If you’re shopping for an engagement ring, earrings, necklace or other gold jewelry, you’ve no doubt noticed that there are several different types of gold to choose from.
Most engagement rings are made from 14 karat (14K) gold. However, some cheaper rings are often made from 10K gold. Below, we’ve explained the differences between 10K and 14K gold to help you choose the best option for your tastes, needs and budget.
The gold used for jewelry isn’t actually pure gold — instead, it’s almost always a mix of gold and other metals.
In its pure form, gold is extremely soft and malleable. This means that when pure gold is used to make an engagement ring, necklace or watch, the finished product is very easy to scratch, dent, warp or damage in other ways.
Pure gold is also extremely bright, with a color closer to bright orange than the rich, warm gold color that most people associate with fine jewelry.
To improve durability, gold is mixed with other metals before it’s crafted into jewelry. The gold’s purity is measured using the karat system, which measures the ratio of pure gold to secondary metals used in the alloying process.
Pure gold is 24K, meaning that all 24 parts out of 24 are pure gold. This type of gold is not used often in jewelry, although 24k gold jewelry in occasionally used as an investment or heirloom in certain parts of the world.
14K gold is 14 parts gold mixed with 10 parts other metals. The specific metals used in this type of gold vary depending on the gold’s color. When you buy a 14k engagement ring, 58.3% of the ring is made of pure gold.
10K gold is 10 parts pure gold mixed with 14 parts other metals. When you buy an engagement ring that’s made of 10k gold, approximately 41.7% of the ring is made of pure gold.
14K and 10K gold each have their own advantages and disadvantages, ranging from durability and cost to purity and appearance. To help you decide which type of gold is best for you, we’ve listed the pros and cons of each type of gold below.
The biggest advantage of 10K gold is its price. Because 10K gold is less pure than 14K gold, it usually costs significantly less to buy an engagement ring or other jewelry that’s made from this type of gold.
In addition to its lower price, 10K gold is slightly more durable than 14K gold. Because it’s made from a smaller amount of pure gold and a larger amount of more durable alloy metals, this type of gold is more resistant to scratches, scuffs, dents and other common damage.
The biggest disadvantage of 10K gold is its low purity level. 10K gold only contains 41.7% pure gold, meaning that pure gold actually accounts for less than half of the materials used to create this metal.
In the United States, 10K gold is actually the least pure form of gold that can legally be sold as gold jewelry.
This low purity level means that 10K gold has something of a dull appearance compared to 14K gold. Instead of the warm, rich color that most people associate with gold, 10K gold can appear washed out and lacking in vibrancy.
10K gold’s low purity level also means that it’s more likely to trigger metal allergies than jewelry made from 14K gold.
For example, many people are allergic to nickel, which is commonly added as an alloy metal to the gold used for jewelry. Because 10K gold contains more of these alloy metals than 14K gold, it’s more likely to trigger skin allergies in people sensitive to nickel.
This can be a problem if your fiancé-to-be is sensitive or allergic to nickel or another alloy metal used in gold.
Finally, 10K gold’s low price means that it’s often used in low-quality jewelry. As such, it can be hard to find 10K as an option if you’re buying a quality diamond. For example, James Allen and Blue Nile, two of the largest online engagement ring vendors, do not offer 10K gold rings.
This means that if you’re looking specifically for a 10K ring, you may need to limit your selection to discount jewelers that don’t offer very high-quality diamonds or other gemstones.
14K gold has several unique advantages. The first of these is that it offers a great combination of purity and durability.
14K gold is made from 58.3% pure gold. This percentage is high enough to give 14K the warm, rich appearance of gold, without the dull color or lack of warmth that many people dislike about 10K gold.
Because 14K gold is also more than 40% alloy metals, it’s durable enough for the vast majority of people. If your fiancé-to-be has an active lifestyle, a 14K gold ring will be resistant enough to scratches, dents, warping and other damage for her to wear every day.
14K gold’s higher purity level also means that it’s less likely to trigger metal allergies and cause skin reactions than 10K gold. If your fiancé-to-be has sensitive skin, either 14K or 18K gold are safer metal choices than 10K gold.
While 14K gold is slightly more expensive than 10K gold, it’s still a very affordable metal for an engagement ring or other jewelry. For example, this classic six-prong solitaire engagement ring from Blue Nile costs $450 in 18K gold, but only costs $250 in 14K gold.
Finally, if you’re looking for a high-quality engagement ring or other jewelry, you’ll find it easier to buy 14K gold than 10K gold. 14K gold is widely available from online jewelry vendors like James Allen and Blue Nile, as well as from most reputable brick-and-mortar jewelry stores.
These advantages have all made 14K gold the most popular type of gold for engagement rings, with around 90% of all engagement rings sold in the US, UK and other Western countries made using 14K gold.
Despite its advantages and popularity, 14K gold does have a few minor weak points that should be considered.
First, it isn’t the purest form of gold available for engagement rings. While 14K gold is more than pure enough to provide a rich, warm appearance, it has a slightly less rich appearance than 18K gold. With this said, it’s also cheaper and much more durable than other, purer forms of gold.
Second, 14K gold jewelry is slightly less durable than jewelry made from 10K gold. However, it’s more than durable enough for the majority of people, meaning this isn’t something you’ll need to consider unless you expect your fiancé-to-be’s ring to be subject to some serious abuse.
In general, we don’t recommend buying a 10K gold engagement ring or other jewelry. Not only do none of our recommended vendors offer 10K gold as an option, but it generally isn’t a good choice due to its low purity level, dull appearance and risk of triggering skin allergies.
There’s also the value-for-money factor. Yes, 10K gold is the cheapest type of gold. However, it isn’t that much more affordable than 14K gold, meaning you’re only paying a small amount less for much lower quality metal.
Finally, since most reputable jewelers don’t offer 10K gold, you’re seriously limiting your options by buying it, meaning you might not get the best deal on an engagement ring anyway.
14K gold is popular for a reason: it offers the best combination of looks, durability and value for money. As such, we recommend it over 10K gold if you’re looking for a high-quality engagement ring, bracelet, pendant, pair of earrings or other fine gold jewelry.
If you need more help choosing the right type of gold, we’re here to help. Feel free to contact us for free, personalized advice on the best engagement rings and other jewelry for your tastes and budget.
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