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Gold, and its purity.

Gold's purity is measured in karats, but this is not to be confused with diamonds. The term "karat" harks back to the ancient bazaars where "carob" beans were used to weigh precious metals. 24 karat is pure gold, but its purity means it is more expensive and less durable than gold that is alloyed with other metals. Different alloys are used in jewelry for greater strength, durability and color range. The karatage of the jewelry will tell you what percentage of gold it contains: 24 karat is 100 percent, 18 karat is 75 percent, and 14 karat is 58 percent gold. When comparing gold jewelry, the higher the number of karats, the greater the value.

Discrepancy

Much of the confusion surrounding the differences between diamond carats and gold karats can be cleared by noting that gold's karat is PURITY and diamond carats are WEIGHT.

Karat marks: When buying gold jewelry, always look for the karat mark. All other things being equal, the higher the karat, the more expensive the piece. In the United States, 14-karat gold, or 583 parts pure gold, is the most common degree of fineness. Nothing less than 10 karats can legally be marked or sold as gold jewelry in the U.S. However, lower karatages, such as 8-karat gold and 9-karat gold, are popular in other countries.

18-karat gold is 18/24ths, or three-quarters pure gold, and jewelry of this fineness is marked 18k or 750, the European designation meaning 75% gold.

Always look for the karat mark or "k" that appears on the back of the piece. By U.S. law, if a karat mark appears you should also see the manufacturer's trademark to assure you that the karat marking is accurate. The country of origin should also appear.

In addition to the karat mark, every piece of gold jewelry should be stamped with a hallmark or trademark of its maker, and sometimes its country of origin. These designations assure you that you are buying genuine karat gold jewelry. Heavier pieces contain more gold.

Here is a chart detailing what percentage of your gold jewelry is actually pure gold.

KARAT AND PERCENTAGE

1 karat

equals

4.167

6 karat

equals

25.000

8 karat

equals

33.333

12 karat

equals

50.000

14 karat

equals

58.333

18 karat

equals

75.000

22 karat

equals

91.671

24 karat

equals

100.000 (99.99+)