The Ultimate Guide to Gold Jewelry

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Scientists and chemistry geeks know gold as the chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number 79. But as jewelry lovers, we know it as a precious metal valued for its rarity and delicate, yellow beauty.

For thousands of years, humans have mined gold all around the planet and used it to make precious jewelry and that hasn’t changed much today. Nowadays, most of our gold comes from China, Australia, and South Africa. And we still use it to make gorgeous jewelry.

Have you been wondering what type of gold jewelry to buy, how to care for it, and where to buy it from? We have all the details and then some.

What is gold jewelry made out of?

Jewelers make gold jewelry by mixing gold with alloy metals. Pure gold is too soft to make jewelry. Because it deforms easily, jewelry made of pure gold will change shape and look different over time. 

Common alloy metals are nickel, copper, silver, and zinc. These alloy metals strengthen and make gold jewelry more durable and wear-resistant. 

Is real gold shiny?

Real gold is slightly shiny. It has a beautiful soft yellow color but not a lot of shine. Polishing can make it shine bright, so a polished gold piece will be shiny.

Can real gold fade?

Pure gold doesn’t fade or tarnish. Gold is an inert element that remains unreactive in the air or when exposed to water.

Unfortunately, gold’s alloy metals are reactive. So, when you notice tarnish or discoloration in your gold jewelry, the gold itself is unaffected. Instead, the alloy metals have reacted with the air and moisture and produced tarnish.

Types of Gold Jewelry

We can identify multiple kinds of gold jewelry. Here are some of the significant and best-known types.

Gold-Filled Jewelry

Gold Chain Bracelet

Gold-filled jewelry has a thick layer of gold mechanically bonded to another metal like silver, copper, or nickel. 

The bonding process involves high heat and pressure causing the gold to cover the base metal entirely. The gold content in gold-filled jewelry is usually about 5% of the jewelry’s total weight.

Gold-filled jewelry is ideal if you’re on a budget but want a long-lasting piece. It’s more expensive than gold-plated jewelry and lasts a lot longer.

How long does gold-filled jewelry last?

The outer gold covering in gold-filled jewelry can last for about 10 to 30 years with adequate care. 

Avoid wearing it to swim or in hot tubs. Harsh chemicals like chlorine can damage your jewelry. Also, store it separately. If your gold-filled piece rubs against other jewelry, it can get scratched and discolored.

Gold-Plated Jewelry

Gold Plated Hoops

Gold-plated jewelry has a thin plate of gold over metals like brass and copper. Jewelers use electroplating to cover the base metal with gold, giving it the appearance of real, solid gold. The gold content in these pieces is less than 1%.

Gold plating creates only a thin layer on the surface of the base metal. Hard rubbing or washing can wipe off the coating, leaving the jewelry discolored and dirty looking. If you want your gold-plated jewelry to last longer, keep it away from water and handle it carefully.

Rolled Gold

Women's antique rolled gold antique bracelet

Rolled gold is similar to gold-filled jewelry. Jewelers lay a sheet of base metal (like copper, brass, or silver) between thin sheets of gold, then bond them with high heat and pressure. They then roll these sheets to make them flatter and use them to make jewelry.

Rolled gold is often referred to as gold-fill and has similar pricing to gold-filled jewelry.

Gold Vermeil

Gold Vermeil Jewelry

Sterling silver is always the base metal in gold vermeil jewelry. For jewelry to be legally considered gold vermeil, the gold used must be at least 10 karats and 2.5 microns thick. Jewelers use electroplating to coat sterling silver in gold.

Though gold vermeil lasts, the outer gold plate fades eventually. And when it does, you’re left with sterling silver. This type of gold jewelry is common for more delicate jewelry pieces, and is not as costly as solid gold pieces.

Yellow Gold

Petite Comfort Fit Wedding Ring

Yellow gold is solid gold with yellow coloration. To create yellow gold, jewelers mix pure gold with other alloy metals to give it more resistance to deformation. Copper, zinc, and silver are the most common alloy metals combined with gold to create yellow gold.

