Stones are the centerpiece of every ring, but metals are the foundation. There are many factors that go into choosing the right metal for your piece, such as lifestyle, personal aesthetic, and price. When it comes to gold, sorting through all the different options can be tricky. What is the difference between 14K and 18K gold? Between white gold and platinum? What golds go best with which stones? Well, never fear…Kristen Baird is here! In this blog, I’m sharing all my expert knowledge so your jewelry shopping experience can be as good as gold. (See what I did there!)
Colors of Gold
The first question most people ask me when it comes to gold jewelry is whether yellow, white, or rose gold is “best.” The answer is simple: whichever you like best! There are certainly trends when it comes to gold. Rose gold was all the rage a few years ago, and now yellow gold is HOT HOT HOT. But none of them truly go “out of style.” (Honestly, gold has been in style since the ancient Egyptians, so I think we can trust it to stay that way!) Your fine jewelry will outlast any particular craze, so it’s best to pick what you genuinely like. Some colors also look great with certain stones. For example, I love combining yellow gold with blue sapphires, tanzanite, and emeralds, white gold with citrine and peridot, and rose gold with rubies and aquamarine. Certain golds also look great on certain skin tones. (More on all of this later.) Ultimately, though, it’s up to you!
Most people have heard the phrases 14K gold and 18K gold, but they might not have a real understanding of what they mean, aside from the price difference. All gold jewelry is an alloy, a blend of gold and other metals such as copper and zinc. This is because 100% pure gold is far too soft and easily damaged to be usable as everyday jewelry.
Fortunately, 18K gold is 75% pure gold and 14K gold is closer to 60% pure gold, making both great options for daily wear. While 18K is considered fine jewelry and is more expensive due to higher gold content, 14K gold is far more durable for certain designs. Personally, I find that 14K is the more practical option for many people. But then again - wow - I absolutely love crafting with 18K whenever I can! It’s so luxurious and a dream to work with. Truly, the so-called "best metal" depends a lot on the particular design and person, so I always like to advise my clients when working one-on-one. There is also 10K gold jewelry, but I find this to be too brittle for my complex jewelry designs, so I don’t personally use it.
Aside from the differences in price and durability, different gold alloys have different shades within their color families.
When it comes to yellow gold, 14K is the color most people think of when they think of gold. It’s a nice golden yellow. 18K is a richer, almost buttery color. The two tones can be difficult to distinguish on their own, but when you look at them side-by-side the difference is more apparent.
I always recommend choosing based on your lifestyle and price range first, but all things being equal, 18K gold tends to compliment olive or darker skin tones and 14K looks great with fair skin tones. You may also have a preference depending on which stone you choose. There are so many variations between individual stones, so it’s difficult to give a blanket recommendation, but lighter stones generally pair well with 14K and darker stones with 18K. The good news is, both versions are beautiful so you really can’t go wrong!
Rose gold tones also vary depending on which alloy you select. 14K is a pretty light pinkish color, while 18K rose gold is a beautiful deep rose color. I personally love making jewelry in 18K rose gold and recommend it to anyone looking for something extra-feminine and unique!
In general, white gold can be quite brittle. For this reason, I always carefully consider what I will be using it for before I select the karat. While I almost always opt for 14K, I make an exception for when I need to set a bigger bezel. White gold bezels that cross a certain size threshold tend to be 18K in my designs. (There are a bunch of technical jewelry-making reasons for this, but suffice it to say 14K white gold can be very stubborn to work with when trying to make a bezel.) For clients looking for a fine jewelry option in a white color, I often recommend opting for platinum instead of gold. White gold is still gold so the yellow undertone will show through if it’s left in its natural state. (More about that in a second.) Platinum offers all that gorgeous true white shine and, as a bonus, isn’t going to scratch or break easily.
Rather than going with platinum, some jewelers prefer to plate 14K and 18K white gold with rhodium for extra brightness. This is a matter of preference, however, I find the upkeep necessary for rhodium plating to be challenging, and I always want my jewelry pieces to be practical in addition to beautiful. Rhodium needs to be re-plated every six months or risks wearing off. For this reason, I do not offer rhodium plating on my jewelry.
If you follow my jewelry, you know that I love to create unique pieces that break some of the traditional “rules” of jewelry making. One of those rules is “never mix metals.” Well, you can’t tell this Southern girl what to do! I love mixing different gold tones along with colored stones in a single piece.
One of my favorite techniques is to use a contrasting metal for a bezel setting to really make a gemstone stand out, like I did in these commission pieces. How sweet and romantic is that rose gold and aquamarine combo? I’m also obsessed with the way a yellow gold bezel makes blue sapphire pop. Let me know your favorite in the comments!
It wouldn’t be a proper blog about gold without mentioning a little more about where my gold comes from. As part of the Kristen Baird® Jewelry commitment to sustainability, we go out of our way to use recycled metals and to know that our sourcing is ethical - without mining it ourselves. Speaking of which, I went gold mining in North Carolina when I was in college. Let’s just say, it was depressing to only find a few tiny salt-sized specs of gold after a full day of “fun” work. Major respect to those who do this on the daily! For fun, I'm hoping to eventually "dig up" a few photos of my “once in a lifetime” gold mining experience. Stay tuned...
Anyhow, our primary metal supplier uses 100% recycled materials and has been certified by the Responsible Jewelry Council and CSC Global Services. In addition to the “social” aspect, I love being nifty, thrifty, and resourceful so I have come up with a few ways to reuse, recycle, and reimagine all the colors of gold in my studio. It works out nicely for both myself, my clients, and the world!
I hope this information gives you confidence when shopping for gold jewelry. If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to reach out or leave them in the comments!