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Jewelry made with precious metals like platinum, gold, and sterling silver can be expensive. Before you shop, find out about the words and symbols used by jewelers to describe the quality and purity of platinum, gold, and silver jewelry.

Shopping for Platinum, Gold, and Silver Jewelry

It’s good to make some decisions before you start shopping for jewelry, like deciding how much you’re going to spend. But it’s also good to know where you’re likely to get the best jewelry for the best price. Here are three things to do when you’re looking to buy jewelry from a store or online:

  1. Ask people you know for recommendations.
  2. Find out what others say about a seller. Type its name and the words “complaint” or “review” into a search engine.
  3. Find the store’s refund and return policies — and get them in writing.

Also get to know the common phrases and markings used to describe the type of jewelry you’re looking for. That will make it easier for you to decide whether a piece of jewelry is worth the price.

Platinum Jewelry

Platinum jewelry is rarely made with 100% pure platinum. Instead, platinum is mixed with similar metals or non-precious base metals. Generally, jewelry with a higher percentage of pure platinum is worth more.

The metals used in platinum jewelry usually fall into one of three categories:

  • pure platinum
  • other platinum group metals (palladium, ruthenium, rhodium, iridium, osmium)
  • base metals (copper or cobalt, for example)

Marketers describe or mark platinum to show the percentage of pure platinum in the piece. To be called platinum, an item should be at least 50% pure platinum. Items that have 50% to 85% pure platinum combined with other platinum group metals should say the amount of pure platinum and other platinum group metals. Any item that's less than 50% pure platinum should not be marked or labeled as "platinum."

If You See This on The Label The Piece Is


at least 95% pure platinum

850 Plat.

85% platinum and 15% other metals (either precious platinum group metals and/or base metals)

800 Pt. 200 Pall.

80% pure platinum, 20% palladium

750 Pt. 250 Rhod.

75% pure platinum, 25% rhodium

600 Pt. 350 Irid.

60% pure platinum, 35% iridium

75% Platinum 25% Copper

75% pure platinum, 25% copper

60% Platinum, 35% Cobalt, 5% Rhodium

60% pure platinum, 35% cobalt, and 5% rhodium

Gold Jewelry

How many karats?

When you shop for gold jewelry, look for the karat quality mark. The karat mark tells you how much pure gold is in the piece.

Pure gold, or 24 karat (24K) gold, is soft, so it’s often mixed with other metals to increase its hardness and durability when it’s used in jewelry. The total of pure gold and other metal adds up to 24 parts. A piece of jewelry marked 18K gold is 18 parts gold mixed with six parts other metal. A piece marked 14K gold is 14 parts gold mixed with 10 parts other metal.

Near the karat quality mark, you should see the name or the U.S. registered trademark of the company that will stand behind the mark. The trademark may be a name, a symbol, or initials. If you’re thinking about buying a piece of gold jewelry but don’t see a trademark along with the karat mark, don’t buy it.

Is it solid gold?

The words “solid gold” mean the gold item isn’t hollow. The item will also have a karat mark like 14K or 18K to tell you how much gold is in the item.

Is it gold plated?

A piece of jewelry can be plated with gold by mechanical plating, electroplating, and other processes. Eventually, the gold plating wears away, depending on how the item is worn and how thick the plating is.

”Gold filled,” “gold overlay,” and “rolled gold plate (RGP)” describe jewelry that has a layer of at least 10 karat gold mechanically applied to a base metal. A base metal is a common and less expensive metal like nickel. These items should be marked with the karat quality of the gold used and the term or abbreviation for the plating. For example, “14K gold overlay,” or “12K RGP.”

If the layer of gold is less than 1/20 of the weight of the metal in the entire item, any marking should state the fraction of karat gold. For example, “1/40 14K gold overlay.”

“Gold electroplate” describes jewelry that has a layer of at least 10 karat gold that is at least .175 microns thick applied on a base metal using an electrolytic process.

Vermeil is a special type of gold plated product with a base of sterling silver that is coated or plated with gold.

Is it gold flashed or gold washed?

The terms “gold flashed” and “gold washed” may describe products that have a very thin electroplating of gold. This will wear away faster than gold plate, gold filled, or gold electroplate.

Silver Jewelry

The words ”silver,” “sterling,” and ”sterling silver” describe products that contain 92.5% pure silver. Silver products sometimes may be marked 925, which means that 925 parts per thousand are pure silver. According to the law, silver items must also show the name or U.S. registered trademark of the company or person that stands behind the mark.

Some jewelry described as ”silver plate” has a layer of silver applied to a base metal.

Items that are marked as ”coin silver” are made with 90% pure silver.


Items must contain at least 90% Grade A Tin to be described and marked as pewter.

Report Problems

If you have a problem with a jewelry purchase, try to resolve it with the seller first. If you’re not satisfied, report it to:

The Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC) has a mediation program that helps some people who have disputes with jewelers. Read more at

If you have a problem with jewelry that you bought from a company located outside the U.S., file a complaint at

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