Monday, May 25, 2009

Buying Gold and Gemstone Jewelry: The Heart of the Matter

If you're planning a gift of gold or gemstone jewelry for your sweetheart, take some time to learn the terms used in the industry. Start with the basics. Carats and karats. What's the difference? Simply put, a carat is a unit of weight for gemstones, including diamonds; a karat is a unit for measuring the purity of gold.


The higher the karat rating, the higher the proportion of gold in the piece of jewelry. For example, 24 karat (24K) gold has more gold content than 14K gold. But because 24K gold is soft, it's usually mixed with other metals to increase its hardness and durability; 14K jewelry contains 14 parts of gold, mixed in throughout with 10 parts of base metal.

There's a big difference between karat-gold and gold-plated jewelry. Gold-plated describes jewelry with a layer of at least 10K gold bonded to a base metal. Gold plating eventually wears away, depending on how often the item is worn and how thick the plating is.


Gemstones can be naturally mined, laboratory-created or imitation. Stones created in a lab look identical to stones mined from the earth. The big difference is in the cost - laboratory-created stones are less expensive than naturally mined stones. But because they look just like stones mined from the earth, they must be identified as lab-created. Imitation stones resemble naturally mined stones but are not identical and are usually made of glass or plastic. Imitation stones must be identified as imitation. If you are purchasing a naturally mined stone, ask if it has been treated. Gemstone treatments - such as heating, dyeing or bleaching - can improve a stone's appearance or durability. Some treatments are permanent; some may create special care requirements. Treatments also may affect the stone's value.

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