Differences in Purity
The biggest difference between 24-karat and 14-karat gold is in how pure they are.
Gold purity is often measured in karats, and 1 karat is equal to about 4.17% gold content.
As you can see from the karat numbers of 24K and 14K gold, the latter is less pure.
24K Gold Is Pure Gold
The maximum possible value in the karat unit system is 24.
Hence, it follows that 24-karat gold is 100% pure, while everything with a lower karat number has some “impurities,” which are usually added deliberately.
14K Gold Is a Gold Alloy
14K gold is actually a gold alloy – a mixture containing additional metals, not only gold. These extra ingredients are meant to improve the characteristics of the alloy.
If you calculate the actual gold purity of 14K gold, you will see that it contains 58.3% of the precious metal (14/24ths).
The remaining 40% or so is made up of metals such as copper, zinc, nickel, manganese, palladium, etc.
Differences in Hardness
The difference in purity between 24K and 14K gold results in different levels of hardness, affecting how these two materials are used in jewelry.
14K Gold Is Used in Jewelry for Its Hardness
14-karat gold is relatively hard, and this is one of the reasons this alloy is a popular choice for jewelry. This characteristic also makes 14K gold pieces more durable.
Jewelry made of this type of gold scratches less and lasts longer because it wears out more slowly compared with higher-karat gold.
24K Gold Is Too Soft for Jewelry
Pure gold is very rarely used in jewelry because this metal is very soft. As a result, it can easily be scratched.
Not only that – since gold is a malleable metal, anything made of 24K gold will bend easily.
For example, a ring made of pure gold would be too prone to damage, and its parts (e.g., the prongs in its setting) would wear down very quickly.
Differences in Color
When it comes to color, there is no contest – 24-karat gold is the pure winner, as its tone is the actual color of the real thing.
Any alloy with lower purity will not have a color that matches the hue of pure gold, although 22K and 18K gold can come pretty close.
14K gold has a yellow color that is not as saturated as that of 24K gold – the tone of 14K gold is paler in comparison.
However, its exact hue will vary depending on the other metals in the alloy and their relative concentration. That’s why it’s possible to see 14K gold jewelry whose color is reasonably rich for an alloy of this purity.
Differences in Price
24K gold is as expensive as gold gets – it just does not get any purer than that.
14K gold is much more affordable, and this is yet another reason that jewelry made with this alloy is so popular.
When you also consider that 14-karat gold is reasonably durable, you can see why a lot of people prefer it as “the golden mean” – its purity is not as low as that of 10K gold; at the same time, 14K gold is not as expensive as 18K gold.