When we talk about a karat or mention the word “fineness” of gold we are talking about the weight of the actual gold in an object. In doing so, we also include any base metals that may be found within the object. For instance, when jewellery is made out of gold, base metals are added to make it harder and more durable. Often pure gold is referenced as 999 or 9999 fine gold. But what does that mean?
The fineness of gold is measured in two ways. You can use the karat measure of a millesimal fineness scale.
The karat measure is the fractional purity of gold in parts fine per 24 parts. The millesimal scale is a system used in denoting purity of gold alloys by parts per 1000 of pure gold in the alloy according to its total mass. This is expressed with a three-fire number and is used as a hallmark. Look out for this hallmark when you sell gold bullion. A fine gold bar which contains 99.9% gold will have a label that either says 999 or .999. Also, expect to be paid slightly less if your gold bullion bar is only 99.6% pure.
When using the karat standard, 24 K is considered to be the purest form of gold. This means 24 Karat is the same as 999 fineness. It follows then that 22 will be 91.67% pure, and be referred to as 916 gold. 18k will be 75% pure gold, 14k will equal 58.5% purity and be referred to as 585 gold whilst 10 karat will be referred to as 417 on account of containing 41.7% pure gold.
The Karat system is not commonly used outside of the jewellery industry. Millesimal fineness is used by buyers who deal in bullion bars and coins. 24k gold which is also referred to at .999 fine gold or “three-nines fine” is commonly used to mint Chine Panda Coins.
When you sell gold bullion bars the minimum requirement of purity or fineness is 99.5% or 995. Bullion bars of this particular quality are classed as premium investment products. Gold bullion bars also need to have certified weight and the stamp of the refinery making the bar or bullion dealer distributing the bar.
Other high grade coins such as Ducat have a fineness of 986. Most commonly seen British, European and South American coins have 917 fineness. British Sovereigns and American Eagles are made from this fine gold. The 900 fineness or “one-nine” is the lowest grade of gold used to make bullion coins. The 20 franc Napoleon coin from Switzerland. The purest gold ever created for commercial use was a fine gold plate refined to 999.999 by Perth Mint in Australia in the 50s. This was a magnificent feat that has not been repeated ever since because the process that gets gold to that level of purity is long and costly. Besides, when gold is that close to 100% purity, it tends to be too soft.
It is important that you understand the purity or fineness of your gold bullion before selling so that you know you are getting the best price for it. Fine investment grade gold is not only formed into bars, but it is also used to mint bullion coins. Most gold products will have fitness engraved or they will come with a certificate to authenticate purity. Having marks of authenticity will make selling your gold easier and faster.