No metal has enchanted man over the course of his history like gold.
According to recorded history, gold is the earliest metal used by man, as gold nuggets were found in Spanish caves inhabited during the late Paleolithic period (around 40,000 BC.)
Over 40 thousand years later, gold has stayed entwined with our progress, appearing—and treasured—in almost every major civilization and remaining a strong part of our lives today thanks to its various potential uses.
Thanks to its relative rarity, gold has been used for jewelry, precious artistry, and coinage for all recorded history. This metal was also the basis of the world monetary system until it was abandoned for a fiat currency system after the Nixon shock that took the United States dollar off the gold standard.
Gold’s unique physical and chemical properties also lend to a few more essential uses today.
The metal is one of the most malleable ones available to us (gold can be stretched into a wire that is only an atom thick.) This property, combined with its extreme corrosion resistance (gold is highly unreactive), makes it the preferred choice for use in electrical connectors in all forms of computerized devices—especially in micro-computing.
Gold also features in gold leafing, anti-infrared protection, tooth restoration, and the production of colored glass.
For most of our history, two of the most consistent uses for gold have been as money and as jewelry. Both use cases often rise to the top naturally because of gold’s peculiar properties.
Gold is sufficiently rare enough that it easily maintains its value over time. Since gold is difficult to overproduce, the metal easily became an excellent storage device for substantial amounts of value. This yellowish metal is also highly malleable and lends itself well to workability in producing coins, bars, or jewelry.
However, the prohibitive cost of gold, which has remained constantly prohibitive over millennia, has meant that pure gold jewelry has always been inaccessible to the average man.
Nevertheless, with the progress of innovation in our societies, items previously only accessible to the top strata of society have now been significantly more democratized. Today, there is an abundance of standardized options for the regular person who wants gold jewelry without trading an arm and a leg.
One such option that makes itself available to you in the category is 10k or 10-carat gold jewelry pieces. 10k gold jewelry is typically significantly cheaper than standard, expensive gold options like 14 or 18k find gold, giving you the shine of gold for considerably less than you would normally pay.
However, rating expensive jewelry is more than just checking for good looks; you could easily opt for a cheaper gold-plated or gold-filled item if that were all you cared about.
We typically want to know that we are getting the best quality possible and that our item is actually valuable and durable. This is where the problem with 10k gold comes in for many, as to the uninformed, this cheaper version of gold can easily sound sketchy.
What, then, is 10k gold, and is it worth anything substantial?
10k gold items are some of the most popular in the jewelry world today, as you would be hard-pressed to find a jewelry store that does not pack an abundance of them. However, while some consider 10k gold pieces an inferior choice, these specimens can pack significant value in their own right.
According to the current prices at the time of writing this article, 10k gold costs an average of $21.24 per gram. In contrast, 14k gold will set you back $29.44 per gram, while 18k gold retails at $38.20 for a similarly sized piece.
The implication of this data is that while 10k gold is significantly cheaper than high-karat variants, it is still quite valuable, retailing for slightly higher than half the price of the expensive 18k variant.
Is 10k Gold Real Gold?
If your question is from the standpoint of someone not intimately acquainted with the jewelry world and you simply want to know if 10k gold is gold or some cheap substitute, the short answer is yes. 10k gold contains 41.7% gold. So, yes, you are getting a piece with a constitution about half pure gold.
However, as all jewelry buffs know, things get complicated fast if you intend to take a more technical route.
What is considered “real gold” can change depending on the standards accepted in a particular region. Items can contain varying amounts of gold, but only those that meet that set cut-off will be considered real gold items in that jurisdiction.
Nevertheless, we can safely exclude gold-plated, gold-filled, and gold vermeil items from this real gold category, as they contain relatively minute amounts of gold.
Gold -lated: Gold-plated items are the cheapest gold-looking jewelry you can get. These pieces are made by coating a base metal (often copper or brass) with a thin sheet of gold, typically around 0.3 – 0.8 microns thick. This gold coating can often wear off quickly, especially with options that feature the thinnest gold layers.
Gold Filled: Gold-filled jewelry typically features a significantly higher gold content than gold-plated items. Instead of a thin coating, these items feature a solid layer of gold up to 5% of the item’s weight and are as much as ten times thicker than what you typically get with plated items. This gold layer is mechanically bonded to the base metal. The result of high-end gold filling is an item that sports the same appearance as high-karat gold pieces and can maintain this look for more than ten years.
Gold Vermeil: Gold vermeil is the luxurious version of gold plating. This term is used for pieces that feature a sterling silver base covered in gold plating. However, to be classified as gold vermeil, the jewelry piece must meet certain standards. In the United States, this standard is set by the Federal Trade Commission as:
- A Sterling silver base that is made of at least 92.5% pure silver
- A gold-plated layer that is at least 2.5 microns thick and is made using gold that is at least ten karats
Other countries can have far less strict standards for what is considered gold vermeil.
Furthermore, since these items contain a base layer of another metal like copper, brass, or silver, and only a thin layer of gold covering it, it is easy to see why they would not be considered real gold by many.
For an item to be considered real gold and marketed as such, it must contain a base made mostly of gold. How much gold, however, is a matter of regulation that can change from country to country.
That standard in the United States is 41.7% pure gold or higher. Since that is the exact percentage in 10k gold pieces, it stands that they are considered pure gold stateside, at least. However, they are essentially the lowest possible option that fits this nomenclature, and anything with slightly lower gold content would be considered not real gold.
Is 10k Gold Jewelry Worth Buying?
10-karat gold pieces are one of the most abundant types in jewelry stores today for a good reason. It is considerably cheaper than higher karat pieces yet brings a similar allure. But is it worth buying?
The right answer to this market decision will depend on your budget and how particular you are about your jewelry tastes.
On the budget side, 10k gold specimens are the best piece category for the price-conscious gold shopper. This is the key reason why it is so popular. 10k gold jewelry offers a considerable discount to higher karat pieces, yet it looks good enough to pass for a more expensive piece.
Since 10k gold jewelry contains a massive 58.3% of other metals, it has a slightly lower luster than their high-end, high-karat piece. This type of gold will have a slightly softer golden hue, especially when you compare it with pieces like 18k gold near the scale’s top end.
However, this disparity in coloring is less obvious as you move down the scale.
For example, placed side by side, a 10k and 14k piece of similar jewelry may be hard to tell apart by most untrained eyes.
Furthermore, this change in color tone may be even less obvious with the right mix of metals in the constitution of the piece.
Gold jewelry can appear in the form of yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold, depending on the other metals that are added to the pure gold in that particular mixture. Expert manufacturers can select the added metals in precise proportions to influence the final color tone and luster of the piece, creating a surface that may be indistinguishable from slightly higher 14k pieces.
However, if you are bent on having the best possible jewelry your money can buy, you would be better off opting for a higher-karat piece. The bump in quality is especially apparent when you reach the top pieces like 16k, 18k, 20k, and 24k.