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Gold versus gold alloy versus gold plated: understanding the differences

Gold has caught the human eye since a time before recorded history, due to both its rarity and its innate lustrous beauty. This element holds a number of alluring qualities: it doesn’t corrode or rust, it can conduct both electricity and heat quite effectively, and its malleability allows it to form into shapes (including some so thin, light can pass through). Gold’s unique ability to be both sturdy and malleable throughout time adds to its value, and one both ancient and modern cultures have taken to it is through jewellery.


The power of gold

Gold resists tarnish, can be hammered into various forms, and can have wires drawn through it, making it ideal for jewellery. There’s a sensitivity to pure gold; it’s too soft to go through all the processes required for crafting it into jewellery, and thus it is alloyed, or mixed, gold with other elements to increase durability. This process of adding an alloy is the reason that when you purchase gold jewellery, you hear about how many karats it is, because the gold is mixed with elements such as silver, copper, zinc, or platinum.

The number of karats in gold jewellery indicates how much pure gold is the combination of elements. Twenty-four karat gold is the purest form for jewellery. In keeping with gold’s malleability, it mixes well with most metals and so sometimes alloys are used to create coloured gold. Chemists work to find various combinations between gold and other metals to create particular colours, such as yellow, rose, pink, white, various shades of green, gray, or purple.


If an alloy is a mixture, what is gold plating?

Gold plating, as contrasted with alloy, signifies encasing another element in gold. As mentioned, gold’s softness can leave it susceptible to dents or bends; one of its strengths, malleability, can also be considered a weakness in relation to jewellery. The advantage of gold plating, then, is that a more durable metal underneath can be finished by covering it with a gold shine.

Since the metals are not chemically mixed in gold plating, this type of jewellery may tarnish some over time more than gold alloy or pure gold. However, the idea of holding some kind of metal from the earth through a gold covering is appealing in the sense that any of earth’s elements held by gold’s luminous features radiates differently from the inside out.


What’s best for your jewellery?

Choosing the right metal for your jewellery is a very personal decision. While most flock to gold pieces with the highest karat rating available, jewellers are increasingly designing beautiful pieces with gold plating that can be just as attractive as those designed from real gold.

Measure what’s most important to you. If you’re looking for an heirloom piece that will hold its value generation after generation, you’re going to want to go with something that contains a high amount of gold. If you’re just looking for a beautiful piece you love to wear to cocktail parties, gold plating may be the perfect choice.

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