Jewelry made from precious metals often is stamped with a mark to indicate the chemical composition of the metal.
What is a Quality Mark?
A quality mark is information about metal content that appears on an article. It is usually stamped or inscribed on the piece. There is considerable confusion about the meaning of quality marks that are seen on jewelry and other items. Here is some information that I hope will de-mystify terms such as 'plated', 'filled', 'sterling', and others.
Gold Quality Marks
karat, carat, Karat, Carat, Kt., Ct., K, C
Gold is measured in karats, with 24 karats being 24/24ths gold, or pure gold. A 10 karat gold item contains 10/24ths gold, a 12K item is 12/24ths gold, etc. Karats may be expressed using a decimal figure, such as .416 fine gold (10K). The minimum allowable quality for karat gold is 9 karats.
Karats are not to be confused with carats (ct.), which are a unit of gemstone mass. One carat weighs 0.2 gram (1/5 of a gram or 0.0007 ounce). A hundredth of a carat is called a point.
Gold Filled and Rolled Gold Plate
gold filled, G.F., doublé d'or, rolled gold plate, R.G.P., plaqué d'or laminé
The quality mark for gold filled is used for an article (except optical frames, watch cases, hollow ware, or flatware) consisting of a base metal to which a sheet of at least 10 karat gold has been bonded. Additionally, the weight of the gold sheet must be at least 1/20th the total weight of the item. The quality mark may specify the ratio of the weight of the gold in the article to the total weight of the article as well as a statement of the quality of the gold expressed in karats or decimals. For example, a mark of '1/20 10K G.F.' refers to a gold filled article that consists of 10 karat gold for 1/20th of its total weight.
Rolled gold plate and gold filled may utilize the same manufacturing process, but the gold sheet used in rolled gold usually is less than 1/20th the total weight of the article. The sheet must still be at least 10 karat gold. Like gold filled articles, the quality mark used for rolled gold plate articles may include a weight ratio and a statement of quality (for example, 1/40 10K R.G.P.).
Gold and Silver Plate
gold electroplate, gold plated, G.E.P., electroplaqué d'or or or plaqué, silver electroplate, silver plate, silver plated, electroplaqué d'argent, plaqué d'argent, or the abbreviations of these terms
The quality marks for gold plated indicate that an article has been electroplated with gold of at least 10 karats. The quality marks for silver plated indicate that an article has been electroplated with silver of at least 92.5% purity. There is no minimum thickness required for silver plated or gold plated articles.
Silver Quality Marks
silver, sterling, sterling silver, argent, argent sterling, abbreviations of these terms, 925, 92.5, .925
The quality marks or a decimal figure may be used on articles containing a minimum of 92.5% pure silver. Some metals may be called 'silver' when, in fact, they are not (except in coloration). For example, nickel silver (also know as German silver) is an alloy consisting of about 60% copper, about 20% nickel, about 20% zinc, and sometimes about 5% tin (in which case the alloy is called alpaca). There is no silver at all in German/nickel/alpaca silver.
vermeil or vermil
The quality marks for vermeil are used on articles made of silver of at least 92.5 percent purity and plated with gold of at least 10 karats. No minimum thickness is required for the gold plated portion.
Platinum and Palladium Quality Marks
platinum, plat., platine, palladium, pall.
The quality marks for platinum are applied to articles composed of at least 95 percent platinum, 95 percent platinum and iridium, or 95 percent platinum and ruthenium.
The quality marks for palladium are applied to articles composed of at least 95 percent palladium, or 90 percent palladium and 5 percent platinum, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium, osmium or gold.
More About MetalsChart of Noble and Precious Metals
What Are Precious Metals?
What Are the Noble Metals?