Unless you’re a grammar nut like the writers here at Provident, you may not have noticed that the jewelry industry uses both “carat” and “karat” as descriptors and selling features for luxury items. They may sound the same, but they actually have two separate meanings. What’s the difference between these two words, other than a single letter? Let’s take a closer peek together.
What is a Carat?
Carat, abbreviated as ct, is a unit of weight for diamonds, other gemstones, and even pearls. One carat is equivalent to 200 milligrams (0.2 grams). To put that into perspective, one pound would equal 2,264 carats. Remember, all gemstones have different densities, so carats do not determine the size of a stone. For example, rubies are denser than diamonds, so a 2-carat ruby would be smaller than a 2-carat diamond. Many people are under the impression that carat relates to size, when in reality it is simply a measurement of mass.
The word carat has Greek origins, stemming from a word that means “carob seed.” These seeds were used as a unit of weight about 1,700 years ago, with people using balances to weigh them against small objects. Weighing diamonds by the carat became practice in the 1570s. However, since carob seeds are not uniform in size and mass, the weight of a carat varied from country to country until 1907 when the unit was standardized.
What is a Karat?
Karat, abbreviated as K or kt, is a measure of gold’s purity. Jewelry is rarely made of pure gold because it’s a soft metal that can easily be bent or scratched. Not to mention, it’s pricey! Instead, gold is often mixed with other metals like silver or copper to form a stronger alloy that can be made into sturdier, more affordable jewelry. The purity of the gold content is measured in karats, with one karat referring to 1/24 of pure gold. For example, 24-karat gold is completely pure, while 18-karat gold (the most common form used for jewelry) is made of 18 parts gold and 6 parts of another metal. The sum of the parts will always equal 24.
Measuring gold by purity has roots stemming back about 1,000 years, when a German gold coin called a mark was common. A mark weighed 24 carats (note the “c,” which means a unit of mass) and was made of pure gold. People began describing the coins’ purity based on the weight in carats. Over time, the “c” turned into a “k” in order to distinguish the two measurements.
Though carats and karats measure different features, some countries use carat to describe both mass and purity. However, you will never see karat used to describe weight. Any jeweler worth his or her salt will be able to inform you about the carats and/or karats of a piece you’re admiring. And according to Federal Trade Commission regulations, pieces of jewelry that are made from 10-karat gold or greater must be stamped with a “K” or “kt.”
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