Looking to buy gold? You’ve probably heard of terms like ‘24 karats’, ‘99.99% purity’ or ‘investment-grade gold’.
All the gold jargon can make it incredibly confusing when deciding which kind of gold is best for you.
Here we list the major differences between 24k, 22k, 18k… 9k and how to tell them apart.
Is it karats or carats?
A carat is a unit of weight used to measure the size of a gemstone, such as diamonds and gold.
Gold is measured in karats – a unit of measurement that measures the ratio of gold to other metals or alloys out of 24 parts.
In other words, the number of karats tells us how much percentage of gold is in a piece (jewellery, bars, coins, etc), compared to other metals. As you know, gold is often mixed with other metals to make it more durable. This is because gold is relatively soft and malleable in its pure state (you can easily shape pure gold with basic tools).
Very simply, numbers like 99.99%, 24karat, 18k, etc denote the percentage (the purity) of gold in an object.
24 karat = 99.99% gold
Also known as 99.99% investment-grade gold, 24 karat gold is the highest grade – the purest form of gold you can buy and own.
24k denotes that out of 24 parts, 24 is pure gold (24/24) without any other metals included.
24 ÷ 24
= 1 x 100
The reason gold can never truly be labelled 100% is that there may be trace elements of other metals in a gold item.
Hence, 99.99% gold is the purest form of gold you can get.
99.99% gold is also referred to as ‘investment-grade gold’ because banks and investors often buy, store and sell 99.99% gold bars as an investment asset.
It is popular in the form of collectable mint coins, bars and art pieces as its bright lustre doesn’t tarnish, rust or corrode.
Compared to gold of lower karats, pure gold is soft and tends to bend and scratch easily. Hence it is not very suitable and rarely used in most regular forms of jewellery.
Pure gold is also an excellent electrical and heat conductor. This makes it ideal for use in electronics, such as mobile phones, computers and certain medical devices.
22 karat gold = 916/917 gold
22 karats indicate that 22 of 24 parts of an item is gold while 2/24 are other metals. These often include a combination of nickel, zinc and silver to make a gold piece harder.
22/ 24 = 22 ÷ 24
= 0.916 x 100
22 karat gold’s increased durability is often used in plain gold jewellery such as gold rings, bracelets and necklaces (without embellishments). However, it is much softer and prone to scratches and bends compared to 18k gold. 22 karat gold is also less resistant to tarnish and corrosion due to the presence of other metals.
22k or 916 gold is also commonly found in many gold coins and bars and is typically less expensive than pure 24k gold.
18 karat = 750 gold
18 karat gold is 75% gold and 25 parts other metals – often copper and silver.
18/ 24 = 18 ÷ 24
= 0.75 x 100
18k gold is a fair balance between durability and purity. It’s most often used in fine jewellery as they are strong enough to hold gemstones (such as diamonds). Compared to 24k and 22k, it has a slightly duller gold colour and is typically less expensive.
By now you should be familiar with what different numbered karats mean: lesser value karat pieces have less gold purity and more metals added.
Which is better?
The straight forward answer is that it depends on what you are looking for.
Lower karats (<18 karats) are best for every day jewellery such as watches, necklaces and rings as they are more resistant to wear and tear. They are however more prone to rust and tarnish due to the mixture of other metals, which are more chemically reactive to natural elements.
The value of gold jewellery is, more often than not, determined by its craftsmanship and design, which adds a certain ‘premium’ to the piece. However, they are generally more affordable forms of gold compared to 22k-24k.
22k-24k gold, on the other hand, is more valued for its gold purity and is often viewed as an investment asset and/or as a rare collectable in the form of gold coins and bars. The softness of pure gold makes it unfeasible for everyday wear as it easily scratches and bends.
22k – 24k gold is for you if you’re looking to keep coins, bars or certain ornaments as a store of value and long-term investment.
How to tell the purity of gold
Look for gold hallmarks
Authentic gold pieces show a mark or sign indicating the purity of the gold as well as trademarks certifying a credible gold manufacturer.
We wrote an entire piece on how to test if your gold is real here.
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Recommended reading: 5 steps to check if your gold is real