The fineness of a precious metal object (coin, bar, jewelry, etc.) represents the weight of fine metal therein, in proportion to the total weight which includes alloying base metals and any impurities. Alloy metals are added to increase hardness and durability of coins and jewelry, alter colors, decrease the cost per weight, or avoid the cost of high-purity refinement. For example, copper is added to the precious metal silver to make a more durable alloy for use in coins, housewares and jewelry. Coin silver, which was used for making silver coins in the past, contains 90% silver and 10% copper, by mass. Sterling silver contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% of other metals, usually copper, by mass.

Various ways of expressing fineness have been used and two remain in common use: millesimal fineness expressed in units of parts per 1,000[1] and karats or carats used only for gold. Karats measure the parts per 24, so that 18 karat = 1824 = 75% and 24 karat gold is considered 100% gold.[2]

Millesimal fineness

Millesimal fineness is a system of denoting the purity of platinum, gold and silver alloys by parts per thousand of pure metal by mass in the alloy. For example, an alloy containing 75% gold is denoted as "750". Many European countries use decimal hallmark stamps (i.e., "585", "750", etc.) rather than "14 k", "18 k", etc., which is used in the United Kingdom and United States.

It is an extension of the older karat system of denoting the purity of gold by fractions of 24, such as "18 karat" for an alloy with 75% (18 parts per 24) pure gold by mass.

The millesimal fineness is usually rounded to a three figure number, particularly where used as a hallmark, and the fineness may vary slightly from the traditional versions of purity.

Here are the most common millesimal finenesses used for precious metals and the most common terms associated with them.



1 troy ounce of four nines fine gold (999.9)


A 2019 American Silver Eagle bullion coin with a fineness of 999 (three nines fine), together with a Walking Liberty half dollar with a fineness of 900 (one nine fine); this latter alloy is also often referred to as 90% silver or coin silver.


"Karat" redirects here. For other uses, see Karat (disambiguation).

The karat (US spelling, symbol k or Kt) or carat (UK spelling, symbol c or Ct)[17][18] is a fractional measure of purity for gold alloys, in parts fine per 24 parts whole. The karat system is a standard adopted by US federal law.[19]


K = 24 × (Mg / Mm)


K is the karat rating of the material,
Mg is the mass of pure gold in the alloy, and
Mm is the total mass of the material.

24-karat gold is pure (while 100% purity is very difficult to attain, 24-karat as a designation is permitted in commerce for a minimum of 99.95% purity), 18-karat gold is 18 parts gold, 6 parts another metal (forming an alloy with 75% gold), 12-karat gold is 12 parts gold (12 parts another metal), and so forth.[20]

In England, the carat was divisible into four grains, and the grain was divisible into four quarts. For example, a gold alloy of 127128 fineness (that is, 99.2% purity) could have been described as being 23-karat, 3-grain, 1-quart gold.

The karat fractional system is increasingly being complemented or superseded by the millesimal system, described above for bullion, though jewelry generally tends to still use the karat system.

Conversion between percentage of pure gold and karats:


However, this system of calculation gives only the mass of pure gold contained in an alloy. The term 18-karat gold means that the alloy's mass consists of 75% of gold and 25% of other metals. The quantity of gold by volume in a less-than-24-karat gold alloy differs according to the alloys used. For example, knowing that standard 18-karat yellow gold consists of 75% gold, 12.5% silver and the remaining 12.5% of copper (all by mass), the volume of pure gold in this alloy will be 60% since gold is much denser than the other metals used: 19.32 g/cm3 for gold, 10.49 g/cm3 for silver and 8.96 g/cm3 for copper.


Carob (Ceratonia siliqua) pod and seeds, origin of karat via Arabic qīrāṭ which itself comes from the Greek word for the seed kerátion

Karat is a variant of carat. First attested in English in the mid-15th century, the word carat came from Middle French carat, in turn derived either from Italian carato or Medieval Latin carratus. These were borrowed into Medieval Europe from the Arabic qīrāṭ meaning "fruit of the carob tree", also "weight of 5 grains", (قيراط) and was a unit of mass[21] though it was probably not used to measure gold in classical times.[22] The Arabic term ultimately originates from the Greek kerátion (κεράτιον) meaning carob seed (literally "small horn")[22][23][24] (diminutive of κέραςkéras, "horn"[25]).

