Why use 18k gold jewelry components?
There are many options when choosing components for making designer jewelry. 18k gold happens to be one of the most expensive. So why use it? When you look at the alternatives, there is just nothing like using solid 18 karat gold beads and findings in your high end designs. Here are some of the various materials for use in gold jewelry, listed in quality from lowest to highest:
Gold Plated Primarily used only in "costume jewelry", gold plating is the process of adding a minutely thin layer of gold to another base metal or alloy (typically silver or copper) to simulate the appearance of solid gold. This is usually done through electrochemical means, and results in a more or less evenly distributed layer of gold between .175 and 2.5 microns (chart). As expected from the lowest quality of ornamental gold, gold plated jewelry components are easily subject to wear through rubbing abrasion, chemical erosion from skin or air contact, tarnishing, and eventual disintegration. While inexpensive and available in wide variety of jewelry components, gold plated components are to be avoided in any jewelry which is designed to stand the test of time.
Gold Vermeil or simply "Vermeil" is a specific type of gold plating. It is defined the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations 16, Part 23.5 as a "base of sterling silver coated or plated on all significant surfaces with gold or gold alloy of not less than 10 karat fineness". It has a minimum thickness of 2.5 microns (about 1/10,000th of an inch) of at least 10 karat gold. Again, just a sub-type of "gold plated".
Gold Filled Otherwise known as "Rolled Gold" or "Rolled Gold Plate", "Gold Filled" is a Federally regulated term (by the FTC) in the jewelry industry which consists of a solid layer of gold bonded with heat and pressure to a base metal such as brass or silver. The stamp of "GF" on a jewelry piece signifies that it's thickness conforms with the Federal Regulations for a particular karat level. For instance, 12kt GF jewelry must be a minimum of 1/20 the total weight of the piece in 12kt gold. (This amounts to 1/40 or 2.5% of the total weight in pure gold.) While the durability of gold filled jewelry is superior to that of gold plating, it can still wear off over time through rubbing abrasion and contact with the natural oils in the skin. Another downside of using gold filled components is that due to the method of adhesion to the base metals, it is not always conducive for use with irregular surface patterns such as granulation, ribbing, hammering or embossing. This virtually eliminates the possibility of handmade gold-filled components.
10k, 12k, or 14k (Karat) Gold. As the lowest level standards in true karat gold, these are alloys consisting of 41.67% (10k), 50% (12k) and 58.33% (14k) gold. These are strong and durable as they are pure gold mixed with other base metals such as silver, copper, nickel and palladium, depending on the color required (white gold, red gold, etc.). Contrary to popular belief, pure 24k gold is actually ALWAYS yellow in color. White and other colors of gold are formed depending on the other metals blended into the alloy. In general, these are good choices for use with many gold jewelry components, due to the moderate content of gold and the resulting hardness added by the other metals. However, there are some drawbacks with these "medium karat" mixtures, namely color consistency and non-malleability. While ideal for casting and mold-based jewelry components, these are not ideal for use with the traditional methods employed by the hand made gold artisans due to their high degree of hardness. This makes them less malleable and less easily formed into the more intricate and complex designs common to the handmade goldsmith traditions, specifically those of India and Thailand.
18k (Karat) Gold. At 75% pure gold, this is the beginning of what most consider to be true "high karat" gold. In this 18 karat mixture, the predominant metal is gold, which not only makes it more valuable, but also retains the characteristics required for traditional manufacture. Due to its purity, 18k gold has a high degree of flexibility while maintaining stability and durability. This unique combination makes it easy for gold artisans to form into a thing of true beauty using hand made production techniques passed on from generation to generation. The use of 18k gold and higher karat - even up to 23k gold - is common in India and throughout Asia due to their esthetics and perceived value as an indicator of wealth. 18 karat gold (and above) is the ideal choice for use in making quality designer jewelry. Nothing is more desirable than custom jewelry designed with true hand made gold components, ensuring that each gold piece - and each gold component in each piece - is truly unique.
We hope that this brief comparison of gold jewelery making materials will help you to decide what quality of gold components is right for the type of jewellery you are designing. Please contact us with any questions or comments. In the meantime:
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