by Alex Francis

two gold bars

photo by: Mark Herpel |

Hand-made, electroplated, 24-karat—we see these terms all the time in relation to gold. They find their way into advertisements, product descriptions, and even casual conversations. But have you ever taken the time to figure out what any of them really mean?

It turns out that the Federal Trade Commission has strict regulations on the use of specific terms to describe gold jewelry. They are called quality marks, and their misuse is actually against the law. So before you buy your next gold ring or necklace, take a look at this guide to ensure that you’re getting the quality that you think you’re paying for.

Gold Quality Marks

Karat: This is the unit used to measure the purity of a gold product. It is defined as the mass of the pure gold divided by the total mass of the product, multiplied by 24. Therefore, 24-karat gold is fine (pure) gold, 18-karat gold is 75% gold, 12-karat gold is 50% gold, etc. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), products that are less than 10-karat gold cannot be sold or marketed as gold.
Products may only be marked as “gold” without any qualifications if they are 24-karat gold, and those of lesser quality must have both the karat designation and the word gold be equally visible.

Hand-made: Jewelry may only be referred to as hand-made if the entire creation process, from shaping the raw material to finishing or decorating the final product, was done by either by hand or using manually controlled tools that give the user complete control over the entire process.

Gold-electroplated: The FTC requires that jewelry described as gold-electroplated consist of a minimum of .175 microns of at least 10-karat gold that has been affixed to another material by way of electroplating (which is the use of positive and negative ions to attach a coherent metal coating).
If either the thickness or quality is not up to those standards, the product must be described as either gold-flashed or gold-washed.

Gold-filled: Gold-filled jewelry has a sheet of at least 10-karat gold bonded to its exterior that accounts for at least 1/20th of the total weight of the product. Such jewelry is usually marked “x Kt. GF,” and if the weight of gold is less than 1/20th, the actual fraction must be listed ahead of the karatage.

For more information about the regulation of gold and other precious metals, check out the FTC’s guide here.

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