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This term refers to the weight, not the size of a stone. Since carat weight varies by material, some types of gemstones are heavier than others. For example, if all other measurements are the same, a one-carat diamond will look slightly smaller than a one-carat emerald but slightly larger than a one-carat sapphire. Keep in mind that when you are buying a stone or piece of jewelry, the stone weights are often approximate.
In the U.S. karat with a "K" is a measure of the purity of a metal (gold, platinum, silver) whereas a carat with a "C" refers to the weight of a diamond or gemstone. Most jewelry pieces are made from a mix of precious metals (primary metals such as platinum, gold, and silver) and other less expensive metals. This mix, in any proportion, is referred to as an alloy. Most precious metals are alloyed because in their natural state they are soft, and they wear better with other, usually stronger, metals mixed with them. Adding other metals may also have an effect on an item's price since a lower percentage of precious metal in a piece of jewelry usually means a lower price. Most jewelry for sale today is made from alloyed metal. However, some designers enjoy working in the purer version of metals, so it's possible to buy a higher-karat piece of jewelry that contains a very small proportion of another metal.
In gold, 24 karat equals 100% (or in finished jewelry, 99.99 % gold)
Purity in gold, and in all metals, may also be reported differently in different countries. An 18-karat gold item may be marked as 750 instead of 18k.
In silver, purity is measured in parts per thousand (ppt). The standard for sterling silver is 925 ppt, which means that, for every 1000 parts, 75 of them (or 7.5%) are alloy metals. You usually see either "sterling" or "925" marked on a piece that has this purity.
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