But how do these gold alloys differ, and is one of them better than the other?
Let’s make a comparison of 10K and 14K gold.
First, you may ask why there is a need to create gold alloys. The main reason is that pure gold is too soft to be used in jewelry making. To overcome this problem, gold is mixed with other metals, which make the resulting alloy harder and more durable.
Gold purity is measured in karats, and the highest karat number is 24K, which is the karat of pure gold. Any karat number you see stamped on gold jewelry simply tells you how many parts gold it contains out of a total of 24.
What Is 10K Gold?
10-karat gold is an alloy made up of 10 parts gold and 14 parts other metals such as copper, zinc, silver or nickel. In percentage terms, 10K gold contains 41.7% pure gold.
Jewelry that is 10K gold will usually be stamped with a mark such as 10KT, 10K, 10kt or something similar. If you see a mark reading .417, this also means that the item is 10 karats gold.
What Is 14K Gold?
Similar to 10K gold, a gold alloy that is 14 karats is made up of 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals, mostly silver and copper, but there could also be zinc and nickel. This alloy contains 58.3% gold and that’s why sometimes you can see 14K jewelry stamped with a mark such as .583 or .585. More often, a 14K piece will be marked as 14K, 14KT, 14k or a similar variation.
10K Gold Is Cheaper Than 14K Gold
One of the first differences you may spot when shopping for gold is that 10K jewelry is on average cheaper than 14K items. This is understandable: 10K pieces contain less gold than the ones made of 14K gold. However, keep in mind that cheap doesn’t necessarily mean low quality. 14K gold may be more expensive, but its higher gold content also makes it softer and less durable.
14K Gold Has a Better Color
When it comes to appearance, 14K gold has a color that is closer to that of pure gold. 10K gold looks less yellow due to its lower gold content. However, this difference is not that pronounced, and most people cannot tell 10K from 14K jewelry just by looking at its color.
10K Gold Is More Durable
Although the lower gold content of 10K jewelry may make people think of it as low quality, this alloy is actually more durable than 14K gold. Since gold is a very soft metal, having less of it means that a 10K alloy is actually harder than purer gold mixtures. For that reason, a 10K ring, for example, will wear down more slowly than a 14K piece.
10K Gold: Not for People Allergic to Nickel
The biggest downside of 10K gold is that the jewelry made of it is not suitable to be worn by people allergic to nickel. Since a higher percentage of 10K gold is made up of this metal (compared with higher karat alloys), 10K items are more likely to cause skin irritation and other symptoms in people with a nickel allergy. In such cases, 14K jewelry is less likely to cause allergic effects, but you will need to test it in order to find out for sure.
Shopping Tips: Choosing Between 10K and 14K Gold
Although it cannot be said that either 10K or 14K gold is better in all respects, there are cases when one is preferable to the other.
If you are looking to buy jewelry that you will wear every day, 10K gold is a better choice since it is more durable. A 14K gold ring that you wear very often, for example, will scratch and wear down faster. An additional bonus is that 10K gold is cheaper.
Of course, if you are allergic to nickel, you might want to pass up 10K jewelry and go with 14K gold or even an alloy with a higher karat.
As for appearance, only you can decide if 14K gold looks better than 10K jewelry and if it is worth it to pay more for a higher karat.