The term “karat” has been used for centuries to as a unit of gold purity. This is not the same as “carat” which is a measurement of diamond weight. Normally we see 10k, 14k, or 18k jewelry, and naturally the higher you go the more pure the gold is. But what do they really mean?
Let’s start with 24k gold, which is pure, 100%, real mccoy gold. From now on, think of every piece of gold as having a purity that ranges between 0 and 24. So, if we have a 10k piece of gold, that means 10 parts of 24 is gold, and the other 14 are other alloys. This equates to 41.67% gold and 58.33% of other alloys. Here is a chart that lists out the other purities.
What other alloys are being used to make up the rest of your jewelry? There are an array of alloys that are typically used, such as silver, copper, nickel, zinc, or palladium. Some metals are chosen over others to alter the color. For example, “rose” gold has parts of copper to give that reddish color, and white gold is mixed with a white metal like silver, nickel, or palladium.
One of the questions you are probably asking yourself when you’re thinking of selling old gold jewelry is “how do you test it?” All precious-metal buyers will go through similar methods to determine the purity of your jewelry, coins, bullion, etc. When it comes to testing gold, it’s not hard science, just useful equipment and a good eye.
1. Magnet Test
After inspecting an item for signs of wear or for stamps and markings, the magnet test can help pull out real gold items or fake/plated items. Solid gold as well as silver and platinum are non-magnetic. If your jewelry is magnetic it either means it’s made with magnetic metals (iron, nickel, cobalt) or it is gold plated or filled. At our stores, we use a rare earth magnet which is powerful enough to pick up on anything magnetic. Note: Even if an item does not stick to a magnet, does not mean it’s real. Some gold-plated or gold-filled items can be non-magnetic; it depends on what kind of metal is used underneath the surface. This is just a preliminary stage of testing before moving onto more certain testing methods.
Easy way to weed out obviously plated items
Cannot 100% confirm if an item is real or fake, and should be accompanied by other tests
2. Testing Acids
An Acid Test or a Scratch Test is what you’ll see each and every time you come to our store to have gold tested. It is not a 100% accurate test, but very close. The test is straight forward and the overall goal is to figure out the gold purity.
The first step is to scratch a sample of the metal onto a testing stone like the one below. One thing to look for is the color of the scratch mark. If you have yellow gold, the mark should be yellow as well. If you see the mark change color as you are scratching, like gray or copper-red, then the item is most-likely plated and the underlying metals are showing through.
The next step is to apply a drop of your testing acid and watch it for several seconds for the reaction. Typically acids come in 10k, 14k, 18k and 22k acid strengths. The testing acids are a combination of nitric and muriatric acid and are meant to dissolve the scratch mark.
For example, if you have an item that is stamped “10k”, the 10k acid should NOT dissolve the scratch mark. In other words, if the scratch mark holds up to the testing acid karat, then it is at least that purity.
Let’s say you have an item and there isn’t a karat stamp on it. Make your scratch mark and apply the 10k acid. If it holds up, move onto the 14k, and so on, until you begin to see the mark definitively dissolve. And let’s say the mark didn’t dissolve at 14k but did at 18k. That means the piece is at least 14k, but less than 18k. To determine where it falls between 14k and 18k, it depends on how quickly and substantially the mark faded. If it faded instantly, then it’s more on the 14k side. If 50% of the scratch mark fades after ten seconds, then it’s more in the middle at 16k.
Great way to test unstamped pieces and small, fine items
Effective way to narrow down the purity
Fairly easy and affordable way to test gold
Can point out fake and plated items
The higher the purity you go, the trickier it becomes to narrow down the purity
The acid tests the surface layer of an item, thus it doesn’t test the overall purity of an item and heavily plated items can past this test
3. Density Test
The density test is a great compliment to the acid test because it can determine the exact percentage of the gold purity, and it can indicate if an item is plated or filled. Watch the video below for a quick demonstration of a density machine testing a gold bar.
First, the demonstrator locked in the weight of the bar outside of water, and then the weight of it under water. The number that is calculated (19.3) is the specific gravity, which is what we look for in the density test. Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a reference substance. In the case in the video, 19.3 is the ratio of pure (100%) gold to water (the reference substance) which is 1. In other words, solid gold has a density ratio 19.3:1 to the density of water. In the video, the demonstrator changed the mode to “karat” in which “24” came up (24k=99.99%).
The drawback to this test is that it requires the item to be completely solid. Hallow parts where air is trapped or stones and gems will skew the calculation because their densities will be factored in. This is also why the density test is great for determining plated or filled items, because the density of the underlying metal will be calculated, resulting in a low density.
