Every time you buy jewelry, you’ll come across terms like “1 carat diamond”, “1 gold karat” and “1 troy ounce”. Jewelers prominently display these labels on their products, because they’re among the many determinants of a piece of jewelry’s value.
That begs the question: What’s the difference between “carat”, “karat”, and “troy ounce”? Here’s a quick guide to help new jewelry buyers.
Carat measures a diamond’s weight. For example, a 1 carat diamond is roughly 200 mg or 0.007055 oz. Since heavier diamonds are harder to find in nature, they’re also more valuable. If a diamond is at least 100 carats and has a flawless quality, it is known as a paragon.
Take note, however, that two diamonds of the same weight may not necessarily be of the same size. This variation is due to different densities; that is, some diamonds concentrate more weight into a smaller space than others. Also, carat is only one of the four Cs of diamond grading (the other three being clarity, color and cut), so it’s possible for two 1 carat diamonds to be priced differently.
For smaller diamonds, jewelers use points to measure weight instead of carats. One carat is equivalent to 100 points, so a 0.25 carat diamond has 25 points, a 0.05 carat diamond has 5 points, and so on.
Carat is also used to measure the value of pearls, as well as gemstones other than diamonds.
It’s easy to think that 1 karat gold is equivalent to 1 carat diamond. In fact, the words “carat” and “karat” are used interchangeably in some countries. However, here in the U.S., these are two completely different concepts.
While carat measures weight, karat measures purity—specifically, gold purity. If a bracelet is made of 24-karat gold, for instance, it means that the bracelet is made of pure gold or is at least 99% percent gold. Because pure gold is extremely soft, you won’t see too many jewelers selling 24-karat gold items.
Instead, you’re more likely to see pieces made of 18-karat gold (75% gold), 14-karat gold (58.5% gold), and so on. That means these pieces are part-gold, and part-other metals like copper, nickel, palladium, platinum and silver. In the U.S., the minimum karat value for gold jewelry is 10K.
Today, troy ounce is most commonly used to measure the weight of precious metals. It is a unit of imperial measure, which means it was first defined in the British Weights and Measures Act of 1824. One troy ounce is equal to 1.09714 avoirdupois ounces. (“Avoirdupois” is simply a fancy term for “conventional weight system”.) Take care not to confuse the two when purchasing gold and silver pieces!
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