Vail Jeweler’s Secrets: Karat vs. carat explained |

Vail Jeweler’s Secrets: Karat vs. carat explained

Dan Telleen
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –With the price of gold skyrocketing in the last few months there is a lot of talk about gold. To help people better understand some of the things they read about, the following article will answer some questions.

The mystique surrounding words such as karat and carat most probably survives from the days of the Old World craftsmen. Protecting their livelihoods by spinning dark secrets around their trades was economically wise – it insured their expertise with the lay public.

However romantic the remnants of the old guild secrets, these two concepts are easily explained; carat is a measure of weight commonly used for diamonds and other gemstones; karat, on the other hand, is a measure of gold.

The French language takes credit for the word carat. The idea worked its way through the Italian and Arabic tongues, from a Greek word meaning “carob bean.” Apparently a nice size carob bean was developed into the somewhat more firm standard of .2 gram.

It was said earlier that karat is a method of measuring the purity of gold; let us discuss briefly how this method works. Pure gold is a buttery yellow metal that can be easily bent. Still in its purest form it is 19 times as heavy as water, yet it can be beaten so thin that the sun shines through it. Gold in this state can be called 24-karat gold.

To make jewelry which will hold its shape and shine reasonably well, gold must be hardened by adding other metals, known as alloys. The ratio of gold to alloys determines the karat value. Recall that pure gold is 24 karat. Eighteen-karat gold then is 18 parts gold and 6 parts alloy (i.e., 75 percent pure). Fourteen-karat gold is 14 parts gold and 10 parts alloy (i.e., 58.3 percent pure).

What are the mystery metals which make gold more durable? Copper, nickel, zinc, silver and aluminum are the most commonly used today. Interestingly, the choice of metals used determines the color of the harder gold. Copper yields a rosy color; silver gives gold a greenish tint; aluminum gives gold a purplish cast; zinc and nickel are used to make white gold.

As gold does not rust, tarnish or corrode, the beauty of gold remains constant over the years. Gold’s indestructibility as a metal means that it requires very little care.

To clean gold, it is advisable to use only jewelry cleaner or mild detergent, followed by a thorough rinsing and wiping. Keep gold away from chemical abrasives such as chlorine. Although gold does not tarnish, the level of body acids in some individuals can react with the metals alloys with the gold and cause gold jewelry to leave a black smudge on the skin and clothing.

Dan Telleen is the owner of Karats, located at 122 E. Meadow Drive in Vail Village. He’s been designing jewelry in Vail since 1970. Call 970-476-4760 for more information.

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