Much more accurate than the acid test and can calculate purity down to the exact percentage
Because it calculates density, it measures the overall purity, not just the surface like the acid test
The item must be solid (not hallow or gemstones) to get an accurate result
Small and fine items are harder to test
4. X-Ray Machine
The X-Ray Test or XRF Spectrometers like the one advertised in the video above is much more high tech and advantageous. The main benefit is breaking down the different alloys and percentages. It works by measuring fluorescence of the item after being exposed to a small amount of x-ray radiation. To put it simply, the radiation will cause the elements (gold and silver) in the item to emit energy (or fluoresce), and the machine picks that up and figures out how much energy of each element was exposed.
This machine is not always necessary when you come in to have jewelry tested. This is often used as a last resort or to test questionable or unusual pieces that are not testing well in either the acid test or the density machine.
Can read out the different alloys and their percentages of an item
The most accurate test
XRF Spectrometers only test the surface level
Machines are very expensive
After reading this, it should be no surprise when you come in to have your items tested. Of course, each piece is different and we test accordingly. The next question you’re probably asking is “what’s it worth?” In that case, check out our tables of gold, silver, and platinum rates and prices – What Is My Gold Worth – or call one of our convenient locations. If you have diamonds, and would like to know a little more on how their values are assessed, check out our other blog post Grading Diamonds: What You Need to Know.
In What Makes a Coin Valuable we found out that there are several different things to consider when evaluating coins. There are the niddy-gritty details that numismatists look for such as condition, toning, and rare varieties, but most of the time, a coin is considered valuable because there aren’t a whole lot of them. In other words, we are considering their availability or mintage
More supply, less value. Less supply, morevalue
Most currency coins have a very high mintage because they are meant to supply an entire country with them. And because there are so many being made each year, often a country will have coins minted in different locations. To indicate the different mint facility, the coin will be stamped with a mint mark, and these variations can add value because they are unique to other coins of the same type.
A great example of this is the historic U.S. Morgan Silver Dollar (above). Minted between 1873 and 1904, and briefly in 1921, the Morgan Dollars were made to be silver trading dollars. After 1904, silver reserves ran low and the U.S. mint stopped making these coins. Many were taken out of circulation and melted for their silver under the 1918 Pittman Act, and others were kept in the U.S. Treasury’s vaults, thus never seeing the light of day. It’s relatively short life-span made it a sought after coin for collectors. However, one particular Morgan Dollar rises above the rest in terms of value and collectibility: The Carson City “CC” Morgan Silver Dollar.
Carson City Mint 1870-1893
Carson City, Nevada was one of five mint locations along side Phildelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans and Denver that was producing the coin. Carson City was built because of the Comstock Lode discovery in 1859 – the largest gold and silver mine in U.S. history. This alone made Carson City a major city during the frontier gold rush, a time of the Wild West, economic expansion, and the U.S. Civil War. Some of the mined gold and silver was sold to the Carson City Mint, and minting began in 1870.
Each mint facility had their own mint mark: No mark for Philadelphia, “S” for San Francisco, “O” for New Orleans, “CC” for Carson City, (and “D” for Denver for the 1921 Morgan Dollars).
What was so special about the Carson City Morgan Dollar? What made it stand above the rest? A lot of this story comes from its mintage, and what happened to the Carson City variety after the Morgan Dollars were taken out of circulation. There were only twelve minting years in Carson City (1878-1885, 1889-1892) and the mint facility was poorly equipped compared to the other mints, thus far fewer were made suitable for circulation. Once the Morgan Dollars were taken off circulation, many were melted down, while others were stored in the Treasury’s vaults. It wasn’t until the 1960s when the Treasury finally opened the vaults to collectors and started selling the Morgans for face value. The Carson City variety, however, were held back because of their particularly low mintage numbers. The General Services Administration was invited in the early 1970s to oversee the management and sale of the Carson City Morgan Dollars, and because of their mint-state, rarity, and historical significance, they became sought after and extremely valuable.
The Carson City Morgan Dollars range between $200 and $4000 depending on the year. Certain years have very low availabilities (or survivabilities) such as the 1879, 1889, 1892 and 1893. By all means, this is not the rarest of coins, but they do hold considerable value to collectors wishing to complete their set of Morgan Dollars. If you have a Morgan Dollar and want to see where it stands, check out Amazon’s Coin Store.
Most coloured diamonds are made synthetically because the variables necessary to form a naturally coloured diamond are extremely rare, thus why they are the most expensive kind of diamonds.
