All That Glitters Guide To Gold

Beware! When shopping on the Internet, all that glitters is not gold! Has this happened to you? You're surfing online and find a fabulous ring for sale – a 14K gemstone ring. Pleased with the style, and thrilled by a bargain price, you read on, only to discover in the "fine print" that the ring is actually gold electroplate with simulated stones. Did the seller mean to deceive? In some instances, yes, because the temptation to add a little "sizzle" to the listing was just too much for them. Or, in other instances, they simply did not understand the standards of gold content and stamping.

Regardless of the seller's intent, being a savvy shopper you probably backed away quickly from the ring and the e-commerce site, right? As an Internet shop owner, do you want to be the one responsible for turning a customer away? Do you want a shopper to think you are not knowledgeable about the goods you are selling? Can you really afford having a visitor leave your site filled with ill will, or the expenses associated with a returned item just because you the shop owner failed to describe an item of jewelry properly?

Many e-commerce shop owners are part time dealers in jewelry, and unfortunately are not familiar with the standard terminology and industry guidelines associated with the sale of jewelry. Even so, visitors to a site deserve to see items properly identified and described. And the Federal Trade Commission agrees and expects the same thing. The FTC requires anyone who chooses to sell jewelry, whether full-time or part-time, professional or hobbyist, in a brick and mortar store or online, to understand and follow published guidelines, which dictate how precious metals must be described.

Can't I just call it gold? 

"I see a mark on the inside of this ring. It is 14K followed by some letters I can't make out. So it must be gold so can't I just call it gold?"

Actually, only 24-karat (or pure) gold can be called gold. All other gold colored metals, whether they contain the element gold or are simply imitations, must have the correct modifiers just before or just after the word gold. When selling jewelry that is gold colored, the correct terminology must be used in both the title and any accompanying descriptive text in order to prevent possible confusion (or worse, the appearance of deception).

What is gold, then?

24K gold is considered pure gold and is 99.999% pure. However, 24 karat gold is far too soft and malleable to be practical in the manufacture of jewelry, so it is alloyed with other metals such as nickel, zinc, copper or silver to add strength and durability. So the "gold" in any piece of fine jewelry is actually a mix of gold and other metals.

Various countries have traditionally used different purities in the manufacture of gold jewelry. The standard in the US is typically 10K and 14K. In many European countries, 18K gold is the lowest fineness allowed for sale as gold. In India and the Far East, 22k is often used. And in the United Kingdom, 9K (or 9ct) gold is the lowest fineness sold as gold.

Gold Content and Stamping

To understand gold standards, it helps to know that a karat is a measure of fineness. It denotes the proportion of pure gold to alloy in the finished metal; and the higher the karat designation, the greater the proportion of gold to alloy.

For instance, 14 karat gold is properly stamped 14K, indicating the gold in the article weighs 14/24th of the total weight of the item, with the other 10/24ths being other alloys. In some other countries, 14 karat gold is marked 585, because 585/1000ths (or approximately 58.5%) of the weight of the piece is gold.

The chart below provides information about the gold content and marks of karats commonly found on jewelry. 

Gold Content & Marks of Karats commonly found on jewlery.
Karat Stamp
Gold Percentage Numberic Stamp Gold Weight as Proportion
24K 99.999   24/24
18K 75.00 750 18/24
14K 58.33 585 14/24
10K 41.67   10/24
9K 37.50 375 9/24

What can be sold as 14K?

Because 14K gold is the most common karat seen in jewelry in the US, we will use it as an example. However, the same rules apply to other gold purities, such as 10K and 18K.

Only an item in which the gold content is 14/24ths of the total metal weight can be stamped 14K. In contemporary and vintage jewelry, only an item marked 14K can be marketed as 14-karat gold. However, the US law requiring the gold content to be stamped on jewelry was not passed until 1906. Consequently, most antique jewelry must be professionally acid tested for content. Jewelry that has been tested and determined to be 14 karat can be marketed and sold as 14K. Properly stamped jewelry produced in other countries may also be sold as 14K. To learn more about the gold hallmarks used in various countries, you can consult reference books at your local library.

In summary, only the following can be sold as 14K:

  • Jewelry stamped 14 karat (contemporary and vintage)
  • Jewelry acid tested as 14 karat (antique)
  • Jewelry made in other countries bearing the proper gold content stamps or hallmarks

What about those other stamps?

The following examples are of marks typically used on jewelry along with an explanation of what the mark denotes.

Gold Filled

1/20 14K = 14 Karat Gold Filled and 1/20 12K = 12 Karat Gold Filled

Gold Filled refers to an item with a layer of gold mechanically bonded to the surface. The layer of gold must be at least 1/20 of the total metal weight of the piece.

Rolled Gold Plate

1/40 14K RGP = Rolled Gold Plate

Similar to gold filled, but with less gold present. The gold layer must be at least 1/40th of the total metal weight.

Gold Electroplate

14K H.G.E = 14K Heavy Gold Electroplate

An item with this mark has a very minute amount of 14K gold deposited on the surface by the use of chemicals and electricity. The deposit may be as little as one hundred millionth of an inch thick. Not really very "heavy" after all!

Gold Color or Gold Tone

The vast majority of vintage costume jewelry is simply gold tone metal and although it is tempting to simply call it Gold in the title and description of an item, it should be called Gold Tone or Gold Color to avoid confusion. Remember, Gold can only properly be used to refer to 24K gold.

An Easy Reference for Jewelry Sellers

Once we understand the different terminology, it is easy to see which terms to use to describe gold and gold colored jewelry. We have provided the chart below as an easy reference for your use when adding jewelry items to your e-commerce shop.

Always remember, an item must not be described as karat gold unless it is appropriately stamped or has been acid tested for fineness.

Easy Reference Guide for Jewelry Sellers
14k 14k or 14 Karat 14K or 14 karat
Gold Filled Gold Filled or Gold Fill or G.F. Gold Filled
Rolled Gold Plate Rolled Gold Plate or R.G.P. Rolled Gold Plate
Gold Electroplate 14K H.G.E. or Gold Electroplate 14 Heavy Gold Electroplate
Gold Colored Gold Tone or Gold Color Gold Tone or Gold Colored

For more information about the standards and guidelines for selling jewelry online, please visit the Federal Trade Commission web site at:

User login



About Ruby Lane

Vintage Begins Here: Explore the exciting world of Ruby Lane. Discover thousands of independent shops showcasing quality Antique & Art, Vintage, and Jewelry items from the world's largest curated marketplace.

Follow Me on Pinterest