Fortunoff Fine Jewelry

Metals Info & Care

Gold Jewelry - What You Should Know

When you are looking at jewelry, it's important to know the quality of what you buy. Sometimes jewelry is characterized as gold, but really contains very little gold, or none at all. When you see several pieces of jewelry that all look similar, yet are priced very differently, the fineness of the gold may account for the vast differences in pricing.

If you're simply looking for a "hot" trendy item, gold colored "base metal" may be fine, since you will only wear it for one or two seasons. Base metals may tarnish, discolor, or even degrade in a short to longer period of time, leaving you with no value and jewelry you can no longer wear.

When you want a fine, classic piece of jewelry, you expect it to last for years. Precious metal prices are near all-time highs, so it's even more important to get what you pay for. Precious metals should wear beautifully and maintain their quality over time.

U.S. laws and Federal Trade Commission guidelines govern the way gold jewelry must be described. There are specific definitions, according to the "fineness" (the amount of pure gold it contains). In the U.S., recent changes to FTC guidelines now allow an item to be described as "gold" with a modification even if there is only 1 karat of gold in the item (1/24, or 41/1000, parts gold).

Here are the technical definitions:

  • With recent changes in federal guidelines, an item that is called "gold" may have as little as 1 karat of gold in the piece.
  • Gold content is described based on the amount of pure gold compared to the alloys added. This may be measured as __/24, or ___/1000. So, for example:
  • 14 karat gold is 14/24, or 585/1000, parts gold. Many gold jewelry items in the U.S. are of 14 karat gold.
  • 18 karat gold is 18/24, or 750/1000, parts gold. The 18 karat gold standard is most typical of Italian and other European countries.
  • White gold is 14/24, or 585/1000, parts gold. Many gold jewelry items i is created by mixing other alloys with the pure 24K gold. White gold is routinely coated with a rhodium finish. Rhodium is in the platinum family, and therefore tarnish resistant. The rhodium finish on white gold will wear off over time depending on how the jewelry is worn, cared for and cleaned. This finish can be reapplied as needed.
  • Gold Alternatives: Gold-plated, gold-filled and vermeil jewelry are affordable alternatives to jewelry made completely with karat gold. These pieces have the look of solid gold, but their durability and value are significantly less. These are great options for those wanting to save money or for trendy pieces. Jewelry designers have been turning to these alternatives as the price of karat gold has gone up.
    • Gold-plated is where a thin layer of gold covers a base metal, normally copper or brass, through an electroplating process. These pieces will be the quickest to tarnish and vary in price depending on the karatage used. 
    • Vermeil (pronounced “vermay”) is similar to gold-plated, but the base metal is a high-quality silver and true vermeil plating is at least 100 millionths of an inch thick and 10k or higher.
    • Gold-filled jewelry has a base metal, like copper or bass, and the thickest layer of gold bonded with heat. The piece must have at least 5% gold weight to be called authentic “gold-filled.” 

Silver Jewelry - What You Should Know

Sterling Silver is a precious metal, used in jewelry because it combines strength, durability and a natural white color. As with gold, U.S. laws and Federal Trade Commission guidelines govern the way silver jewelry must be described, according to its "fineness" (the amount of pure silver it contains). An item that is "sterling silver" contains at least 92.5% pure silver. At Fortunoff, the majority of silver jewelry we carry is sterling silver,

Silver tarnishes naturally when exposed to light and air. This process, called oxidation, can create an interesting and desirable patina that can be enjoyed or conversely, removed using polishing cloths specifically made for silver jewelry. Anti-tarnish coatings on silver jewelry can scratch or wear off unevenly, creating the appearance of water spots or similar discoloration. This Sterling Silver should be wiped, not forcefully rubbed with a polishing cloth.

If your silver jewelry was purchased within the last ten years, chances are good that it has been coated with an anti tarnishing agent.

Since high-purity sterling silver has a tendency to tarnish, various techniques are employed to inhibit tarnishing. Manufacturers often coat the silver with another white metal, such as rhodium (a valuable platinum-family metal), while others apply a thin polymer or other clear finish. ometimes a tarnish-resistant coated piece of paper may be enclosed within the plastic bag or pouch that holds the silver jewelry.

Thin coatings of silver may also be applied over base metals. Known as silver plated or silver coated jewelry, these are better for necklaces or earrings, where durability is not key. There are no regulations governing the amount of silver in such items, however. [Beware of costume jewelry or base metal jewelry that is described as "silver," but actually only silver colored base metal.]

The bottom line here: make sure you compare "apples and apples" because every manufacturer uses its own mix of metals to create its unique look and price range. Don't be fooled by costume jewelry or base metal jewelry that is described as "gold" or "silver," when in fact the jewelry contains no precious metal. Buy only from a fine jeweler you trust, who carries the jewelry quality you deserve and expect.

If you have questions about how to care for your jewelry, email us at:

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