What’s the Difference Between Yellow, Pink, Red, White Gold and more?

Yellow in its pure form, gold is a favorite metal of choice for watchmakers. Luckily, today, it is available in a painter’s palette of hues – each perfect in its own way when it comes to timing.

Gold has captivated the hearts and eyes of men and women for centuries. Early civilizations worshipped the Divine Metal, which has long been a cultural symbol of wealth, religion and celebration.  It has worked its way into our everyday lives, with Golden anniversaries, golden opportunities and more references than we can count. It also has set the standard for international monetary exchange. While the noble metal can be found in art, and architecture,  nowhere is it more prevalent than in jewelry and watches.

Additionally, while gold may be yellow in its pure form, it is often mixed with other metals to achieve a host of different colors that range from white to gray, black, pink and other hues. Some of today’s finest watch brands even create their own hues of gold to ensure exclusivity. Here we take a look at the different colors of gold and how they are achieved.

Raw gold and karatage

Gold has been mined for centuries and had important religious and cultural values in ancient civilizations. In its raw form, gold is usually found as small chunks of rough that is a rich, gleaming hay-like color.

Extremely malleable, gold can easily be formed into shapes, but its softness makes using it in its pure form difficult. As such, it is usually mixed with other materials or alloys to achieve a strength that can withstand wear. This is especially necessary to create watch cases and bracelets, as well as jewelry.

Because of this, it is important to note that all gold is not created equal. When referring to gold, experts utilize the word “karat” to define the gold’s weight and the proportion of pure gold found in the piece. The purest of gold is 24-karat gold, wherein approximately 99.9 percent of the piece consists of gold. However, the most popular karatage used in jewelry, and predominantly in watches, is 18-karat gold, wherein 75 percent of the piece is pure gold (18 parts gold, 6 parts other metal). In jewelry, some items are also made in 14-karat gold (14 parts gold, 10 parts other metal) that is 58.3 percent gold and 10-karat gold that is 41.7 percent gold, but these are not used in the luxury watch world).

Colors of Gold

In each of the different karats of gold, the remainder that is not gold is comprised of different alloys or metals that endow the piece with its color and its attributes (such as scratch resistance, etc.). These materials are added to the gold ingot during the melting process.

Yellow Gold

Generally, 18-karat yellow gold is achieved by mixing 75 percent pure gold with 25 percent silver and copper. Generally, these two other metals are mixed in even parts (12.5 percent each). However, to achieve a darker hue of gold, some brands may change the mixture to 15 percent copper and 10 percent silver.

White Gold

Most often, 18-karat white gold is created by mixing in white metals such as nickel or palladium, or both. Nickel is also the metal of choice when creating gray gold.

Pink, Rose and Red Gold

It is in the pink tones that there is a lot of variation in hues. Pink and rose gold are created by adding copper to the gold. The amount of copper added gives a light pink, a medium rose, or even a red hue. As such, the jewelry world has assigned values to discern the amount of copper in gold.  The palest shade of pink is referred to as 3N, a slightly richer rose hue is referred to as 4N, and a deeper red hue is referred to as 5N rose gold. Some watch brands refer to the 5N color as red gold. However, in America, the term Red Gold™ is trademarked by jeweler Chris Aire and should not be used by other brands.

Black Gold

Like the other colors of gold, black gold is created by adding a darker colored metal to the mix. Sometimes iron or titanium can be used. Most of the time, though, it is achieved with cobalt that forms an oxide layer on the surface of the gold when heated between 700 and 950-degrees Centigrade.

Green Gold

Green gold is a tricky one because it can occur naturally, although it is not pure gold. Green gold, also referred to as D. Electrum, occurs when gold and silver form together in the Earth. It can also be created by adding silver to gold in the heating process. Often a bit of zinc is added along with the silver to produce a harder format for jewelry.  Green gold is yellow-green in its final form, not bright green.

Customized Gold Colors

Some watch brands even create their own proprietary hues of gold – ranging from orange, honey, brown, gray, and even purple. Others also add special metals or materials to slow down or stop the fading of the color of gold, or to assist in preventing scratches.  Brands such as A. Lange  & Sohne has its own proprietary Honey Gold, which is a warm brass-like tone. Chanel has its own patented Beige gold that is formulated so it won’t tarnish.

Omega has developed a recipe for blending ceramic with gold to create something it calls Ceragold that is highly scratch resistant. It also has its own blend of gold (75%) with copper and palladium that has a red hue and is called Sedna Gold.

Hublot is a master at materials and even has its own R&D laboratory in its Nyon manufacture. The brand has crated Magic Gold that is 75 percent gold and 25 percent ceramic to offer a harder and more porous gold. It also blends gold with platinum in an exclusive alloy it calls King Gold.

Easily one of the earliest players in hues of gold is Rolex, which developed its own proprietary pink gold, called Everose, 15 years ago in 2005. The mixture of gold with copper, silver, and platinum gives the Everose a richer almost red/pink hue that won’t fade.

Gold Prices

Some of the colors of gold may be more expensive than others depending on the alloy added to the mixture. For instance, white gold with palladium in it is more expensive than yellow gold that incorporates the less expensive silver and copper. Also, the higher the karatage of gold, the more expensive it will be because the amount of pure gold in the piece is higher.

About the Author

Roberta Naas - Watch Journalist
Roberta Naas

Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.

Find your watch

Explore over 150 watch brands' new collections in one place.

Start your search