Here, we run through gold’s key characteristics and the best methods for keeping it looking its best.
In its elemental form, gold is a soft metal that has a warm, rich yellow colour. Its colour and lustre, combined with its rarity, are features that have lured us to it and helped it become recognised as a precious metal. Gold’s softness, however, comes with a caveat: whilst goldsmiths can relatively easily manipulate gold into jewels, the metal is so malleable that pure gold jewels are not durable. Gold, like other precious metals, is therefore mixed with additional metallic elements to make workable alloys. When we refer to different carats (ct) of gold, we are acknowledging these alloys, which are known as gold’s fineness. Fineness denotes the amount of gold in the alloyed metal in relation to the amount of other metals, and is measured in parts per thousand.
24ct gold is pure gold – 1,000 parts gold of 1,000 (100 per cent)
18ct gold is 18 parts of 24 – 750 parts gold of 1,000 (75 per cent)
14ct gold is 14 parts of 24 – 585 parts gold of 1,000 (58.5 per cent)
9ct gold is 9 parts of 24 – 375 parts gold of 1,000 (37.5 per cent)
You may commonly see jewels stamped with a variation of “750”, or “18ct”, or “18K”, but only a hallmark is a definite and legal guarantee of fineness. Jewels without a hallmark should be referred to as “yellow metal” or “white metal” until they are tested for their fine metal content, a process known as assaying.
The different carats/fineness of gold strike different balances between durability, malleability, colour and price. Their individual characteristics mean there are slight variations in how to care for your gold jewels.
As gold is naturally yellow in colour, we can alloy it with white metals, generally palladium or nickel, plus also with silver and zinc, to make the overall colour closer to white. The final colour of the metal depends on the amount of gold in the alloy; 18-carat white gold, for example, has a high proportion of pure gold and so will have a yellow-grey appearance.
It has become standard practice to plate white gold with a layer of rhodium, a bright “white” metal. Rhodium is part of the platinum group of metals and is, therefore, hardwearing, but it can still be scratched, like all metals. Over time, the layer of rhodium will wear from the gold, particularly from rings that receive lots of contact with skin, other materials and chemicals.
White-gold jewellery can be replated when the yellowish tint of the gold is showing, though sometimes the pattern of wear can bring character to jewellery. Some white-gold jewels are not plated as jewellers like to play with the soft yellowy grey tones of the alloy.
Wearing jewellery brings with it the chance for other materials to scratch our jewels; all gold jewellery can be scratched, regardless of its carat.
Gold rings are especially likely to get scratched because our hands take such knocks during the day, often without us noticing. To create fewer chances for your rings to get scratched, remove them for tasks that present obvious hazards, like using a wire-wool scourer when washing up or working with tools and stones in the garden.
To prevent scratches on gold jewellery worn less frequently, think about storage: keep gold jewels away from gem-set jewellery, particularly items set with diamonds, as hard stones with sharp facet edges can scratch both gold and gemstones. This separation can be as simple as keeping jewellery in a box with dividing sections or keep your jewellery in the individual boxes you bought it in; that way, you keep your jewellery safe and you have a reminder of the jeweller that made or sold it.
Some people like to have their gold jewellery polished to remove scratches and wear. Polishing removes a thin layer of gold from the surface, so although it makes your jewels look like new, don’t get addicted to it. Polishing engagement and wedding rings could be reserved for a special anniversary. Polishing is a skilled job and polishers must be careful to avoid “polishing out” any jewellers’ signatures and hallmarks that are inscribed or stamped onto the surface of the gold. All jewellery that is altered (including re-sizing and repair) will typically be polished to finish the work on the jewel before it is returned.
Gold with a brushed or matte finish will require the finish to be reapplied after alterations or polishing. Gold with a more detailed textured finish may be unsuitable for alterations or polishing as the finish will be harder to replicate, but the item is less likely to become scratched in the recessed areas of the design and scratches may be less visible within the pattern.
Get in touch with our concierge service for recommendations of polishing services.
Gold is one of the least reactive elements, which makes it ideal for wearing against the skin and for withstanding nearly everything that daily life throws at us whilst we wear our jewellery.
Gold typically does not tarnish like silver, unless there is a high proportion of silver in the alloy, but it can become dirty. Gold jewellery can generally be cleaned with warm water and a small amount of washing-up liquid; use a soft or old toothbrush to reach detailed areas. After washing, rinse items (over a bowl or with the plug in the sink to avoid any accidental losses) to combat any build-up of residue.
Do not wash gold items that have sealed areas, like lockets or jewels with closed-back gemstone settings (where metal wraps all around the stone), as the water may still enter these areas and leave a residue.
Certain stones should not go near chemicals, including perfume and cleaning products, so be careful with stone-set gold jewellery – use only water to clean jewellery with open settings if you are unsure.
To remove fingerprints, residues and grease, wipe your gold jewellery with a soft cloth.
Speak to our concierge service for advice on cleaning services for special jewels.
Finally, one of the easiest ways to keep gold looking great is to wear it. Wearing gold can bring a softness and natural patina to its surface – marks of life and the occasions our jewellery is part of.