The Federal Trade commission recently updated its regulations concerning the jewelry industry.
Why should you as a consumer even care about this? Good question!
Previous to the update in July of 2018, the definition of the word "gold" was different than it is now...
In the United States, jewelry manufacturers were not allowed to use the word "gold" unless the amount of gold in a ring was at least 38.5%. When gold is pure, it is 24 karat. When it is mixed with other metals, the number before the word "karat" defines how much of the mixture is actually gold. If a piece is 18kt gold, it is actually 6 parts metal alloy and 18 parts gold; 14 kt is 10 parts alloy and 14 parts gold.
Sometimes this system uses percentages to define the amount of gold in a mixture. "416" means 41.6% of the mixture is gold. This percentage is also known as 10 karat gold.
Both of those systems are used to determine the stamps used on jewelry to disclose the gold content...Old news. Until July of 2018, a piece of jewelry could not be referred to as "gold" in any words or advertising in the United States unless it was at least 10k gold or 41.6% gold in the total mixture.
THAT HAS NOW CHANGED.
The FTC has determined that any mixture containing gold can be referred to as "gold" even if the karat is only 1 part gold and 23 parts alloy. This new standard is followed up by regulations stating that the actual karat of gold must be stamped on the piece.
For consumers, this could mean that "gold" jewelry could be purchased at more affordable prices because the amount of gold in a piece can now be less. This will be reflected in advertising very soon.
What should you know about these new gold mixtures?
- Low karats of gold mean higher amounts of alloy metals. These metals are the culprits in allergic reactions to jewelry. Those who have been able to wear white and yellow gold may find that newer pieces cause chronic rashes and itching, especially in rings and earrings.
- Lower karats of rose gold are much more likely to leave black residue on skin because of the higher amounts of copper in the jewelry. While this also happens with 14k rose gold, it is only when skin ph levels change and it is easily remedied with a cleaning.
- If jewelry needs to be repaired or sized, there is a higher likelihood of being able to see where the repair was done. Jewelers currently stock solder and gold in 10k, 14k, and 18k gold in yellow, rose, and white colors. If a repair needs to be done on a 6 karat gold piece, it will be difficult to source these exact karats for the repair material. The place where the higher karat gold is used may be noticeable. It is unknown whether lower karats of solder will actually "flow" correctly and whether the industry will begin producing lower karat repair materials. In short, it is currently unknown if this jewelry will be repairable.
- Current testing methods aren't reliable to test gold below 10K. This means that if you purchase a piece stamped "8 karat" gold, it will be difficult to know if it is actually 8 karat or if it is actually 5, 4, 3, or even 1 karat. There is room for fraudulent jewelers to "scrimp and save" in this area to increase profit margins without consumers knowing...especially online jewelers who can close and open again under a different name before they are caught.
- Certain mixtures of metals create very brittle jewelry, especially when the producer is "cutting corners" and trying to create the lowest priced piece. Manufacturers do not have to disclose the metals they use in the alloy part of the mixture. It is more important now than ever that high quality alloys are used to prevent breakage and brittleness in the jewelry being made.
There are other FTC regulations that have changed, but this one will be the most noticeable to consumers. As always, it is important to purchase jewelry from a well established, trustworthy company. There are reasons that gold jewelry lasts a lifetime and is worth the initial investment. The wisdom in the phrase "Buyer Beware" is more true than ever.