Precious Metals Education: Gold

No discussion on precious metals and fine jewellery can take place without engaging gold. Gold is arguably the most important and hence popular metal type in the world of fine jewellery, with its long history of use, stretching back thousands of years, with kingdoms such as ancient Egypt being among the oldest who recognised their value. The use of gold as a metal in jewellery making, to forge religious symbols and statues, and most notably their use as a monetary unit, with the gold ‘shekel’ being one of the early uses of gold in an economic context. The transactional value of gold has been long recognized, from the ancient Egyptians to the Romans to other ancient kingdoms. A practice that continued over the centuries to the present day, Gold as a precious metal has been able to generate an almost instinctive reaction among those who are confronted by it, and with good reason.

Key Features of Gold

From its distinct glowing colour, its rarity, the mining efforts that go into securing it, and the variety of forms gold take: from gold nuggets in their more natural state; to the refined form of gold that is found in gold coins and gold bars. The value of gold has remained steady over thousands of years, owing to the enduring demand for it in the world of fine jewellery; in addition to its widespread use and hence demand in industrial use in modern times. The value of gold, in addition to its rarity, has rested on certain key features which have stood the test of time, with continuing significance. Notably, they are:


Ductility refers to the ability of the metal to be drawn out into a thin wire form, whilst being able to maintain its strength and durability. Gold is notable in having this key metallic characteristic, which is key in making certain types of jewellery and for other industrial uses.


The malleability of gold, which should not be confused with its ductility, refers to its ability to be flattened and shaped. This feature of gold is a factor that enables gold to be used for decorative and ornamental purposes. The use of beaten gold has a long historical use. In the Biblical tradition, it is noted that parts of King Solomon’s Temple were inlaid with gold. In modern times the malleability of gold is used in the making of advanced medical and space science applications.

Conductor of Heat and Electricity

Gold, despite being a precious metal maintains the key qualities that are associated with metals. Notable here is its ability to conduct and heat and electricity. A key feature that is pertinent in industrial use, which when combined with other more particular features of gold, make this metal a key component in many industries. 

High Reflectivity of Heat and Light

In addition to the famous golden glow that we have come to associate with this precious metal, gold’s ability to reflect light and its ability to interact with heat has made it a key factor in the making of advanced technological materials, with its high reflectivity of heat and light being adapted even into astronautic applications. 

Enduring Value 

This feature has been the most remarkable character of gold, that its demand has not waned over time. People around the world continue to be fascinated by its colour, and glow and hence fuel the supply side value for this material. The economic significance of gold, apart from that of jewellery, is arguably more significant today. And was even more so during the early part of the 20th century, when the gold standard was still in place. Gold, despite the rise in popularity of other competitor metals, and cheaper plated alternatives has maintained its dominance. Next, we will look at the importance of gold in the context that matters most to you most: Fine jewellery.

Top Gold Types or Colours

Gold that is used in the making of jewellery is invariably in its alloyed form. Gold in its pure character is virtually impossible to shape into the desired shape. Owing to its extreme suppleness, pure gold (24 karats) is hardly ever used in the making of jewellery (more on this below). Whilst some companies have marketed the idea of selling ‘solid gold jewellery’, in practice, virtually all gold that is used in the making of fine jewellery is gold alloys. The gold that is used in the making of jewellery is combined with other metals, whose addition is meant to enhance the properties and character of the stone. An effect of alloying of gold is that it introduces necessary colour changes to the metal. This process which is widely used in the industry, and in time has given rise to certain gold metal variants, which are distinguished by their distinct colours. Here will look into the main colour variants of gold, and their notable characteristics:

Yellow Gold

The most popular gold variant, and one that is traditionally associated with this precious metal. Since the colour that is often associated with the metal gold is understood by its colour ‘gold’, which has taken on a life of its own. In the jewellery industry, this main or ‘authentic’ colour of gold is understood by its hue: yellow. Yellow gold which is used in fine jewellery is an alloy, which contains various levels of copper and silver; the two most popular metals that are used in the making of gold alloys. Yellow gold, like the white and rose gold variants, also come in a variety of purities: with the popular 18K and 14K being the most notable. The purest yellow gold variant, which comes closest to the 24 karat mark, is being used in the making of gold coins, bars and bullions. When it comes to the use in jewellery, yellow gold is noted for certain features.

