Empires have been built on gold, and civilizations have been destroyed for it. But most people do not really understand why this metal is so widely valued and so frequently used.
Gold is precious for numerous reasons, namely, its scarcity. All of the gold ever found totals around 100,000 tons. It is also the most corrosion-proof and oxidation-resistant metal there is, therefore a lot of it is used for small but dependable circuitry for calculators, TV sets and even computers. It can be spread exceedingly thin so that light will pass through and it also reflects a large portion of the infrared rays of the sun. This makes it ideal to coat glass and windows as people can see out but relatively little heat can come in. For this reason there is gold on the plastic visors of the airtight space helmets that astronauts wear. It ranks high in physical properties that matter in jewelry as well. It is malleable, which means it can be worked without shattering or powdering. It is ductile, which means it can be drawn out into thin wire.
Karat vs. Carat
Pure gold is not only costly, but it is also soft. To reduce the cost and to make it more wearable in jewelry, metalworkers alloy it (combine it) with at least one other metal. Karat gold has nothing to do with Metric Carat used to measure gem weight. It refers to the specific number of parts, by weight, of gold in 24 parts of alloy. Pure gold is 24 Karats. If there are 18 parts fine gold and the other 6 parts are alloy the piece is 18K.22K gold and even 24K gold is popular in the Orient, especially in Thailand. The highest Karat gold used in Western countries, however, is 18K; the lowest is normally 10K (9K in England). Few people are aware that the reason behind the United States standard for 14K gold was a law passed in 1933 that forbade U.S. citizens to own or trade in any item (coin, bullion or jewelry) that had a higher gold content then 60%. This was during the banking crisis in the Hoover then Roosevelt presidencies. Measures had to be taken to combat people from trading in Gold to avoid the devaluation of the dollar that was also enacted at that time. Subsequently 14K gold (which contains 58.5% gold and the rest alloy) became the standard in the U.S. This law was amended in 1974 when a law was issued that reinstated the right of individuals in the U.S. to own pure Gold.
Alloying gold also produces its varying colors including white, red, green, and blue. The formulas each refinery uses are closely guarded secrets but some common combinations follow. For example, gold when alloyed with silver is white or with copper, reddish.
The U.S. jewelry industry, in order to promote their items in 14K gold, began to focus on the assets of this Karat weight combination. It is more durable than 18K (although not by much) and therefore it was marketed as the ideal combination of gold and alloy. However, 18K in the United States is beginning to enjoy resurgence in popularity and most of Europe always has, and still does, enjoy 18K. Now that you know why 14K is used in the U.S., you can comfortably make your gold jewelry decisions based on your taste and not on a fear of its durability. Treat yourself!!!
Written by Wendy Adeler Hall
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