When you start shopping for an engagement ring, or wedding rings, gold is a classic choice — one that most people prefer.
Even if you haven’t completely settled on gold as your metal of choice, learning about the differences and similarities of yellow gold vs white gold vs rose gold will help you and your beloved to decide:
Should you choose some other metal? Or gold.
And what kind of gold?
What is 14K (“karat”) gold? What is 18K gold? 24K gold?
And beyond these mysteries of the numbers, what are the differences between yellow gold vs white gold vs rose gold?
Fear not. All will be revealed in this complete yet concise guide.
What Does the “K” in 18k Mean?
The purity of gold — any gold, including yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold, is measured in karats, abbreviated with the K in 18K or 24K. Karats is a unit of measurement of purity. Here’s the breakdown:
- 24K gold is pure gold. You can think of it as 24/24 = 100%. (And by the way, that’s too soft for rings. It would be dented and scratched in no time, unless on the fingers of a hand which never so much as picks up a fork to eat with.)
- 18K gold is 18/24 gold, or 75% gold mixed with 25% of other metals.
- 14K gold is 14/24 gold, or 58% gold.
- 10K is, you guessed it, 10/24 gold, or 42% gold, 58% other metal.
What Does the Word Karats Mean? Is Karats Related to the Carats of Diamonds?
Karat refers to the purity of gold.
Carat measures the weight of a gemstone. (One carat is 200mg.)
The words developed from the same root. (Ultimately they are about weight.)
But around 1901, the jewelry industry started using karat with a k to refer to the purity of gold.
What is Yellow Gold?
Yellow gold is the most classic color of gold. However, you may be surprised and enlightened to know that yellow gold isn’t pure gold.
Pure gold is yellow, but the yellow gold of wedding rings and of engagement rings isn’t pure gold.
Pure gold would be 24K gold, of course — yellow enough, to be sure. But far too soft to be useful for daily-wear rings. It would scratch far too easily and be terribly marred, after the first bicycle ride or even brunch.
For that reason, wedding and engagement rings of yellow gold are typically 18K or 14K yellow gold.
Yellow gold gets its color from being mixed with metals such as copper, which is reddish, and silver, which lightens the overall color.
Common Mixtures for 18k Yellow Gold
- 18K yellow gold: 75% gold, 12.5% copper, 12.5% silver
- 18K yellow (darker) gold: 75% gold, 15% copper, 10% silver
14K yellow gold is mixed with less gold, and more copper and silver.
For many people, yellow gold is the classic color, traditional, closer to pure because its hue more closely resembles the glow of pure gold. That resemblance in color gives a feeling of connection to the classic connotations or symbology of gold.
Classic Symbolic Meanings of Yellow Gold
- Wealth and prosperity
- The sun and its rich complex of symbology: warmth, spring, summer, light, nourishment, eternity, protection
Some Advantages of Yellow Gold
- Classic symbology, if you like that
- The most non-allergenic choice, since it contains no nickel
- Malleable, easy to resize
On the other hand, as we’ll find out in the next section, there are more durable kinds of gold, equally romantic in their own right.
What is Rose Gold?
Rose gold is the modern word for gold that can appear red, or rose, or pink. And the determining factor is the amount of copper content.
The more copper, the darker the rose color, turning more to red. The less copper, the lighter the rose color, edging on too pink.
Some Common Alloys of “Rose Gold”
- 18K red gold: 75% gold, 25% copper
- 18K rose gold: 75% gold, 22.25% copper, 2.75% silver
- 18K pink gold: 75% gold, 20% copper, 5% silver
- 14K red gold, often found in the Middle East, contains 58% gold and 42% copper
- 12K red gold: 50% gold and 50% copper
These ratios are just examples. There exist no standard specifications of rose gold alloys. But it’s easy to get a solid idea of what is in the metal by taking in the examples above, then comparing the colors you’re looking at.
Rose gold is trending again now, 100 years after it first did, in the 1920s, when it caught on from its use in Russia. (It was first popularized by Carl Gustaf Faberge in his famous Faberge eggs, in late 19th Century Russia.)
Some Considerations of Rose Gold
- Also (like yellow gold) rose gold is generally non-allergenic, since it contains no nickel
- More variety of color and shades than yellow or white gold
- More durable than yellow gold
- Also is resizable
- Has connotations to luxury (Faberge eggs), romance, and enjoyment (the 1920s)
- Too much copper (or any, depending on the wearer’s skin) can result in tarnishing, or an allergic reaction, or both.
What is White Gold?
White gold offers a range of subtly different white colors of gold by mixing gold with nickel, silver, palladium, or platinum.
Nickel and silver are the most common metals which give white gold its silvery color.
White gold, even after it’s been created by mixing gold with a silvery metal, still isn’t quite white enough to take out all the yellow. So, depending on the white metal in the mixture, the white gold often needs to be plated with rhodium to give it a lighter color.
Rhodium offers some protection against the tarnishing which can often occur with nickel, and some protection against the allergic reactions which a few people can experience when their skin comes into contact with nickel.
But rhodium plating itself can be subject to scratches and wear over time.
White gold ring with rhodium plating will need regular maintenance — once every three to five years, it will need to be replated with rhodium by a jeweler.
Some Considerations for White Gold
- The silvery color, for those who prefer it, is quite beautiful
- The gemstone settings of white gold rings (the part which holds the gemstone) are marginally more durable than the settings of yellow gold or rose gold rings.
- White gold can is extremely durable, especially if made with platinum or palladium, and is often preferred for wearers with active lifestyles.
- White gold made with nickel can cause allergic reactions in some people.
- Rhodium plating of white gold made with nickel can protect the wearer’s skin against the nickel. But the rhodium plating will wear over time, and will need to be renewed every few years.
- White gold made with palladium or platinum doesn’t need rhodium plating. So it’s maintenance free. It will also never tarnish or scratch with everyday use.
Choosing Between White Gold vs Yellow Gold vs Rose Gold
Whether you finally choose yellow gold, rose gold, or white gold, you’ll be able to find an affordable, durable, beautiful metal that perfectly says what you want it to say — to your beloved and to the world.
As you’ve learned, you can adjust the price to your budget by dialing up or down the purity of gold. Most wedding and engagement rings, of any color of gold, fall within the 14K to 18K range. But it’s up to you.
You can also find any range of colors. Not just yellow vs white vs rose, but various shades each of yellow, white, and rose gold.
This guide has given you the knowledge you need to make your choice, and you’ll find a full range of selections at these reputable jewelers, who also have friendly, helpful staff to help guide you and answer any questions that may arise.