What is Fine Gold?
As any metallurgical assayer can attest, measuring the purity of Gold is equal parts art and science. Understanding what makes Gold “fine” is imperative for numismatists, investors and collectors because this Precious Metal is an essential material in the field of bullion and coinage.
What is Considered Fine Gold?
Fine Gold simply refers to Gold that is almost pure. Precious Metal purity is graded using a scale of millesimal fineness, which denotes the number of parts per thousand of pure metal in the alloy, by mass. This fineness is generally expressed with a three-figure number; for example, a fine Gold coin or bar which contains 99.9 percent Gold would be labelled 999 or .999. Beware, though, because when it is not accompanied by a number, “fine Gold” may be used as a name for Gold dust. These small Gold flakes and particles are so called because they are fine enough to pass through an old-fashioned sieve.
Purities of Fine Gold
There have been some changes within the Gold industry as to exactly how fine Gold might be. Though 100% pure Gold is essentially non-existent due to the difficulty of refining it to that purity, 999.99 is now commercially available on a limited basis. This Gold is sometimes referred to as “five nines fine.” The Royal Canadian Mint produces commemorative coins from this Gold. Just below this is 999.9, or “four nines” Gold. The U.S. Mint produces the American Buffalo in 9999 Gold, while the Royal Canadian Mint gives us Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coins in this fine Gold.
Most common, though, is 999 fine Gold. It is referred to in the jewelry industry and among laypeople as 24 karat Gold, although technically 24 karat Gold would be 100% pure. However, 999 Gold is generally thought to be “close enough.” Gold manufacturers are allowed by law up to a half-karat tolerance when producing Gold products. It is, after all, an art form. The next step down in purity is 995, the minimum fineness permitted for Good Delivery Gold bars. Two nines fine, or 990, is fairly rare, but still technically counts as fine Gold. Common in in historic coins originating in Venetian and Holy Roman Empire mints, Ducat fineness comes in at 986; it is sometimes used in contemporary Austrian and Hungarian coins, as well.
History of Fine Gold
Historically speaking, 917 is the most widely used fineness for Gold bullion coins. Currently, American Gold Eagles, British Sovereigns and South African Krugerrands are still produced in 917 Gold. The least-pure Gold that is still technically classified as fine Gold has a 900 rating. These “one nine” fine coins are most often used for coins within the Latin Monetary Union, such as the French and Swiss 20-franc “Napoleon coin”. One fascinating historical note: In 1957, the Perth Mint in Australia did make a 999.999 fine Gold “plate.” That item represented the purest Gold ever created in the commercial world.
What Type of Products are Usually Made with Fine Gold?
The purer Gold is, the softer it is, so very fine Gold is not generally used to make jewelry and other everyday items. Rather, it is reserved for use in investment products such as Gold bullion bars and Gold bullion coins. In their role as investment pieces, the fineness of the materials making up these items greatly affects their value.
Process of Producing Fine Gold
Fine Gold production starts with good old-fashioned prospecting. Scientists search for areas where Gold should be based on geological studies. They take soil samples, which are analyzed for Gold content. If there is Gold present and if it is reasonably pure, mining begins. Depending on where the deposits are and how they are situated, miners may choose to use open-pit techniques, underground mining methods or simple pans to get at the Gold. Once the Gold-bearing ore is extracted from the ground, it goes through rudimentary refining to make doré bars. The impure doré bar is what is delivered to the proper refinery.
Refining is the final step in the production of fine Gold. This vital process removes most of the impurities that remain in the Gold. Refiners melt down the doré bars and scrap Gold in a furnace. They may add borax and soda ash to the mix to separate the various other metals in the compound from the actual Gold. A sample of the mixture must be analyzed in a lab to have its Gold content confirmed. The refined Gold is finally cast into bars for use by mints and other Gold manufacturers. This is an arduous and expensive process, to say the least.
Why is Fine Gold Used in Bullion?
Fine Gold is popular for bullion simply because it’s so valuable. Fewer impurities in the Gold means there is nothing adulterating its value. The finer the Gold, the more directly associated with the current spot price of Gold the item will be. This makes it easy to derive a value on the market. Further, bullion isn’t out in the real world as jewelry is—being handled and coming into contact with everything in our homes and workplaces—so its softness never really becomes an issue. Some Gold retailers even store Gold for their clients! APMEX offers an excellent storage solution, so some investors never even lay their hands on their fine Gold pieces. Investors and collectors who prefer to keep their bullion close at hand are savvy enough to use all the proper storage protocols and precautions to keep their fine Gold in excellent condition.
An understanding of what fine Gold is and why fineness is an important quality in an investment product, can help investors and collectors make empowered buying decisions. Peruse the wide selection of fine Gold bullion proudly offered by APMEX to find the perfect fine Gold piece for you!