In 309 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine I began to mint a new gold coin solidus that was 172 of a libra (Roman pound) of gold[26] equal to a mass of 24 siliquae, where each siliqua (or carat) was 11728 of a libra.[27] This is believed to be the origin of the value of the karat.[28]

Verifying fineness

While there are many methods of detecting fake precious metals, there are realistically only two options available for verifying the marked fineness of metal as being reasonably accurate: assaying the metal (which requires destroying it), or using X-ray fluorescence (XRF). XRF will measure only the outermost portion of the piece of metal and so may get misled by thick plating.

That becomes a concern because it would be possible for an unscrupulous refiner to produce precious metals bars that are slightly less pure than marked on the bar. A refiner doing $1 billion of business each year that marked .980 pure bars as .999 fine would make about an extra $20 million in profit. In the United States, the actual purity of gold articles must be no more than .003 less than the marked purity (e.g. .996 fine for gold marked .999 fine), and the actual purity of silver articles must be no more than .004 less than the marked purity.[29]

Fine weight

A piece of alloy metal containing a precious metal may also have the weight of its precious component referred to as its "fine weight". For example, 1 troy ounce of 18 karat gold (which is 75% gold) may be said to have a fine weight of 0.75 troy ounces.

Most modern government-issued bullion coins specify their fine weight. For example, the American Gold Eagle is embossed One Oz. Fine Gold and weighs 1.091 troy oz.

Troy mass of silver content

Fineness of silver in Britain was traditionally expressed as the mass of silver expressed in troy ounces and pennyweights (120 troy ounce) in one troy pound (12 troy ounces) of the resulting alloy. Britannia silver has a fineness of 11 ounces, 10 pennyweights, or about silver, whereas sterling silver has a fineness of 11 ounces, 2 pennyweights, or exactly silver.

See also


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  2. ^ Seyd, Ernest (1868). Bullion and foreign exchanges theoretically and practically considered. E. Wilson. p. 146. Retrieved 21 March 2012.
  3. ^ "The Perth Mint :: History". Gold Corporation. Archived from the original on 2011-05-14. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
  4. ^ Thomas, Athol. 90 Golden Years, The story of the Perth Mint. Gold Corporation. p. 58.
  5. ^ Royal Canadian Mint. "The Million Dollar Coin – a true milestone in minting". Archived from the original on 9 March 2015. Retrieved 13 July 2017. In October 2007, the Million Dollar Coin was certified by Guinness World Records to be the world's largest gold coin.
  6. ^ "Fineness of Gold". Gold Rate for Today. Archived from the original on August 7, 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  7. ^ "..:: Royal Silver Company ::." Archived from the original on 2013-03-16.
  8. ^ U.S. Mint abandons 90 percent silver composition
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  11. ^ "1 Rouble, Alexander II-III, Russian Empire". Retrieved 2024-03-22.
  12. ^ "Canadian Coin Melt Values - Coinflation". Archived from the original on 2017-06-17. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  13. ^ "Decoplata: The History of .720 Silver in World Coinage". 18 January 2022.
  14. ^ "10 Escudos, Angola". Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  15. ^ "10 Sen - Taishō, Japan". Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  16. ^ "1 Peso, Uruguay". Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  17. ^ Melaragno, Michele. The VNR Dictionary of Engineering Units and Measures. Van Nostrand Reinhold. p. 114.
  18. ^ The VNR OXFORD Dictionary for Scientific Writers and Editors. Oxford University Press. p. 56.
  19. ^ "United States Code, 16 CFR 23.3 - Misrepresentation as to gold content". Archived from the original on 2017-02-14.
  20. ^ Comprehensive Jewelry Precious Metals Overview Archived 2015-02-17 at the Wayback Machine International Gem Society (IGS), Retrieved 01-16-2015
  21. ^ carat Archived 2010-10-24 at the Wayback Machine, Oxford Dictionaries
  22. ^ a b Harper, Douglas. "carat". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  23. ^ κεράτιον Archived 2012-10-08 at the Wayback Machine, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  24. ^ Walter W. Skeat (1888), An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language
  25. ^ κέρας Archived 2012-10-08 at the Wayback Machine, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
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  27. ^ Grierson, Philip (1968). Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection. Vol. 2: pt. 1. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-88402-024-0. Archived from the original on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  28. ^ Turnbull, L. A.; Santamaria, L.; Martorell, T.; Rallo, J.; Hector, A. (2006). "Seed size variability: From carob to carats". Biology Letters. 2 (3): 397–400. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2006.0476. PMC 1686184. PMID 17148413.
  29. ^ "15 U.S. Code Chapter 8 - FALSELY STAMPED GOLD OR SILVER OR GOODS MANUFACTURED THEREFROM". Archived from the original on 2016-11-07.