Gold Jewelry Buying Guide


Gold jewelry buying guide

Whether it’s white, rose or yellow, gold jewelry has always been and will always be in fashion.

A piece of solid gold jewelry is an investment that will last a lifetime – as long as you do your research and make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

Before you drop your hard earned cash on that piece of flashy bling, read our fact filled gold buyer’s guide.

What is Gold Karat weight?

Gold purity is measured in parts of 24. So each karat is 1/24th gold by weight. So 18 karat gold is 18 parts gold and 6 parts other metals – 75% gold. The mixture of other metals depends on what colour you are trying to make (see below re: gold colours). The higher the karat weight, the purer the gold.

For jewelry, the most common alloys are 18Karat, 14Karat and 10Karat (or 9K outside of North America). Why don’t they make jewelry in pure gold? Well it’s too soft. Mixing it with other metals increases it’s durability.

How are different gold colours made?

Technically gold is only one colour – yellow. However, gold alloys are available in a multitude of shades. The most popular being yellow, white and rose.

Yellow gold is a blend of gold and different quantities of copper, zinc and silver. The colour of 10k gold (less than 50%) will be much lighter than the very yellow hue of 18 or 22k.

White gold includes a mixture of white metals such as nickel, silver, zinc or palladium. If you have nickel allergies, make sure you ask if the alloy is nickel free before purchasing. As the karat weight increases, there is more gold in the mix and the colour will be slightly yellower.

Often white gold is plated with Rhodium to give it that super-white appearance we are all used to seeing in jewelry shops. One caveat – if you’re looking for low-maintenance jewelry, avoid anything with plating as you’ll need to send it to be re-plated regularly.

Rose gold is made with copper for that pinkish hue. Again, if you want the pinkest rose gold, the lower karat weights will be your go-to while 22k will have only a slightly coppery tint.

As with anything in life, exercise caution and common sense when purchasing gold alloys. If you’re buying 22k pink gold and it looks very coppery, be very wary.

What do those numbers on my gold jewelry mean?

There can be three different types symbols stamped into your jewelry piece. One will be a maker’s mark symbolizing the person or company who made the piece, another is a hallmark that denotes the metal quality, and the third type is an assay office mark that denotes that the metal quality has been independently tested.

In some countries, though not all, hallmarking jewelry before sale is required by law as proof of the precious metal content. In areas of the world where the laws are not as stringent, you may have only some marks or even none at all. If a gold piece does not carry a hallmark, make sure you ask why and trust the person you are buying it from. If it turns out not to be the purity you paid for, without markings it is your word against theirs.

In Canada we typically stamp our jewelry with the karat weight. So you will see 10K, 14K, 18K etc. on a discreet area of the piece. Other areas of the world (such as Europe) stamp with the gold parts per thousand. For example, 18K is 75% gold, so 750 parts per thousand. 18K gold would be stamped with a 750, 14K with a 585 and so on.

Is gold hypoallergenic?

The short answer is yes… and no. Pure gold is hypoallergenic. However, jewelry is not made of pure gold and may contain metals that can cause allergic reactions (such as nickel). Europe has placed controls on the use of nickel in jewelry but gold coming from other parts of the world may not be as closely controlled.

If you have metal allergies, try to stick to higher carat golds (18K) that will have less other metals in them. Also yellow will be your safest bet to avoid nickel.

Your absolute best bet is to buy your jewelry from someone you feel comfortable with. Ask informed questions about where they source their metal and what the content is.

Can I wear my gold jewelry all the time?

Solid gold will never tarnish so you can wear it all day and night without worry. You don’t have to take it off to shower or sleep, but exercise common sense during other activities.

If you are going to get dirty, come in contact with chemicals (for example the chlorine in swimming pools), or are doing something where your jewelry may be damaged (contact sports), remove your jewelry and put it in a safe spot. This is doubly true for any piece set with stones.

What is the difference between gold plate and gold vermeil?

Although some use these two terms interchangeably, gold vermeil is specifically sterling silver that has been gold plated to a thickness of at least 1.5 microns. Gold plate can have any base metal underneath – brass, copper, nickel – and be flash plated with an extremely thin layer of gold. You may think it doesn’t matter since the base metal is underneath, but when that thin plated layer wears off, cheaper metals can darken, turn your finger green, or cause allergic reactions.

All Andrea Shelley gold plated pieces are made with solid sterling silver base. We also use palladium under plating rather than the standard nickel (to avoid allergies).

Gold plating is a great entry point for gold jewelry – especially if you are looking for a fun statement piece to wear for a season or two. However, if you want your gold jewelry to last, solid gold is the only way to go. No matter the quality of the plating, it will wear off with use.

What is Gold Filled or Rolled Gold jewelry?

Gold filled or rolled gold jewelry is a layer of gold that is heat or pressure bonded to a base metal (usually brass). The outer layer is gold and is much thicker than gold plating so will last much longer. To be considered gold filled, an item must have at least one fifth gold content (1/20th) by weight.

Gold filled is perfect for items that withstand a lot of wear – like rings. If solid gold doesn’t fit in your budget, gold filled is a great option.

Shop gold filled jewelry here.


I hope this guide has given you all of the details you need to make informed choices when buying gold jewelry. If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to send me an email or drop it in the comments below.

Leave a comment

Related Posts

Hi, I'm Andrea

I create powerful, meaningful jewelry that you can connect with and enjoy each day. I believe that jewelry, when worn purposefully, can have transformative powers. My pieces go beyond decoration to help connect you to your inner self and focus your energies to your greatest strengths.

    Join the Inner Circle

    Never miss an event, offer, or contest!

    Join the Inner Circle

    Never miss an event, offer, or contest!