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About Precious Metals
Since the beginning of recorded history, in every major culture, the precious metals have been used for art, trading and the symbols of wealth. They are known for their luster, durability and rarity. Today, precious metals used for jewelry are represented by gold, silver, and the platinum group (rhodium, palladium, and platinum). Other metals commonly associated with jewelry are stainless steel, bronze, and titanium.

Alloys
Although some jewelry is made of pure metal, almost all is made of alloys. Alloys are mixtures of metals that make the finished piece harder, less costly, or affect its color. You'll find examples of pure gold jewelry, but 100% pure gold is soft and scratchable and not practical for daily wear. Palladium or nickel can be added to create white gold, and copper produces a rose or pink tint. Platinum is frequently alloyed with iridium or cobalt. There are many alloys and new ones are constantly being developed.

Gold color examples

The Karat
Karat is used to represent the purity or fineness of gold on a scale of 1 to 24. One karat is 1/24 pure gold. European gold is marked using a numerical scale of 1000 which relates to the percentage of gold.

Karat
Parts Gold
to Alloy
Percent
Pure Gold
Fineness
(European Marking)
10K 10/24 41.7% 417
14K 14/24 58.3% 583
18K 18/24 75.0% 750
24K 24/24 99.9% 999

Gold articles are stamped with a karat or fineness value, like the ring in the top photo. Accompanying that should be a hallmark or trademark that identifies its maker, or the item's country of origin. Other abbreviations for karat are KT, WG or KW (white gold), and YG or KY (yellow gold).

Skin Reactions to Jewelry
Very few people are allergic to gold, but it is not unusual to get reactions, or skin discoloration caused from the metals mixed with the gold. If this occurs, try moving to higher grade gold, like 18K. If the item is gold washed or plated, and the thin gold layer wears away, it can expose your skin to the base metal. Turning to gold-filled or solid gold will help protect you. Some people coat thier jewelry with clear nail polish, or buy only jewelry labeled hypo-allergenic.

What is Legally Gold
What can be marketed as gold varies from country to country. In the US, it can be anything 10K or greater, in the UK it can be 9K, in France, Switzerland and Italy , 18k is the lowest possible standard to be called gold.

Gold Washed (Gold Flashed) - Items that have an extremely thin layer of gold applied by either dipping or burnishing the metal (less than .175 microns thick). This is not a plating process. Items will wear away more quickly than pieces that are gold plated or gold-filled.
Gold Plated - (GP, KGP, RGP) Items with a thin layer of gold electroplated or mechanically plated over another metal. The gold layer will wear away in time with use.
Vermeil - Gold plated sterling silver.
Gold-Filled (Gold Overlay, Rolled Gold Plated) - (GF, KGF, RGP) Items with a 10k or better layer of gold bonded by heat and pressure to another metal. Later pieces have markings such as 1/20 10KGF indicating that the item is 1/20th gold by weight, and that the gold is 10K. Because the layer of gold is thicker than gold plating, it's value would be more, and it will take longer to wear away.
Solid Gold - Items made of any karat gold, if the inside is not hollow.


Sources and Resources
About Precious Metals – Wikipedia.com
An Overview Of Common Alloys Used In Jewelry - Pricescope.com

Buying Gold Jewelry Jewelry Information Center
Gemologica Learning Center Gemologica.com
How to Buy Gold FTC Consumer Alert

How to Buy Gold Jewelry - About.com
Improve Gold Mining Practices NoDirtyGold.org
International Ring Size Chart Gemologica.com
Platinum JewelryCentral.com
Precious Metals - Khulsey.com
Ring Settings Gemologica.com
Silver JewelryCentral.com
Top 6 Things You Should Know About Metals About.com



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