Every year, thousands of American engagement ring shoppers learn the difference between karat and carat for the first time. It’s not something that most people learn in school, but if you plan on getting married, you must know it before going to your jeweler. You’re already one step ahead of everyone else by trying to look it up on the internet before inviting your spouse to go out ring shopping.
According to 2021 data from Estate Diamond Jewelry, one of America’s leading sources for wedding band statistics, the average spending for an engagement ring is inflating in the country. In 2017, the average price that Americans were willing to pay was $6,351. In 2018, that price increased to over $7,400. Even so, most buyers shop while paying off new mortgages and many other forms of existing debts.
As millennials start earning enough to buy engagement rings and wedding dresses, they need to know the difference between karats and carats before committing to one of the most significant payments they will ever make in their lives. So, if you’re one of them, or you’re looking to add another diamond or gold ring to your expanding collection, this article is for you. You’re going to learn the difference between how jewelers measure the purity of gold and the weight of diamonds.
What is a Carat?
According to a recent survey from the Engagement Ring Bible, American brides rate the total price of a wedding band, the color and weight of the diamond, and its sentimental nature pretty highly on their list of pre-wedding priorities. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and nothing signifies that more than their close relationship with a peculiar unit of measurement: The carat.
Carats are the way jewelers measure the weight and price of their diamonds. Most diamonds in wedding rings, brooches, earrings, and other forms of jewelry are tiny, with a weight almost always below one gram—so it doesn’t make sense for jewelers to break out a kitchen scale and measure their diamonds by the gram.
The History of the Carat
While the history of the carat may predate written history, according to some historians, the earliest mentions of the word “carat” were from a few texts in ancient Rome. For very lightweight objects, ancient traders used the seeds of a carob plant as a measure of counterweight. Even today, the carobs seed are famous for their uniformity throughout the world. Weighing something on a balance scale as light as a gemstone required such a uniform measure, and so the carat system was born.
What Is a Carat Today?
Today, jewelers use the carat measure to determine the weight of a diamond, although they no longer use carob seeds. It’s an industry-standard term that also applies to other gemstones such as emeralds, rubies, and sapphires—but when jewelers hear you say it, they’ll assume that you’re talking about a diamond stone. According to Statista, the global diamond trade had an estimated value of $79 billion in 2019, surpassing the markets for all other gemstones by a country mile.
A carat is 200 milligrams of a diamond gemstone, or 1/5 of a gram. So if your fiancé gives you a 5-carat gem, you will be carrying around a one-gram stone for most of your life. Many first-time shoppers believe the misconception that a carat is the description of a diamond’s size, and they’re disappointed after finding that their budget can only afford such a small stone. Numerous factors can determine a gemstone’s size and market price.
What Other Factors Affect the Price of a Diamond?
The diamond is the hardest naturally occurring mineral on Earth. It’s 99.95% percent carbon, with the remaining 0.05% being trace elements that don’t affect its clarity and overall chemistry. Jewelers have a thousand ways to cut the world’s favorite gemstone into shapes that make them ideal centerpieces, jewelry, and industrial components.
The most famous diamond shape is the Round Brilliant, and it’s also the most expensive. You can find it in every classic engagement ring as its external corners allow light to travel through and give it an inviting sparkle from every angle. The second most popular cut is the Princess Cut, a square and angular version of the Round Brilliant with a contemporary feel.
Not all diamonds are equal. Diamonds are all about aesthetic perfection, and ones with blemishes are worth less than ones that have perfect clarity. It’s worth remembering that all diamonds that come out from the mines have 100% clarity, and imperfections only form when jewelers cut and set and when their buyers take poor care of them.
The Gemological Institute of America separates diamonds into six categories after using powerful lenses that can detect the tiniest of imperfections.
- The I or Included Category includes diamonds with blemishes that you can see without the need for magnification.
- The SI1 and SI2 or Slightly Included Categories include diamonds with imperfections that are barely detectable by the naked eye.
