How To Protect Against Gold Scams Based On Karats

Table of Contents (click to expand)

The purity of gold is measured in a unit called karat which represents parts of gold per 24 parts as a whole. However different karats are sold for different prices often creating confusion among customers.

The collection of gold by humans dates as far back as 3000 BC when it was used by Egyptians for religious practices and rituals. Gold artifacts came into use at the beginning of the fifth millennium, while the collection of gold from stream beds and proper mining and smelting trace back to around 3500 BC. Since then, gold has been the singular entity driving entire economies and the progress of our civilization.

Today, you can buy an ounce of gold for a little under $50, sometimes as low as $35. Wait, what?! No, that first line is not a gimmick or some attention-grabbing clickbait sentence. It’s a truth that most of us fail to understand. The purity of gold is the sole detriment to its price, and there are various methods to measure it. Different qualities of gold sell for different rates, and without proper knowledge, you might be fooled by a dealer, just like so many other unaware citizens. So, if you’ve ever admired a piece of gold in a shop window, this is something you’ll want to hear!

Recommended Video for you:

If you wish to buy/license this video, please write to us at

Why Are Other Metals Added To Gold?

Gold is one of the most valuable commodities on our planet. Amongst its several uses are jewelry making, electrical applications, such as corrosion-free electrical connectors in computers, and various medicinal purposes. However, gold alone is not used in all these applications. It is often mixed with other metals and chemicals to alter its properties and suit them to the respective task.

Jeweler melting gold in crucible with gasoline burner - Image(badahos)s
A jeweler alloying gold to increase strength (Photo Credit : badahos/ Shutterstock)

Alloy metals are added to gold to increase the hardness and durability of coins and jewelry made from it. Gold in itself is very soft, and you can expect alloyed gold to be much harder than the pure sample in itself. Alloys are also added to alter its colors, decrease the cost per weight, or avoid the cost of high-purity refinement. For example, copper is added to gold to make a more cost-effective alloy for use in coins, housewares and jewelry, as well as give it a rose-pink color. The color of “white gold” is achieved by adding palladium or nickel.

Also Read: Copper Conducts Electricity Better, So Why Do We Use Gold In Electronics?

What Is The Fineness Of Precious Metals?

As the name suggests, precious metals such as gold, platinum and silver are scarce and expensive. Several factors affect the cost of these rare metals, but none is more important than the ‘fineness’ of the metal. When determining a price for precious metals, one of the first things that must be identified is how pure or fine that metal happens to be. As we already learned, precious metals are often combined or alloyed with other metals and chemicals for various reasons, which decreases their proportion in the final product.

The fineness of a valuable metal object, such as jewellery, indicates the weight of the fine metal in proportion to the total weight of the object, which includes the weight of other alloying base metals present in there. Consider, for example, a bar of gold. The entire weight of this bar is thought to be divided into 1000 parts. Now, if this bar contains 995 parts of pure gold and five parts of impurities and alloying metals, then it is said to be 995 fine or 99.5 % pure. This manner of expressing quality is known as millesimal fineness and is often expressed in units of parts per 1000. However, there is another method used extensively for denoting the quality of gold.

Also Read: Why Do Humans Value Gold And Silver So Much?

What Is A Karat Of Gold?

A karat is a unit that measures the purity of gold in part fine per 24 parts whole. Its is accepted as a universal norm by most nations. 24-karat gold is the purest, at about 99.5 % absolute (100% purity is practically unachievable), 18-karat gold is 18 parts gold and six parts another metal (forming an alloy of 75% gold), 12-karat gold is 12 parts gold (12 parts of another metal), and so forth. The conversion from karat to the percent of gold is fairly simple and should be used to calculate the amount of gold in an object before buying it. The karat of gold is typically stamped on the item made from it in the form of a hallmark. This hallmark represents the quality of the object being examined.

hand of a goldsmith punches a hallmark into a golden ring on an anvil, close up with copy space, focus, narrow depth of field - Image(Maren Winter)S
Gold hallmarking process (Photo Credit : (Maren Winter/ Shutterstock)

How To Protect Against Gold Scams

First of all, gold should only be bought from reputable stores and dealers. You should always check for hallmarks since the purity of American-made gold jewellery is measured in karats. Thus, there will always be a stamp on these pieces with a number followed by the letter “K”. There are various websites, such as the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), among others, that provide details on hallmarking and safeguard the interests of citizens.

aqua regia at different concentrations react with gold plated contacts on a printed circuit board(Lakeview Images)S
From left: 10 K, 14K, 18K, 22K solutions of test kit acid (Photo Credit : Lakeview Images/ Shutterstock)

If you’re still not sure, you can perform a nitric acid test on the piece of metal. This involves dissolving thin scrapings from the gold object in nitric acid. Pure gold does not dissolve, but the impurities do render solutions of different colours. Several such testing kits are available on the market and can be easily used to detect the purity of gold. Again, the invoice for purchase should always be kept safe, as it doubles as a record of the gold’s purity. In the case of doubt about the purity of gold, the retailer cannot contest the case if you produce a valid invoice.

Also Read: How To Tell If A Diamond Is Real

A Final Word

The process of buying gold today is very tedious, not to mention the exorbitant prices that have rendered this bright shinning metal beyond the reach of the common man. Gold-selling shops are also not helping, as several cases have been seen where customers are blatantly misled on the purity of the metal. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the gold items at our homes were not as pure as cited by the dealer. Although the techniques mentioned above will protect you from most scams, dealers will continue introducing new schemes to dupe unwitting people. Given that, you need to be absolutely sure about the quality and purity before investing large amounts of your capital in gold!

How well do you understand the article above!

Can you answer a few questions based on the article you just read?

References (click to expand)
  1. Is 24K gold pure? - Scientific American. Scientific American
  2. About Gold Jewellery | World Gold Council. The World Gold Council
  3. Bureau of Indian Standards: Home. The Bureau of Indian Standards
Share This Article

Suggested Reading

Was this article helpful?
Help us make this article better
Scientific discovery can be unexpected and full of chance surprises. Take your own here and learn something new and perhaps surprising!

Follow ScienceABC on Social Media:

About the Author

Rajat is an undergraduate student of BTech at BITS Pilani (India). He likes all kinds of sports and has represented his college for Athletics several times. He also loves to sing and play the guitar. He enjoys watching movies and likes to read about financial management and the stock market.