  • Generally, they are believed to be the purer form of gold.

  • Considered to be the most malleable form of gold alloy.

  • It is a popular option in vintage style jewellery. 

Rose Gold

The rising star in the world of fine jewellery rose gold has become a highly popular choice owing to a number of characteristics that have made it a stand out choice. Rose gold is an alloy that is made by combining pure gold with varying levels of copper. However, unlike in yellow gold, the presence of copper is more prominent. This is why in the use of fine jewellery the most popular rose gold variants are the 14K and 10K variants, with the 18K variants being rarer. With rose gold, the lower karatage number makes it the rosier in this range. Rose gold’s popularity is driven by its distinct colour which combines the distinct glow of gold, with the romantic and modern hues of pink. Rose gold, as a colour has grown in popularity in the wider cultural context, with modern gadgetry, cars and even special events themed on this colour tone. However what has driven its popularity the most has been the rise of rose gold engagement rings. Rose gold when it comes to fine jewellery is valued for certain features, notably:

  • Its modern hue, which combines well all skin types.

  • A hue that accentuates the glow of lighter or colourless gemstones.

  • A great choice for two tone rings.

White Gold

Arguably the most popular gold variant today, white gold has risen in popularity in recent years. Riding on the wave of the continuing price increase in the market for gold, along with the slowing down in the price for platinum, its main competitor, white gold today is a top choice for fine jewellery. White gold, which is also an alloy, is made by combining pure gold with varying levels of nickel and zinc. This variant in the gold family can also be found in 18K and 14K types. White gold owing to its colour combines well with coloured gemstones, one of the most popular jewellery choices being the white gold sapphire ring. In addition to the difference in karatage determined by the presence of additional alloys, white gold is noted for its ability to compete with the historically more expensive platinum. In addition to its bright distinct colour, white gold is noted for certain key features:

  • Being better able to resist corrosion.

  • A great alternative for the generally more expensive platinum.

  • Slightly less hypoallergenic, owing to the presence of nickel.

Green and Blue Gold

In the world of fine jewellery, the pursuit of novelty never stops, and jewellery makers and other metal enthusiasts have taken the idea of alloying to new levels with their experimentation. Enter green and blue gold variants. The green type of gold is actually known to be naturally occurring, found in subtle green-yellowish tones. A result of the novel combination of silver and gold, and is known by the name, electrum. Blue gold on the other hand, which is even more bizarre depending on how you approach this matter, is an alloy made via the use of intermetallic compounds, which are being used in the alloying and chemical industry. Where metals like gold are combined with low-density metals like cobalt, potassium and aluminium. Unlike the more traditional alloy options like tin and copper, and are produced using complex fusing and techniques. A key elemental addition when it comes to the making of blue gold is the element indium (Atomic number 49). 

Measuring Gold Purity

In seeking quality gold for jewellery or in other forms like gold coins or bullions, gold bars, or gold that is used for specific commercial purposes and industrial there are specific standards in terms of how this precious metal is valued in terms of its purity. That is what percentage of the gold item you have in your possession consists of real gold, in addition to the various levels and types of alloys that may be added to it. The following is a chart that would help simplify your understanding of what gold purity is and how it is measured.

Gold Purity Breakdown

Gold in Karats

Parts of it that is Pure Gold

Gold Purity in Percentage

Millesimal Fineness (Pure Gold Percentage x 100)






























To explain these elements. Most of the readers would be familiar with the term karat: as jewellery purchases in gold often break down into the popular 18K, 14K types, with the title of pure gold being given to the 24K variety. Which despite its higher value is generally adopted for general use. However gold with lower levels of purity also exists, with its main applications being for industrial use. To understand these elements further, and how they contribute to our understanding of gold purity here is a breakdown of the key terms.

