1. Know Your Karats*
Look for the karat mark, which will tell you that the piece is real gold
and the percentage of pure gold it contains. Pure gold, or 24k, is rarely
used because it is soft and easily damaged. Instead gold is alloyed with
other metals, such as copper, silver, nickel and zinc, to give it strength
and durability. Different proportions of these alloys also give gold its
rose, green, or white coloration. 18k gold is 75% gold; 14k is 58.5%; and
10k is 41.6%. The higher the karatage, the richer the color will be--and
the more costly. In the U.S. jewelry must be at least 10k to be legally
sold as real gold. (in Canada and Mexico, the minimum legal standard of
karatage is 9k and 8k respectively.)
Imported gold jewelry may be stamped with different numbers. For example, the European markings for 14 karat gold jewelry is 585; for 18k is 750.
2. Look for the trademark
On karat-marked jewelry sold in the U.S., always look for the manufacturer's hallmark. By U.S. law it must be there. When there's a hallmark, it means the manufacturer stands behind the accuracy of the karat mark. You may also find the country of origin marked.
3. Evaluating price
In addition to karat weight, the price of gold jewelry is determined by
several factors: total weight; design and construction; and ornamental
detailing, such as engraving or Florentine finish. Although nearly all
gold jewelry today is made with the help of special machines, some handwork is always involved. The more there is, the higher the price. The good news is that through modern manufacturing technology, large, lightweight, and exciting pieces can be surprisingly affordable.
4. Check the clasp
When buying a gold necklace or bracelet, make sure you examine the clasp to
see if it is strong enough to support the chain, especially if the piece
does not have a hallmark. Run your hand over the chain and look for any
rough edges. A well-made piece of gold jewelry should look and feel like
the quality piece it is. And if you take the time to look it over, you
will have a piece that with good care can last a lifetime.
*Don't be confused with "carats," the weight measure used for diamonds
and other gems.