- The VS1 and VS1 or Very Slightly Included Category includes diamonds with tiny scratches that you’ll need a magnifying glass to see
- The VVS 1 and VVS2 or Very, Very Slightly Included Category includes diamonds that require a trained eye and a powerful 10X magnifying glass to detect imperfections.
- The Internally Flawless or IF Category includes diamonds with nearly imperceptible blemishes on the surface but are virtually perfect inside.
- The Flawless or FL Category includes diamonds that contain the most expensive diamonds that have no imperfections.
The less color a diamond has, the more expensive it’s going to be. Jewelers often describe colorless diamonds as white, and white diamonds are the bestselling gems in their shops. Diamonds have color grades that begin at D and go all the way down to Grade Z, which is the least valuable diamond in terms of color.
What Is a Karat?
Now that you know about carats and all the other factors that can determine a diamond’s price, it’s time to learn about the rest of your engagement ring. Some countries in Europe use the spelling “carat” exclusively, but in the U.S., “karat” refers to the purity of a gold item. 24 karat is pure gold, and anything less than that is less valuable and less desirable for buyers looking for gold coins and bars.
However, when it comes to engagement rings and jewelry, making 24-karat gold earrings, rings, and brooches is not practical. Pure gold is so malleable that you can deform it without applying a significant amount of force. For a gold item that a person will wear every day or use as a decorative piece for a home or vehicle, goldsmiths instead look for quality gold alloys.
What Is the Karat System?
If you divide a bar into 24 parts, and all 24 of them are 100% pure gold, you have a 24-karat gold bar. If only 22 sections of it are 100% pure, you have a 22-karat gold bar. The lowest number of karats is 8, which means that only one-third of your gold item is pure gold in content.
Should You Buy 24-Karat Gold?
According to an editorial survey by JCK, an online jewelry magazine, white gold is the most popular material for wedding bands, with 54% of buyers preferring it over yellow gold with higher purity. White gold is an alloy consisting of 75% gold content and 25% zinc and nickel. Most forms of white gold are 18-karat.
Only 13% of American buyers prefer yellow gold as a setting for their engagement rings and jewelry. Even if yellow gold items have higher average purity ratings, smiths and jewelers combine them with silver and copper to help them retain their shape. Most yellow gold items are also 18-karat, but the more foreign metals they have in them, the easier they’ll blacken later in their life.
Pure gold is 100% resistant to oxidation and all manner of corrosion. It is one of the densest elements in the periodic table and one of the heaviest metals we know today. You can find many gold items from ancient Assyrian, Minoan, Etruscan, and Egyptian jewelry makers in modern museums, and they all look brand new.
Is Your Gold Item Pure?
Gold items are capable of lasting through countless generations, making them popular heirlooms and inheritance vehicles. If you have a gold coin, bar, or jewelry, and you want to test if it’s 100% genuine, you don’t have to go to the jeweler. There are many fast and cost-efficient ways of examining gold at home.
The Scratch Test
The scratch test is the most popular method of differentiating pyrite or Fool’s Gold from genuine gold. You’ll need a black jeweler’s stone that you can purchase online or through your local shops. Be sure to only subject non-decorative 24k gold items to this test, as it might alter their appearance and value.
Wipe your gold with a microfiber cloth and ensure that it has no fibers or any small foreign elements that can affect the test. Rub your gold firmly on the black jeweler’s stone, and it will leave a mark.
Look at the color of the streak it produces. If you find a yellow, golden line, your gold item is genuine. If you notice a dark color, you may be holding a piece of pyrite. Other colors like red and white may appear, which would reflect your gold’s metal alloys.
Carat vs. Karat
The carat and karat can be two of the most confusing measurements in the world of jewelry. In many jewelry-related publications, using karat to refer to the weight of precious stones is unacceptable, while using carat to indicate the purity of gold is grammatically correct. However, it is helpful to remember how to use them correctly, so you always make the right choice when buying expensive jewelry or once-in-a-lifetime items.
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