The two most popular options for gold engagement rings and wedding bands are 14 karat and 18 karat gold, with the first being the slightly more common choice.
The difference will impact the cost, durability, and appearance of your ring – although, before you get to really grasp the differences between 18k and 14k, it can be difficult to spot any noticeable variances between the two.
But, for any shopper, understanding the importance of karat weight means developing a pretty keen eye – and a definitive preference for one or the other.
Here’s what you need to know.
Put simply, the difference between a 14 karat gold ring and an 18 karat gold ring lies in the amount of gold used to create each of those rings. An 18k gold ring contains more gold than a 14k gold ring of the same size – and even weight.
You can read our guide to gold engagement rings for a full explainer on what a ‘karat’ really is but, for now, it’s important to understand that in any item of gold jewelry, the gold content is ‘broken down’ into 24 parts.
Solid or ‘pure’ gold is 24 parts – referred to, of course, as 24 karats. It is too weak and soft to be used in jewelry, and that’s why most gold jewelry features at least some alloy ‘mixed into’ the gold.
18k gold contains 18 parts gold to 6 parts alloy, making it 75% gold; 14k gold, on the other hand, contains 14 parts gold to 10 parts alloy, meaning any piece of 14k gold jewelry features a gold content of just over 58% gold.
So, 18k gold features more gold. This is the only difference between the two options.
Unless you’ve looked closely at an array of gold jewelry, it probably all looks pretty much the same in your head: distinctively yellow, lustrous, and bright. Most people don’t picture pure, 24 karat gold when they think of this precious metal, since it’s a pretty uncommon sight in jewelry stores. Still, there’s a major difference between every other karat type, so how can you tell them apart?
Yes. While jewelers may find it a little easier, even first-time shoppers will find that the differences in appearance between a 14k and 18k ring will be pretty easy to spot.
Why? Because no other metal looks quite like gold – and particularly not the common alloys used to strengthen it. This means that the process of alloying it will inevitably ‘take away’ some of the original vividity and deep, orange-yellow hue of pure gold.
Yellow gold becomes more muted as you get further from 24k. 9 karats is generally seen as the lowest option for fine jewelry, and appears a lot more subdued than pure gold.
Yes, an 18 karat gold ring will appear noticeably more vibrant than 14 karat gold ring if you’re comparing one alongside the other.
Don’t get us wrong – the difference isn’t going to be night and day. It’s not like 14 karat gold is washed-out and bland, while 18k gold still perfectly captures the vibrancy and richness of pure gold.
The difference is subtle, but unmistakably there. 18k gold features a deeper gold hue; a warm, luxuriant yellow that contrasts beautifully with a clear diamond, while 14k gold features a softer hue that, while still clearly gold, sits more naturally against the skin.
Don’t confuse brightness of color with shine or luster. 14 karat gold, if properly cared for, will offer a glossy sheen on a par with 18 karat gold – just as a 10 karat gold will shine brightly, despite the fact that its color is significantly weaker than that of a 14 karat or 18 karat gold.
No. 18k gold boasts a brighter, more vivid color, but it is not shinier than 14k gold.
Gold’s beautiful and expensive-looking sheen is not limited to pieces that feature the highest levels of gold possible. Even 9k gold is highly lustrous, and will appear so for many, many years provided it is cared for.
In fact, 18k gold’s vulnerability to scratches can mean that it appears duller after many years’ worth of wear than 14k gold – but more on that below.
Having a preference for one or the other is only one side of the story and, as with any aspect of creating an engagement ring, it always comes back to cost in the end.
18 karat gold is much more valuable than 14 karat gold, simply because of the fact that it contains a much higher level of gold.
14k gold’s popularity is proof of the fact that purity is not a pivotal feature in gold jewelry, but it is still significant to its overall value. The higher level of gold in 18k jewelry inevitably leads to a much higher value, just as 14k jewelry is much more valuable than similar pieces made from 9k gold.
It’s not uncommon for an 18k engagement ring setting – even a simple solitaire – to be twice as expensive as a 14k ring that is pretty much identical in every respect except strength and intensity of color. This is often down to the fact that shoppers are willing to pay a premium for the prestige of a higher purity level, but personal preference doesn’t always have to lie with the purest choice.
By now, you’ll know that most gold jewelry is alloyed in order to make it capable of withstanding years’ worth of wear and tear without warping, or showing significant signs of damage. The extent to which gold is alloyed will determine its durability, so how do 14k gold and 18k gold stack up against one another in this department?
Yes, the higher quantity of alloy used to create 14k gold makes it substantially tougher than 18k gold.
This means that, over the years, you are likely to notice far fewer scratches and marks on a 14k gold ring than you are on an 18k gold ring.
Still, 18k gold is considered by most jewelers to be strong enough for bridal jewelry. It’s not a good idea to wear 18k gold all the time if you work a physically demanding job or a busy life all-round, but it’s nowhere near as vulnerable to damage as pure gold, or 22k gold – which is also considered a poor choice for jewelry that will be worn as much as engagement rings and wedding bands.
In other words, if you’re looking for the goldest gold possible but need it to be able to withstand years’ worth of knocks and scrapes, go for 18k gold and accept that it might start to show its age someday – something that many wearers consider to be an endearing quality, rather than a disappointment.
Yes and no. It really comes down to what you prefer, and what you’re willing to pay for.
Some people adore the rich, bright hue of 18k gold. It carries echoes of that distinctive orange-yellow found in pure gold, but toned down just enough to look at-home against the skin. It creates a striking contrast against clear diamonds, and an attractive ‘reflection’ of gold through the center of the stone.
Others genuinely prefer the more muted look of 14k gold. It manages to keep the warmth and extravagance of gold intact, but to soften it to a level that many find more in keeping for jewelry that will be worn continuously, for many years to come. It is still capable of creating a beautiful contrast against diamond, but also to look more natural against paler and darker skin tones alike.
It is also stronger and more affordable – two factors that tend to help tip those on the fence in favor of 14k gold.
Still, don’t let the popularity of 14k gold make you feel as though an 18k gold ring is a waste of money. The romantic attachment we feel toward gold jewelry is a pretty powerful reason in and of itself for you to spend extra on 18k if you feel yourself leaning towards it.
For so many shoppers, the choice between 14k and 18k gold tends to be a lot harder than they first anticipated. While picking out a diamond is by far the most challenging decision, putting plenty of thought into your ring’s metal means weighing up the pros and cons, and working out which one appeals to you (and your partner) more.
In either case, a ring that has been designed and created by a reputable local jeweler will be your best bet. It’s the wisest choice if you’re looking to make sure that the final creation is not only beautiful, but also capable of holding your diamond in place (and keeping it as safe as possible) for decades.