Like white gold, yellow gold is popular for engagement and wedding rings.

Rose Gold

Rose Gold necklace

You’ll love rose gold if you want something unconventional. Rose gold has a blush hue, brought on by adding copper and silver. 

The quantity of copper in the jewelry determines the depth of the pink or red shade. Lower karat rose gold rings, like 10k or 14k, have deeper blush tones because the copper content is higher.

💡 Fun Fact: The famed Russian jeweler Carl Faberge invented rose gold in the late 1800s. He made the famous Faberge eggs for the Russian royal family, incorporating rose gold and other precious metals and gemstones. Today, rose gold is a popular alternative to yellow and white gold.

White Gold

white gold wedding band

White gold is an alloy of pure gold and white metals, like silver, nickel, and palladium. This alloying doesn’t give a completely white look, so white gold is often plated with rhodium. 

Rhodium-plating gives white gold a glossy finish. However, it doesn’t last forever. You’ll need to re-plate your white gold piece every 1-3 years, depending on how much you use it.

White gold’s stunning appearance makes it popular for bridal sets. It’s a common option for those who want the flashy white of platinum but don’t have the supporting budget.

Gold Karatage

We know the quantity of gold in a piece of gold jewelry from the karatage. One gold karat is 1/24 parts (or 4.1667%) of the whole. This means that if you have an 18-karat piece of gold, that piece has only 18 parts of gold out of 24 and is 75% pure. The remaining six parts are alloy metals, like copper, silver, palladium, iron, or nickel.

The gold classifications are 24k, 22k, 18k, 16k, 14, 10k, and 9k. It’s rare to find 24k gold jewelry. Such jewelry will have 99.99% gold content, making it soft and malleable. 

You’d be able to bend and scratch a 24k gold bracelet or ring easily, and over time, it’ll lose its shape and sheen. For this reason, gold is bonded with alloy metals to produce lower karat pieces.

This table shows you the different karat classifications and the quantity of gold in them.

KaratsGold PartsPurity (%)

The higher the karatage, the softer the jewelry, and the more expensive it is. However, higher gold karat jewelry like 22k and 24k gold is susceptible to scratches and deformation. As a result, 18k gold is a popular higher purity choice that holds up well against deformation.

If you want more durable pieces, choose lower karat jewelry like 14k and 10k gold. But note that the gold content is less for this jewelry. 

14k gold is more popular because its karatage is higher and it’s budget-friendly. 14k gold jewelry is also resistant to damage and will hold up better to constant wear.

Is 14K real gold?

Yes, 14k gold is real gold. A 14k gold jewelry piece has 58.3% gold purity and other alloy metals. These metals could be copper, nickel, zinc, or silver.

Which is better: 18k or 22k gold?

We have to say the answer depends on what you want.

22k gold is better for investment purposes. Its high gold content gives it higher market value. But it’s a bad choice for heavy, daily wear because it will bend and scratch fast.  

18k gold is less pure and cheaper than 22k gold. It’s also more durable, making it a better choice for rings and other pieces for daily wear.

How can you tell if gold is fake?

Some jewelry stores can attempt to sell you fake gold. Bronze and brass can look like gold if the alloying is done right. But a piece looking like gold doesn’t make it gold. The good news is you can use some tricks to spot fake gold.

A magnet test is an easy method to tell if a piece of gold is fake. Real gold isn’t attracted to a magnet, so if your gold piece moves closer to a magnet, it’s likely fake.

You can also take your jewelry to a reputable jeweler if you have the time. They use a gold testing kit and will give you an expert opinion on your gold piece’s authenticity.

How to Care for Gold Jewelry

All our jewelry will discolor and scratch without adequate care. And nobody wants that to happen. Here are some helpful tips to help you care for your gold jewelry properly.

