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A Gold Guide to Knowing the Difference

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Buying jewellery is personal and an experience to be enjoyed, tailored to your needs. However, sometimes it can be daunting when making decisions on such an important piece, especially when it is being gifted or to mark an important milestone. To make the process easier, it can be helpful to know what you are looking for in a piece of jewellery and recognising which metal will suit best is a great place to start, and will allow you to then decide on stones or any design details you have in mind.

Jewellery can be set in a variety of metals. One of the first things to identify when purchasing a piece is recognising what kind of metal it is set in, whether it be silver, gold or platinum. As a general rule, it could be said that the price will be reflective of the metal used in this piece, for example a semi precious stone at a more affordable price is likely to be set in silver, whereas a larger, more extravagant looking piece with a precious gem stone such as a diamond, it is likely to be gold or platinum. Gold can be divided into categories such as colour, carat and properties. We are about to delve into the details of these elements and make purchasing your jewels a little bit easier!

An example of yellow gold, white gold and rose gold in one of our pendants

Gold is categorised into carats (much like diamonds) and refers to the weight of the gold in the piece. Gold is a very soft metal in pure form and needs to be mixed with other metals to strengthen the substance to be able to be used in making pieces of jewellery. The higher the carat of gold, the softer and more delicate the piece will be, as well as more valuable! For example, 9ct gold is made up of 9 parts gold out of 24 parts. The metals mixed with the 9 parts gold differ depending on the colour of the gold. White gold is mixed with white coloured metals such as silver or palladium. Yellow gold is mixed with copper, as is the same with rose gold to achieve the colour. 18ct means 18 parts out of 24 are gold, making the metal softer and more yellow — as a result of using more parts of pure gold to make it. 22ct gold is even softer and more yellow again than 18ct, with only 2 parts a stronger metal. It is rare to find a piece of jewellery in 22ct however it is often used in indian and Asian jewellery for its pure yellow colour.

The classic yellow gold colour is easier to spot. Yellow in colour and popular in older pieces, 9ct is the hardest carat of gold used in jewellery so is useful for making wedding rings and pieces that can be worn everyday so that they can withstand the most wear. 18ct in comparison is more yellow in colour than 9ct and can be distinguished by this characteristic.

White gold is a bit more tricky! With white gold being the same white colour as silver, platinum and palladium, it can sometimes be difficult to tell apart from the other metals. Price could be a starting point as platinum is more valuable than white gold and silver more inexpensive. White gold gets its colour from gold being mixed with white alloys to make it a white colour, it is then coated with a metal called rhodium which is a white-metallic element, which helps the white gold look as white as possible. When purchasing a piece of jewellery in white gold, re-rhodium may be required. Rings usually require this every year or so depending on the wear of the ring, if the ring is worn everyday, the wearer will notice the gold becoming more dull or even becoming yellow.

An example of 9ct yellow gold used on a wedding ring to withstand harder wear

Rose gold is a pink colour, sometimes referred to as ‘red-gold’ and is used more frequently now in modern pieces, popular with brands such as Cartier, Tiffany and Michael Kors but also popular in older gold bracelets and chains. It was also known as Russian gold as it was used in Faberge eggs! Rose gold is mixed with copper and silver to make it a malleable metal. The more rose gold in colour, the higher the carat. Rose gold, like yellow gold, can quite easily be distinguished as the colour is unique to this metal.

A three colour second hand bracelet -

9ct gold is represented by the number 375 when looking at a hallmark on a piece of jewellery, 18ct is marked as 750 and 22 ct is marked as 916, this is the number of parts in the gold per 1000. Jewellery above a certain weight must be hallmarked to guarantee its standard. Gold hallmarks are easy to spot, usually placed on the inside shank of a ring, or on the catch of a necklace or bracelet. A standard hallmark will consist of:

  • A date letter to represent when the piece was made and/or a markers mark which represents the jeweller hallmarking the piece

  • Traditional fineness mark eg. a lion to represent silver, a crown for gold (can also be represented in simply the numbers of the carats - 375, 750)

  • An assay office mark: where it was hallmarked. Offices include Edinburgh, Birmingham and London

Above is an example of a standard hallmark with makers mark, fineness mark, assay office mark and date letter (via

Hallmarks are interesting to investigate, especially on old, vintage pieces of jewellery! However, when buying a piece, try not to find yourself so invested in all of the information they represent - while it is interesting to know when or where your piece was hallmarked, it is best to start by looking at the fineness symbols to ensure your gold is what it says it is with regards to carats.

When exploring pieces of jewellery for purchase, sales assistants and jewellers have a wealth of knowledge and would be able to answer any questions you have in regards to metals, which is best and which attributes they each have. Getting a head start on the search for the perfect gift, investment or ring will hopefully make the experience a little less daunting and easier for customers to get exactly the product they’re purchasing.

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