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Gold purity

Understanding gold purity is essential for getting an accurate valuation of an item. In most cases the purity of a gold item should be hallmarked or indicated in some other way, but below we discuss how gold purity is denoted, and some of the common figures you should see.

Pure gold is extremely soft and malleable. It is because of this that manufacturers, typically jewellers, often mix or alloy pure gold with other harder base metals. Without knowing a gold article’s precious metal content it is difficult to arrive at a true valuation, as such the purity of an item is an essential piece of information to have.

To quantify this there are two major systems that measure gold purity. They are carat (karat in the US), and fineness. Both carat and fineness give figures that indicate the proportion of pure gold to other base metals in gold jewellery and products.

Gold carat

Carat expresses the proportion of gold to other metals in parts of 24. In this system, 24 carat is pure gold with the figures moving down from there. 9 carat is nine parts gold: with the remaining fifteen parts of the 24 being composed of other metals. 9 carat gold is the lowest purity typically found in common usage, with anything lower no longer truly being considered gold.

Gold fineness

Fineness, in gold, silver and other precious metals, expresses the percentage of gold to other metals in parts per thousand. It is therefore a much more precise scale than carat and far easier to understand at a glance. In this system, 999.9 is pure gold, equivalent to 24 carat as mentioned above. 9 carat gold, nine parts gold to fifteen parts other metals, is 375 fineness.

In the UK, with the exception of coins and pure gold bars, any manufactured gold products weighing over 1 gram or 0.0321507 troy ounce must be hallmarked with the item's fineness.

Common gold purities

How many carats is pure gold?

Both 24 carat and 999.9 fineness are generally accepted as pure gold. Despite this, in truth it is impossible to produce 100% pure gold based on current technical limits. Removing any tiny molecules of other material is not achievable, and would prove extremely expensive and difficult to even prove. This is why, in common terms, pure gold is 999 or 999.9 not 1,000 fineness.

The most pure gold ever was made in 1957 by Australia's Perth Mint. This was 999.999 fineness, known as 'six nines fineness'. It has since been used by The Royal Mint as its benchmark for purity.

Gold bars

995 fineness is the minimum allowed purity for gold investment bars and is used as raw material for further gold alloying. The London Bullion Market Association undertakes gold testing and produces a 'Good Delivery List' that specifies standards for gold investment bars, which includes the required fineness.

All BullionByPost, bars are pure 24 carat gold and manufactured by refiners approved by the London Bullion Market Association. Investment gold is VAT-free and BullionByPost prices include FREE fully insured delivery on orders over £250.

Minimum purity

Generally, when describing items as gold, we are in truth referring to gold alloys. There are limits at which items, such as jewellery, contain so little gold they can no longer be called gold.

This minimum gold purity varies by country. In the US, 10 carat or 417 fineness is the legal minimum. In France, the UK, Austria, Portugal and Ireland, 9 carat or 375 fineness is the minimum that can be called gold. In Denmark, Germany and Greece it is even lower at 8 carat or 333 fineness.

Below is a chart of the most commonly found gold purity in various applications and countries:

Gold Purity Fineness Carat
99.9% 999 24ct
99.5% 995 24ct
95.83% 958.3 23ct
91.6% 916 22ct
90% 900 21ct
83.4% 834 20ct
75% 750 18ct
58.5% 585 14ct
41.7% 417 10ct
37.5% 375 9ct
33.3% 333 8ct