Whether you're shopping for jewellery online or in person, it's important to understand the differences between different kinds of gold jewellery. It can be confusing when gold jewellery is labelled differently from shop to shop - and sometimes not at all! Here's our handy guide to help keep you informed:
Gold is one of the 118 currently-identified chemical elements: pure gold (AU) is made up entirely of gold atoms.
In its natural form, pure gold is a brightly-shining orange-yellow colour. It is a very soft and very malleable material, which means it isn't actually suitable for everyday wear. Jewellery made out of pure gold can easily lose its shape and get dented or marked.
That is why most 'gold' jewellery is actually made from a gold alloy - a combination of gold and another metal, such as silver or copper.
The amount of pure gold compared to other metals is what gives gold jewellery its 'karat'. 24 karat gold is 100% pure gold, and so there can be no higher value than 24 karats. 18 karat gold, for example, is 75% pure gold: 18 parts gold and 6 parts other metal.
Gold filled jewellery is a great alternative to gold, since it looks, feels and wears very similar to real gold, but is more inexpensive. Gold filled won't tarnish or chip, but it also doesn't last as long as real gold.
Gold filled is made by wrapping one or more sheets of solid gold around a base metal (such as brass or silver), and under intense heat and pressure the gold and metal are bonded together.
The labelling can often be confusing, but, for example, 1/20 18k gold filled means that 1/20 of the weight of the metal is 18k gold - but remember that 18k gold is not pure gold, but 75% gold and 25% other metal.
Gold plated jewellery is much cheaper to make than gold and gold filled, and is often used for inexpensive costume jewellery. It looks shiny and bright like real gold, but over time it loses it lustre and can tarnish and discolour.
Gold plate is made by taking a base metal (such as brass or silver) and applying a thin layer of gold on top. Sometimes it is called gold wash, which means exactly the same as gold plate, or gold vermeil - thicker gold plated onto sterling silver or fine silver.