Decoding Gold: Your Guide to Karats, Gold Filled, and Vermeil

Gold has long been revered for its timeless beauty and enduring value (with gold skyrocketing lately too), but understanding the world of gold jewelry can be overwhelming with its plethora of options and terminology. From different karats to variations like gold filled and vermeil, understanding the various types and hallmarks can help you make informed choices about your jewelry investments. In this comprehensive guide, I'll go into the various karats of gold, compare them to gold filled and vermeil, and explore how they are used and wear over time in jewelry.

Understanding Solid Gold Karats

Gold purity is measured in karats, with pure gold being 24 karats. However, pure gold is too soft for most jewelry applications, so it is often alloyed (mixed) with other metals to increase durability. Here's a breakdown of common gold karats:

  • 24 Karat Gold (Hallmarked with 999 or 24K): Pure gold, soft and prone to scratches and dents. Rarely used in jewelry.
  • 22 Karat Gold (Hallmarked with 916 or 22K): Contains 91.6% gold and 8.4% alloy metals. This is more durable than 22K but still on the softer side. This is very popular in jewelry made in India.
  • 18 Karat Gold (Hallmarked with 75” or 18K): Contains 75% gold and 25% alloy metals. Offers a good balance of purity and durability, ideal for fine jewelry.
  • 14 Karat Gold (Hallmarked 585 or 14K: Contains 58.3% gold and 41.7% alloy metals. More durable than 18K gold and commonly used in fine jewelry that will get frequent wear
  • 10 Karat Gold (Hallmarked 417 or 10K): Contains 41.7% gold and 58.3% alloy metals. Most affordable and durable option, but lower a significantly lower gold content.
  • KDM gold (Hallmarked KDM): a high Karat 92% gold soldered with 8% cadmium, This has been banned by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) due to health concerns with the use of cadmium and you should be aware of the associated health risks.

Gold Filled vs. Vermeil

Gold Filled:

- Gold filled jewelry is made by bonding a layer of solid gold to a base metal core.
- The gold layer must be at least 5% of the total weight of the piece.
- Offers the look and feel of solid gold at a much more affordable price point.
- More durable than gold plating and less likely to tarnish or wear off with proper care, and can last many years. Not considered an investment metal.


- Vermeil jewelry is made by applying a thin layer of gold (typically 18K or higher) to a sterling silver base.
- The gold layer must be at least 2.5 microns thick.
- Offers the luxurious look of gold at a fraction of the cost of solid gold or gold filled
- Requires special care to prevent tarnishing and wears over time. This would not be considered an investment metal or used for jewelry meant to last a long time.

Usage and Wear Over Time

- Solid Gold: Ideal for fine jewelry pieces like engagement rings and heirloom pieces. With proper care, solid gold jewelry can last a lifetime and be passed down through generations.

- Gold Filled: Commonly used for everyday jewelry such as chains, bracelets, and earrings. With proper care, gold filled jewelry can maintain its appearance for many years.

- Vermeil: Suitable for inexpensive statement pieces and fashion jewelry. Requires gentle handling and occasional polishing to maintain its luster over time, and the surface can scratch or wear leaving the underlying silver visible.

Making Informed Choices

14K solid gold paperclip and trombone chain handcrafted and one of a kind by Jen Volkodav Jewelry Design

When it comes to choosing gold jewelry, understanding the differences between various gold karats, gold filled, and vermeil can help you make informed decisions based on your budget, style preferences, and desired level of durability. Whether you opt to invest in the timeless elegance of solid gold, the affordability of gold filled, or the fast fashion appeal of vermeil, investing in quality pieces and proper care will ensure that your jewelry remains beautiful and cherished for years to come.