  • Clean your gold jewelry as needed. After every wear, wipe your piece with tissue paper before storing. You can clean it more thoroughly every few weeks or whenever you see a stain, using warm water, dishwashing soap, and a soft-bristled brush.
  • Keep your jewelry away from chlorine. Chlorine is dangerous to every kind of jewelry. Constant exposure to chlorine can tarnish and discolor your jewelry. So, take your jewelry off before swimming or entering a hot tub.
  • Wear your gold jewelry last. Cosmetic products like hairsprays, makeup, and perfume can tarnish gold jewelry. While getting ready, apply your products first and wait a few minutes before putting on your jewelry.
  • Store gold jewelry separately. Gold scratches and deforms easily, so you want it safe in storage. Keep your gold jewelry in a separate box or pouch to protect it from scratches or tangling with other chains. You can wrap each one in a soft cloth and keep it in the same box, or use different boxes.

How do you clean gold jewelry?

You can clean your gold jewelry at home or take it to a jeweler. If you opt for cleaning at home, you’d need:

  • A soft-bristled brush
  • Warm water in a small bowl
  • Dishwashing soap
  • A soft cloth


  1. Mix some mild dishwashing soap or detergent with warm water.
  2. Drop your jewelry in the mixture and allow it to sit for a few minutes.
  3. Scrub the jewelry with a soft brush, getting into all the hard-to-reach areas.
  4. Rinse off soap residue with warm water.
  5. Air-dry the piece or use a soft cloth to pat it dry. Ensure it’s completely dry before storage.

You can also use this method to clean gold-plated jewelry

Can gold rust?

No, gold doesn’t rust. Rust is a metallic oxide that forms when metals react with oxygen. As a noble metal, gold doesn’t react with oxygen and thus, doesn’t form rust.

Can I shower with gold-filled jewelry?

Yes, you can shower with gold-filled jewelry, but you shouldn’t. Though the gold layer is thick, it can wear off. Also, the soap and bath oils can leave a film on your jewelry, making it cloudy. It’s best to take off your gold-filled jewelry before you shower.

What can damage gold?

Chlorine is a common substance that discolors and damages gold. Continual exposure to chlorine can leave your jewelry dull or faded. It’s best to remove your jewelry before you swim, enter a hot tub, or use a cleaning agent with chlorine.

Other substances that can damage your gold are:

  • Ammonia
  • Nail polish remover
  • Abrasives, like sand particles 

If you avoid these substances, your gold can keep its shine and last much longer.

Where to Buy Gold Jewelry

Many jewelry stores sell gold, but it’s easy to buy a fake. If you’re wondering where to buy genuine gold jewelry, here are some of our top store picks. 

  • Etsy: Etsy has a wide variety of rare and exciting finds.
  • Brilliant Earth: If you want ethically sourced pieces, you should check out Brilliant Earth. They have a wide variety and focus on sustainability, transparency, and inclusivity.
  • James Allen: James Allen provides you with a vast catalog of gold ring designs, and you can even design yours.
  • Rockford Collection: Rockford Collection specializes in men’s wedding and engagement rings. They feature unique styles and designs you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Blue Nile: Though most people associate Blue Nile with diamonds, they also have a wide gold selection.

See our top 31 online jewelry stores to shop from.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve covered a lot already, but you may have other questions. Here are some popular questions people ask about gold jewelry.

What is real gold worth?

The price of gold varies according to the purity or karatage. 10k gold is the cheapest, selling at $754.40 per ounce. An ounce of 14k gold is $1058.33, an ounce of 18k gold is $1356.83, and one ounce of 22k gold sells for $1653.94. 24k gold is the most expensive, costing $1807.29 an ounce.

Where is the most gold mined?

In 2021, China was the largest producer of gold in the world, mining 332 tonnes of the yellow metal. Russia and Australia followed close behind, producing 330.9 and 315.1 tonnes respectively.

It Glitters and It’s Gold

For several years, gold has remained a popular jewelry metal. And though we usually associate gold with yellow, you can find gold jewelry in white or a soft blush hue. Gold remains a forerunner in jewelry making, and buying gold jewelry for yourself is often a worthy investment.

Take care of your gold jewelry by regularly cleaning, storing separately, and avoiding chlorine and ammonia. Your piece will serve you well and keep glittering for years to come.

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