Gold Karat

The gold’s karat (k) is the most basic measure used to determine gold’s purity. With baseline karat for pure gold is the number 24. With gold that varying (i.e. lower) levels of the gold percentage being a function of the lower number: 22, 18, 14 etc. With each of these corresponding to what ‘part’ as indicated in the second column, to that of pure gold.

Gold Purity as a Percentage

The gold purity percentage is a more interesting addition in that it measures the parts of pure gold that is present in a given alloy (e.g. a gold bar) as a percentage. So the gold percentage as a number is derived by calculating the parts pure gold as a percentage of gold. These numbers are more useful in technical situations, and where gold is used in larger or very specific quantities.

Millesimal Fineness

Millesimal Fineness is essentially gold purity percentage, but now for as parts per thousand. So if a gold bar’s purity percentage is 58.3 (14k gold), its millesimal finesse would be times a 100 = 583, with numbers going all the way back to 1000 or 999, which relates to the 24 karat option. This is important in the area of precious metal hallmarks. One that is popular in the world of platinum metals. Millesimal fineness is important in the area of metalworking. 

Gold vs The Competition

In the world of fine jewellery gold is not the only player. The market for precious metals in the world of jewellery has drawn a number of competitors. Whilst the main candidates to challenge gold’s dominance are well known, the reasons why these alternate metal options exist, and why customers choose them is often not well known to many. An effective way to summarise the advantages of gold is to see its strengths in light of its main competitors in the fine jewellery industry. Notably platinum and sterling silver.

Gold vs Platinum 

For a time platinum was considered a more valuable metal than gold, with jewellery in this metal range being viewed as in a distinct/higher category. Platinum, as one of the rarest metals in the world, naturally commands higher value, with prominent demand in the industrials. In addition to its rarity, there are a number of factors that have made this particular metal stand out, from its rarity to its density and colour. However, gold has started to confront this challenge. For one, the value of gold has either remained steady or has risen steadily over time. The demand for gold, which is driven mainly by industrial demand, outside the jewellery industry, in addition to the growing popularity of gold variants. Since one of platinum’s key advantages is its distinct colour, the rise of white gold has helped fill this gap, to a point where white gold has become one of the most high-demand white metals for jewellery making. In addition to other advantages of platinum, like its higher durability, gold has managed to bridge the strength gap with the adoption of rhodium plating. Rhodium, which is a corrosive resistant metal, is plated to fine gold jewellery to increase its scratch resistance. So when combined with the more competitive prices, gold can be a smarter option.

Gold vs Sterling Silver

Sterling silver, which is made by combining pure silver with other metals, notably copper. Silver (Ag) in its pure form is difficult to shape into the desired form, one that is durable, like alloyed gold. Hence it too is combined with other metals, like copper. The result is the alloy sterling silver, which is a cheaper precious metal alternative. Silver, over the centuries, has managed to hold its own in the world of fine jewellery, with its distinct colour, and with unique practical usage, as in silver cutlery. Yet, gold has managed to hold its own against its cheaper, and stronger metal competitor. With white gold being the most notable silver alternative. As for matching up to the distinct colour of silver, rhodium plating white gold remains a solid alternative. A good way to combine the best of both worlds is by going for two tone engagement rings.

Gold Jewellery Buying

When making buying decisions as it relates to precious metals, one must be careful in making the distinction between gold that is purchased for fine jewellery, to gold that is purchased in a market or commodities context. Gold which is traded in international markets, and is viewed as a store of value, and is widely used as an alternative for real money is a different business. With gold’s value being viewed as stable over time, and as a potential source of investment, gold purchase and ownership is not as simple and is a potentially tricky arena for the inexperienced. To provide a point, when it comes to purchasing authentic gold, there is always the question of the reliability of the source: Is the gold that I am purchasing real, is it of the right karatage: 14 karat gold, 18 karat gold, or even 22 gold karat. As the distinctions are quite fine, and often require expert advice. One way to bypass the complexity is to go straight for fine jewellery. As long as you can find the right gold jeweller, who can provide them with the right certification, this might be a wiser option, given its resale potential. However this process must be approached with care, an industry principle when it comes to buying gold jewellery is that you should only buy it if you wish to wear it.