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What is the Difference between Karats and Carats?

When you go shopping for jewelry, do the terms “carat” and “karat” confuse you? Although they are pronounced the same, they have vastly different meanings because they measure completely different things. One measures the weight of precious gemstones and the other measures the purity of the metal. Let’s look at them both.

What’s a Karat?

Nearly everyone has heard the term 24-karat gold. That’s gold in its purest form. Gold is extremely soft, so alloys are usually added to make it strong enough to be made into jewelry. (22K is usually the highest karat that jewelers will use, such as in Apples of Gold Jewelry’s 22k solid gold men’s cross pendant. Anything higher in purity would be too soft to shape into jewelry). The alloys added to gold are copper, zinc, and nickel or palladium. These other metals not only increase the hardness of the gold, but they also affect the color of the gold.

White gold is sometimes mixed with nickel, but many people are allergic to nickel. That’s why more and more jewelers are using palladium instead. Yellow and rose or pink gold are affected by the amount of copper added to the metal. Dark yellow gold may have up to 15% zinc added.

Since the purity of gold is measured in karats, it’s helpful to know what the numbers mean. We’ve already said that 24 karat gold is pure gold. 18K gold is 75% gold and 25% another alloy, 14k gold is 58.3% pure, and 12k gold is half gold and half another alloy. The karat measurement is stamped on the jewelry. In the U.S. it is marked with a K but in some countries they also use C.

What’s a Carat?

You’re probably most familiar with the term “carat” when it is applied to diamonds, although it equally pertains to other stones as well as pearls. A carat is one-fifth of a gram or 200 mg. Based on the metric system, a 5 carat diamond would weigh 1 gram. Because carats are divided into 100 points per carat, a half-carat diamond would be called a 50 pointer. Carat is designated as Ct. or just C.

18k gold is the preferred setting for diamonds so that the gold contains enough alloy to harden the metal to secure the diamond.

Interestingly, carob beans were originally used to weigh precious stones because the weight of carob beans is surprisingly consistent. The word “carat” derives from “carob.”


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