Friday, September 30, 2011
Everyone has heard the term karat but few know the meaning or the original of the word. In the gold industry, karats is used to describe the purity of the gold used to make the piece. The word dates back to ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations that used carob seeds to measure the weight of gold.
The word carat is derived from the Greek word kerátion , which means “fruit of the carob.” Carob seeds were used as weights on precision scales because of their reputation for having a uniform weight. The other reason for the seeds use was that it was in order to keep regional buyers and sellers of gold honest, potential customers could retrieve their own carob seeds on their way to the market, to check the tolerances of the seeds used by the merchant. If this precaution was not taken, the potential customers would be at the mercy of "2 sets of carob seeds". One set of "heavier" carob seeds would be used when buying from a customer (making the seller's gold appear to be less). Another, lighter set of carob seeds would be used when the merchant wanted to sell to a customer.
As the softest metal in existence, pure gold is not the best for creating jewelry. Because of its softnesss. gold is often strengthened with zinc, copper, or silver. Rarely is pure gold used in the manufacturing of jewelry and the karat system is used to determine the concentration of its content.
Most gold jewelry in the U.S. is 10, 14, or 18k. A piece that is 18k is 75 percent pure gold, making it the most valuable of the three. Even when pieces have equal weight, the item with the higher number of karats will be more valuable. An 18k gold item will contain more yellow in the colored tint. Though 14k is more popular in the U.S., 18k gold is purchased by most European consumers.
Just because jewelry is stamped 18K does not mean it is. Laws vary between countries in terms of ensuring that these stamps are accurate. The U.S. is just one country that may not pursue a manufacturer for using a misleading stamp. Some countries mandate that gold purity be verified by a third party before a piece of jewelry may be stamped.
Those who buy gold coins are familiar with 24k gold because it is often used to make modern bullion coins. However, since it is often too soft for jewelry-making purposes, 18k is usually the highest number found on jewelry, though 22k is also available.