Gold purity, fineness, and karat – what is it and how to check it?

October 2020   4 min read

Gold fineness check

Although gold is one of the oldest, and some say truest, forms of money, its quality and authenticity are still surrounded by questions. What do numbers describing gold purity mean? What is the difference between karats and fineness? Can you find 100 per cent gold? How do you check the fineness of gold? These questions became more relevant than ever after gold trading rapidly moved online, and in this blog post we will do our best to answer them.


 

What is gold fineness?  

Fineness expresses the purity of gold in parts per 1000. In other words, if an alloy was divided into 1000 parts, how many of them would be pure gold. For example, common gold fineness numbers 375, 585, and 750 indicate that in 1000 parts of that golden object there are 375, 585, or 750 parts of pure gold accordingly. 

It is interesting to note that what is gold in one country might not necessarily be gold in another. For instance, a piece of jewellery with a fineness of 333 will be considered golden jewellery in Germany, however, in Lithuania it will be marked simply as a metal since it does not have a substantial part of gold in it.

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Can you describe gold in karats? 

Once people hear the word ‘karat’ many straight away think of gems and diamonds, and reasonably so. Carat (with c) is a unit of weight used to measure the size of a gemstone. 

However, karat (with k) is a measurement indicating the proportion of gold in an alloy out of 24 parts. However, not all languages have such flexibility to separate them, so often the same word is used to describe both.

Instead of dividing an alloy into 1000 parts as fineness does, karats divide the alloy into 24, therefore you may often hear people talking about 18 karat gold, 24 karat gold, etc. Whether gold purity is measured in fineness or karats today often depends on the country. 

Gold fineness and karat comparison table 

Fineness Karats Found in
1000 (999,99) 24 Pure gold
958 23 Expensive jewellery
916 22 Gold for dentures
Gold used in Great Britain’s golden coins
900 21,6 Gold for dentures
Gold used in golden coins
750 18 Gold for jewellery and dentures
585 14 Common gold for jewellery
500 12 Cheap jewellery
375 9 Cheap jewellery

How to check the purity of gold 

Official evaluation. If you really want to be sure about the authenticity and purity of the gold you should go straight to an official assay office that is responsible for hallmarking and checking precious metals in your country. Otherwise, pawnshops can also do the inspection. 

Price. Before buying gold, check the gold price on the market – stay away from the offers that look too good to be true. If the price is much lower than the market price – there’s a big chance it’s a fake. 

Merchant. In any case, it is recommended to buy gold primarily from official companies, rather than street sellers. Sometimes the alloy can simply be gold-plated with a basic metal inside. Therefore, when buying from private sellers do not hesitate to double-check the hallmark in the assay office rather than just at home. 

Hallmark. Finally, it is worth being cautious when buying jewellery from jewellery artists. If you find one that claims that putting a hallmark on jewellery would make it cost more or destroy it – turn away from such a seller. Hallmarking precious metals can cost as little as EUR 1 and it can be carefully engraved (not just pressed in) to fit the most brittle and elegant bijouterie. 

What does the gold colour depend on? 

The colour of gold depends on other metals in the alloy. For example, gold of 585 fineness that has 36 per cent silver and 5,7 per cent copper will have a greenish tone. Meanwhile, gold of 585 fineness containing 18,3 per cent silver and 23,4 per cent copper will be pinkish, with even more copper – reddish, etc.

A secure way to buy gold

Gold by itself is a rather soft metal – therefore the purer the alloy the more brittle it is. The most common gold used in jewellery is that of 585 fineness – such gold is mixed with other metals and is tougher, suitable for everyday wear, for example in the form of rings. 

Despite that, pure gold (999,99 is the purest gold available) is the most expensive and desired out of all, also called investment gold. Such gold is purchased not for making jewellery but rather to preserve the purchasing power of money – it is a good alternative to fiat money for keeping savings and excess cash. 

To buy such gold online might be even safer than cheaper gold used for jewellery since investment gold is sold with certificates confirming its fineness and authenticity. Also, it is worth noting that VAT is not applied when buying investment gold. 

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Since precious metals sales are inevitably shifting online, people must be more cautious than ever. Buying gold for securing the value of your savings is a common decision for many, especially during the times of economic crisis. However, before making purchases – do not rush, consult with experts, and purchase it only from reliable and trustworthy sources. When buying golden jewellery, check the hallmark in official assay offices, as only the experts can truly tell real precious metal from a fake one. 

And those that wish to purchase investment gold with all its certificates – can always to it via the Paysera mobile app. Even though via Paysera people buy gold online – all gold is kept in its physical form – coins and bars – and can be picked up at any time. However, keeping gold at home is not as secure as in protected official vaults. 

Either way, Paysera does not consult people about buying precious metals as a form of investment. For such consultations, you should reach out to an independent financial adviser. 

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Paysera is an international electronic money institution licensed by the Bank of Lithuania. It offers its clients a spectrum of services from personal and business accounts to a mobile application, a debit card, and payment collection at e-shops.
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