold is 22-karat (the norm in India) as other metals such as copper and silver are added to bring sufficient strength to the alloy. Just beneath that sits 21-karat, the norm for many Middle East markets. Purchase of these high-karat grades is often motivated by investment considerations. For this to work, the pieces can carry only a small amount of labor or markup over the value of the contained metal.

The main driver for the purchase of the remaining types of gold jewelry is adornment or fashion.Within this, the next major grade is 18-karat jewelry, the norm in areas such as southern Europe.This is the standard typically used in high-quality pieces, especially those carrying precious stones such as diamonds, because at this concentration of gold, the alloy is sufficiently hard to hold stones and color on an effectively permanent basis. This is also the grade at which “white gold” appears gold to which a silver-colored metal such as palladium or nickel has been added in sufficient quantity to mask the yellow of the pure gold and render the piece “white” (industry jargon for silver colored). Beneath that is 14-karat gold, the last grade commercially available in which the majority of the alloy is gold; 8, 9, and 10 karat follow. These qualities are the various norms in northern Europe and North America, and in some markets, the United Kingdom, for example, there is legislation to enforce these standards.