The Confusing – and Very Profitable – World of Gold Alloys

As you've probably noticed, a number of jewelry stores are starting to hang out signs that say, “We Buy Gold.” I was at one of them recently to have my daughter’s charm bracelet repaired, and I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between a customer and a salesperson at the counter behind me.

Image of an assortment of karat gold jewelry, which Specialty Metals can recycle and refine for the best prices for individuals and businesses.

“I think it’s fourteen-karat gold,” the customer said while handing across a small piece of jewelry. “Or maybe only 10 karat?”

The salesman rubbed an edge of the piece of jewelry on a small abrasive stone, dripped some testing fluid onto the stone, and answered, “Well, it’s got gold in it, that’s for sure.”

Why didn’t that salesman immediately say, “Yes, it is fourteen-karat gold” or give another definite answer? He wasn’t being deceptive. He was giving the best answer that he could, given this fact . . .

With the exception of 24kt gold, which is pure gold, all karat-designated golds are really alloys that contain other metals

This chart explains how karats work to designate gold’s purity:

Chart showing the percentage of gold and other metals in Karat Gold Alloy, which you can refine profitably at Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners.

That’s pretty interesting, right? But those karat ratings don’t tell you anything specific about what other metals could be present in the gold that you have on hand. You need a gold refiner to tell you that. Since the salesperson in the jewelry store did not have access to gold-refining equipment right there on the premises, he could only confirm the presence of gold in that piece of jewelry.

What Could those Other Metals Be?

Now things get interesting. In olden times – starting thousands of years ago – ancient men and women started to mix all kinds of other metals with gold. Some were trying to make gold more durable or more beautiful. (Others were trying to defraud customers by passing off gold alloys as pure gold, but let’s not get into that.)

Here’s a brief summary of some of the gold alloys that have been created over the years.

  • Pink gold (also called rose gold) is an alloy of gold and copper. Silver and other metals are sometimes used too, to achieve the exact coloration that a jewelry manufacturer wants.
  • White gold is an alloy of gold and at least one white metal – sometimes more than one. Those additional metals could be nickel, palladium, or zinc. Sometimes a little copper is added to make the alloy less brittle and easier to shape.
  • Green gold – relatively rare – is an alloy that usually contains only gold and silver.
  • Blue gold – also rare – is an alloy that contains gold and indium.

What about Gold Plating?

To make things even more complicated, alloys of gold are among the most common platings that are applied to other metals. And sometimes metals that do not contain gold – such as rhodium – are applied to give jewelry the appearance of white gold.

It’s all very complicated, right? That’s why you need the services of an expert gold refiner like Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners to evaluate what you have on hand and provide you with test results from our lab. Call 800-426-2344 to learn more.

If you’re sitting on a quantity of gold of any kind – from circuit boards to jewelry scrap to old gold-plating equipment that you don’t use any more – you owe it to yourself to find out more.

Further Reading:

Where Is the Gold Hiding in Your Old Computers?
Why Recycling Plating Tank Scrap Can Pay You More than You Expect
Some Fascinating – and Potentially Profitable – Facts You Never Knew about Refining Gold
Gold Refining: Why It Takes an Expert to Evaluate Your Gold-Plated Items