8 Jewelry Terms You Should Know

Like any industry, jewelry has its own set of lingo.  And when you are looking to invest in a piece that you will treasure for the rest of your life, it pays to understand what you are buying.  We at the Squash Blossom have developed a list of helpful jewelry terms that will resolve much confusion in the buying process.

Carat vs. Karat – What’s the Difference?

Unfortunately these two jewelry terms sound exactly the same but carry very different meanings.

5.75 carat black diamond ring in 18 karat yellow gold.
Todd Reed 5.75 carat black diamond ring in 18 karat yellow gold, available at the Squash Blossom

Carat (or ct) refers to the weight of a gemstone, with 1 carat equaling 0.2 grams. The price of a stone exponentially increases with the carat weight, among other factors.  Sometimes a piece will be marked with the Total Carat Weight (tcw or ctw) when many stones are used.

Karat, on the other hand, refers to the percentage of gold in the metal.  For example, 18 karat (or kt) gold has 18 out of 24 parts gold (or 75%); 14 karat has 14 parts (or 58.5%); 10kt has 10 parts (41.7%); and so on.  Pure gold is 24kt, though it is rarely used in jewelry because it is so soft.  The other alloys added to gold may vary.  All gold is naturally rich and yellow in color, but what we call “rose” gold typically is part copper, while “white” gold is part nickel.

 

Faceted, Cabochon, and Raw – It’s all in the Cut

A few more terms that often confuse – faceted, cabochon, and raw – refer to the cut and polish of gemstones.

Faceted stones have flat planes (facets) cut onto the surface of the stone to optimize the light they reflect.  Typically, faceted stones are transparent.

Federica Rettore 18 karat yellow gold faceted prasiolite pendant, available at the Squash Blossom

Cabochon stones, rather, have a smooth, polished surface.  Usually cabochon stones are opaque.

Jamie Wolf 18 karat gold ring with cabochon aquamarine and brilliant diamonds
Jamie Wolf 18 karat gold ring with cabochon aquamarine and white brilliant diamonds, available at the Squash Blossom

Raw refers to stones that have been minimally cut with no polishing, mimicking their appearance out of the earth.

Peter Schmid's raw diamond men's ring
Peter Schmid oxidized silver and platinum raw diamond men’s ring, available at the Squash Blossom

 

Vermeil, Gold Plate, Gold Fill – Fashion Metal Basics

Fashion metals are typically used in less expensive jewelry.  However, sometimes knowing what metals you are actually getting can be a bit of a mystery.

Vermeil describes a piece of jewelry that has a base metal of sterling silver (that is, 92.5% pure silver) and that it is plated with at least 10kt gold that is at least 2.5 micrometers thick.  Because the gold is electroplated it wears over time, but because of its thickness it will last longer than gold plate.

Workstead's 24kt vermeil chain mail necklace
Workstead 24 karat vermeil chain mail necklace, available at the Squash Blossom

Gold plate, rather, is a thin layer of gold applied using electroplating over another metal, usually copper or silver.  Over time, the gold layer can wear away leaving whatever metal is underneath to come through.

Tezer 18 karat gold plated earrings over sterling silver
Tezer 18 karat gold plated earrings over sterling silver, available at the Squash Blossom

Gold fill uses a different process to bond gold to another metal.  Typically there is much more actual gold in gold fill jewelry compared to gold plate, and it will not tarnish or wear away over time.

KJ Designs 14 karat gold fill earrings
KJ Designs 14 karat gold fill earrings, available at the Squash Blossom

We hope this will help our customers understand some of the basic terms we use in the jewelry business.  As smart buyers of jewelry, we can support designers like those we carry, who put much time and effort into hand-making their pieces using quality, natural materials.

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