Jewelry Terminology 101


I get asked all the time about the difference between fine jewelry and costume jewelry. It can be confusing, so I hope this will help make it all a little more clear!

 Petite Cubist White Topaz Necklace in 14k yellow, white and rose gold.

 

Gold Jewelry
Pure gold is 24 karats but since pure gold is very soft, jewelers add other metals to increase durability. The different numbers of karat refer to the levels of pure gold that are included in the mix of metals.
18K Gold and 14K Gold
18K gold means that 18 parts out of 24 are pure gold and 7 parts out 24 parts are other materials, it is 75% pure gold. 14K Gold is 58.3% pure gold (14 parts out of 24). Yellow gold is mixed with other alloys (copper and silver) while white gold is mixed with a white alloy (usually nickel) and then rhodium plated. Similar to yellow gold, rose gold has copper and silver, but contains a larger quantity of copper, imparting that pinkish hue.
Jewelry Markings
All gold jewelry pieces have markings that tell the amount of gold in them.
18 Karat Gold is market 18K or 750
14 Karat Gold is market 14K or 585
Karat and Carat
The term, "karat", pertains to gold
Carat is a unit of measurement for gemstones. 1 carat = 0.2 gram
 
 
 
 14k Gold-Filled Jewelry
14k Gold-Filled Jewelry is a manufacturing technique typically found only in the United States but is gaining popularity because of its durability and affordability.   It is composed of a layer of 14k gold fused to an alloy metal. It can have the appearance of high carat gold and last many years before the layer of gold wears off exposing the metal underneath. The layer of gold on gold-filled items is 5 to 10 times thicker than that produced by regular gold plating. Gold-filled jewelry delivers karat gold at a more affordable cost than solid gold. The gold percentage of 14k gold filled is 5%.
 
vermeil diamond shaped adjustable ring on model hand by Janna Conner
Vermeil 
Vermeil jewelry is .925 silver plated with gold (usually 18k gold). Whereas gold plated jewelry can use various base metals and has no minimum depth, vermeil jewelry always uses hypo-allergenic sterling silver as a base metal, and is at least 2.5 microns thick. It is a word of French origin, pronounced vair-may.  Vermeil is typically bright yellow in appearance. Silver atoms diffuse into the gold layer, causing slow gradual fading of its color and eventually causing tarnishing of the surface. This process may take months and even years, depending on the thickness of the gold layer. A barrier metal layer is used to counter this effect. Copper, which also migrates into gold, does so more slowly than silver. The copper is usually further plated with nickel. A gold-plated silver article is usually a silver substrate with layers of copper, nickel, and gold deposited on top of it. The technique also known as silver gilt, is an ancient one, dating back at least to the 4th century BCE. Interesting fact: Olympic gold medals are made out of vermeil since 1912!
 
 
 
Gold Plate
Gold Plating deposits a thin layer of gold onto another metal, often copper, brass or steel alloy. Over time metal atoms will diffuse into the gold layer, causing slow gradual fading of its color and eventually causing tarnishing of the surface. This process may take months and even years, depending on the thickness of the gold layer. To counter the tarnishing a layer of metal, usually nickel, is added to the plated piece before the gold plating.
 square metal rhodium plate silver bangle bracelets on model by Janna Conner
Nickel
Nickel is slowly oxidized by air at room temperature and is considered corrosion-resistant and is a great metal barrier for plating. The layer of nickel provides mechanical backing for the gold layer, improving its wear resistance. It also reduces the impact of pores present in the gold layer. Nickel is commonly used in plating because it increases durability and prolongs the oxidization process. However, since nickel allergies are becoming more common, it is being used less and less frequently. Those with a nickel allergy often fare better with 14k or 18k gold, gold fill items or silver. Tip: applying a lacquer like clear nail polish can act as a buffer between the skin and the metal and reduce irritation. You can apply to back of earrings or whichever metal part is in direct contact with the skin.
 
Silver (Sterling / .925 ) 
Sterling silver is an alloy made from 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent alloy. Therefore, sterling silver and .925 silver are essentially the same thing. An alloy is essentially the mixture of two (or more) elements taken from the periodic table. For sterling silver, the alloys can include zinc, copper or nickel. 
The metal marking is 925.
Surgical Steel
Surgical steel is strong, corrosion resistant and hypoallergenic.
It is often used for parts that pierce the body like earring posts. We use them for all our earring posts with the exception of sterling/vermeil/14k pieces. That is why gold studs will have a dark silver colored post. We leave them unplaced to retain their hypoallergenic qualities.
Acrylic
Acrylic is manufactured by pouring acrylic casting resin into a mold. It is a transparent plastic that also goes by the branded names "Lucite" and "Plexiglass". It is a lightweight, shatter-proof alternative to glass. 
Hope this helps, if you have any questions please leave in the comments below!

18 comments


  • Moscato Is My Mantra

    Love the style of the drop earrings!


  • Brittany Poulson

    Thanks for clarifying this – it can get confusing sometimes. And those gold stud earrings are beautiful!


  • Sarah

    I love how easy this is to read! I’m bookmarking this for my new jewelry shopping trip.


  • Jennifer Morrison

    This was great information!!! I really don’t know anything about jewelry, so this was very helpful in allowing me to understand value. Thanks!


  • Leanne Wong

    This jewelry terminology glossary is so handy!! Definitely bookmarked ;)


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