As a maker of gold jewelry in all karats, customers often ask me the following, “Is 18K ‘better’ than 14K?” In this article, I will explain how the perception of 18K gold has evolved over time, the differences between the two, and give some insight on which one is best for you.
Perception of 18K over time
In ancient times, gold jewelry was made of pure (or near-pure) gold for royalty to wear during festive events and even in their graves. Over time, as jewelry became more common to wear daily among the general population, alloys (metals like copper) were mixed with pure gold to provide durability since pure gold is a very soft metal.
During the 1800s, generally speaking, 18K gold became the standard for gold jewelry in most countries (excluding Asia and Africa, where 22K-24K gold tends to remain the standard even today). In Europe, 18K jewelry was once as common as 14K jewelry is in America today; many (if not most) Europeans strongly prefer 18K over 14K.
In the 1900s, as 14K became more popular in America, this soon created the perception of 14K gold purity as the new standard if you were looking for a “real” gold piece of jewelry. European jewelers who immigrated to America still largely preferred and recommended 18K to their customers, but, over time as 18K became less and less common, it was somewhat overlooked and forgotten by the general American public who purchase from retail stores. A typical jewelry shop would make many 14K items as part of their inventory, and 18K would need to be a custom order (or a customer would need to purchase their jewelry from a designer/luxury brand who offered their high end designs in 18K rather than 14K, such as Tiffany and Cartier).
Value of 18K
As a rule, the higher the karat is on a piece of jewelry, the more pure gold it contains. This means that collectors of gold who are interested in later trading/selling, or even those looking to save pieces with high intrinsic value as family heirlooms, tend to prefer higher karat jewelry like 18K. This is because if the price of raw gold increases on the open market, the raw value of 18K increases more than 14K. Naturally, because 18K is more pure than 14K (75% compared to about 58%), many jewelry retailers started to advertise the karat as the “quality” of the gold rather than the “purity.” While it is true that the raw gold value of 18K is always going to be higher than 14K, there are cases where I would recommend a customer to pick 14K over 18K:
- Wearing with other 14K jewelry: If you already have a 14K necklace, sometimes an 18K pendant might not be the best choice as the color difference may be noticeable. 18K gold is generally a darker, more orange color while 14K is a brighter yellow.
- Cost: As expected, 18K is more expensive than 14K. If you don’t have a strong preference for the color or intrinsic value that comes with 18K, you might as well save a few bucks and stick with 14K. The durability, comfort, or function (aka getting to wear it!) is the same between 14K and 18K gold jewelry.
- Less maintenance with white gold: White gold jewelry is finished with a bright, white rhodium plate. Over time, this rhodium finish can naturally come off with regular wear; to restore it back to its original look the piece must be professionally cleaned and re-dipped in rhodium. This is more expensive than a routine jewelry polish on a yellow or rose gold piece. For 14K white gold jewelry, without the rhodium plate, the metal is still fairly bright even when all the rhodium has been removed. With 18K white gold, this is not the case. Since 18K is 75% pure (yellow) gold, without its rhodium plate it is naturally a pale yellow color. A lot of gold lovers enjoy the natural color of 18K white gold, but if you prefer your white gold to look very white and bright then 14K white gold is a better choice for you.
Go with what you like!
Some people simply don’t like the darker color of 18K, and some can’t stand the brighter yellow color of 14K. Some people want their jewelry to have as much raw gold value as possible to serve as a family heirloom that can appreciate more in value over time, and some people are just looking for a cool piece of real gold jewelry to wear and couldn’t care less about the intrinsic value. Choose what fits your needs best based on what you’re looking for. If you have any questions about which is right for you or if you want to share your opinion on 18K versus 14K gold, send us a message or leave a comment below.