No matter your budget, buying and sizing gold ring can be an intimidating process. How do you know if the salesperson’s claims are true? How do you choose the best gold ring for your budget? And if the ring is a surprise gift for someone, how do you know what size of ring to purchase? When buying gold jewelry, a little bit of knowledge really can go a long way and maybe even save you a lot of money.
If you don’t know the difference between a karat and a carrot, take the time to learn about the different qualities of gold and the industry terms used to describe it before you go shopping. A knowledgeable and honest salesperson should be willing to explain the basics, but understanding how the quality of gold is defined will help you make the best purchase for your budget.
Gold used for jewelry is typically a mixture of more than one type of metal. Pure gold (100 percent) is measured as 24 karat gold. The standard for gold jewelry in the U.S. is 14 karat, meaning that the ring is made from 14 parts gold and 10 parts other alloys. In other countries, 18 karat gold is standard. Because gold is a soft metal that scratches easily, jewelry is rarely made from gold that is more than 18 karats. Ten karat gold is typically the lowest percentage of gold used for jewelry. Rings made from 10 karat gold may lack the warmth of higher quality jewelry, but they will be durable and affordable. Rings for men are often made of 10 karat gold.
Look for the karat marking inside the ring; it is usually located on the band. Retailers often refer to the karat mark as the “quality mark.” Other markings may also be present, such as the mark of a maker or designer, but if the quality mark is not present or not legible, don’t buy the item – even if the seller offers a written guarantee.
The term “solid” gold does not mean the ring is made from 24 karat (pure) gold. It means that no part of the ring is hollow. To save money, some makers create molds that are like hollow tubes. A ring defined as solid gold is one where each portion is filled with gold. In all cases, consider the weight of the gold when purchasing your ring. A small, “solid” ring may actually have less gold than a larger ring that is not solid.
A “gold-filled,” “gold-overlay,” or “gold-plate” ring is one that is made from base metals and has a coating of gold mechanically bonded to it. The karat marking defines the quality of gold used to layer the base metal. For instance, a gold-plated ring may have a stamp that says 10K Gold Overlay which means that a layer of 10 karat gold was bonded to another metal. If the amount of gold used is less than five percent of the ring’s total weight, the amount must be indicated with a percentage mark such as 1/40 10K Gold Overlay.
Gold electroplate is the least expensive and lowest quality type of gold ring. An electroplated ring has a minimum .175 thick layer of gold bonded onto a base metal by an electrolytic method. A ring described as “gold flashed” or “gold washed” has a gold layer of less than .175 microns. Like a gold-plated ring, any quality of gold can be used in the plating and should be indicated by a quality mark.
Different colors of gold are achieved by mixing different metals with it. White gold is typically a mixture of platinum, zinc and copper. Pink gold (or rose gold) is achieved by adding more copper to the mix while green gold is a combination of zinc, copper and silver. The most traditional color of gold is yellow and it is made by combining both silver and copper with pure gold.
Look for karat stamps and other marks of quality no matter which color of gold you are purchasing.
Once you understand the differences in gold quality and how basic industry terms are used you are ready to do some comparison shopping. Take a notebook with you and jot down the basics of the ring you are interested in such as the quality and weight of the gold. Also note any guarantees or certifications the salesperson offers. Certifications of authenticity are especially important if you are purchasing imported gold or a ring set with precious stones. Large online retailers and chain stores may offer some of the best bargains, but remember that they are also offering jewelry that is produced for a mass market. If you want a gold ring that is somewhat more unique, you may be better off shopping at a privately owned, local jewelry store.
It’s easy to choose the right size ring if you’re buying it for yourself, but trying to learn someone else’s ring size can be tricky if you’re planning to give the ring as a surprise gift. First, check with your retailer to find out if the ring can be sized or exchanged if you get it wrong. Depending on the structure, the stones or the design, a jeweler may or may not be able to adjust the size. One way to learn another person’s ring size is to borrow another ring they wear and trace the inside of it. Your jeweler will be able to discern the right size from your drawing.