The most common way diamonds are made synthetically is HPTC – High Pressure High Temperature
Because the video (1:51) has no dialogue, here is what’s happening:
1. Pure carbon and catalyst metals, pressed into a graphite, are put into a small cylinder, and then placed in a growth chamber. 2. The growth chamber is placed into a BARS apparatus consisting of a steel outer anvil and a tungsten carbide inner anvil. 3. For 3-5 days, the growth chamber will undergo extreme temperatures and pressures (1400 °C and ~880,000 pounds per square inch). 4. Once the ideal conditions are reached, the graphite dissolves into a molten metal solution, and the carbon atoms slowly build upon a crystal structure. 5. Once the capsule finishes cooling, cracking open the growth chamber reveals a rough diamond ready to be cleaned and cut.
Different types of metals added to the growth chamber will change its color. Eg. Boron will result in a blue diamond.
At one point in time it was very common to see circulated silver coins. On January 2nd, 1908 when Canada opened its first Royal Mint in Ottawa, the “first coin” (half-dollar) was a silver coin (92.5% silver/7.5% copper). From then until the late 1960s, Canada, much like everyone else, produced silver coins, with exception to the penny (bronze) and the five cent (nickel). But the 1960s marked the death of silver currency coins. It wasn’t just Canada, but most countries around the world were making nickel or copper-nickel coins.
Seeing a silver coin nowadays is a treat. They have become collectible pieces where their numismatic (collectors) value and silver value are far higher than its face value. What happened in the 1960s? Where did all the Canadian silver coins go?
The beginning of the end of Canadian silver coins can be traced as far back to World War I. The reason for this is because the silver content in coins depended on the spot price of silver. Between 1908 and 1919, Canadian silver coins were made with 92.5% silver. However, after 1919 (the end of WWI), almost all Canadian silver coins contained 80% silver.
Looking at the graph below you can see that between 1914 and 1919 the price of silver jumped from $0.50/oz to over $1/oz.
In other words, the war’s affect on silver prices influenced Canadian silver coinage. Up until 1922, the five-cent coin was originally made with silver, but was converted to nickel (hence its name) to reduce the cost to make the coins.
Although silver prices dropped in the 1930s ($0.25/oz in 1932), this did not mean that Canadian coins would revert to 92.5% silver or that the five-cent coin would once again be made with silver. After the Great Depression and World War II, silver prices would begin to climb again, marking the next stage in the death of the Canadian silver coins.
The silver prices use the headline Consumer Price Index (CPI) with a base of January 2012
In 1968, Canadian silver coins would take another hit to their silver content, going from 80% to 50%. Once August rolled around, it became prohibitive to mint silver circulation coins, thus all circulation coins were made with nickel or copper-nickel. Overall, the rise in silver prices had some effect on limiting its use, not just for coins but also for manufactured goods. Not only was it more expensive to use silver in coins, but the demand from silver investors encouraged the metal to be allocated more toward bullion than secondary resources.
Since 1968, the only Canadian silver coins we see are either commemorative coins or bullion coins. The bullion coin—the Canadian Silver Maples (below; left)—are worth their weight in silver, whereas the commemorative ones, like the 1976 Olympic coins (below; right) are collectibles, and are worth more than just their silver value.
Although rises in silver prices killed Canadian silver circulation coins, they have also made them worth far more than their face value. For example, a 1950 twenty-five cent coin is worth roughly $2.50 today. That’s 100 times it’s face value!
Next time, we will talk more about the Canadian commemorative coins. If you have any questions, leave a comment.
A famous Marilyn Monroe quote says “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” Then there are some who will say that women are complicated. So does that mean diamonds are complicated too?
Most of the value in diamond jewelry is the diamond itself, and evaluating diamonds is not very straightforward because slight differences (differences too small to see with the naked eye) can differentiate the price from one diamond and another quite significantly. In other words, perhaps diamonds are as complicated as girls, and Marilyn Munroe has been on to something all this time. There is a good reason why the diamond industry has certified gemologists in labs to grade diamonds.
Unfortunately for the average person, a gemologist is not always available (but you can book an appointment with our Vancouver gemologist today by calling 604-876-4653). If you’re planning on investing in jewelry with diamonds in it, like an engagement ring, read this simple guide to help you better understand what you need to know about buying diamonds.
Starting with the 4 C’s—Carat, Cut, Clarity, and Colour—we will help give you a better understanding of the anatomy of diamonds and how they are graded.
Caratis the most common thing we think about when the topic of diamonds comes up. Carat is a unit of weight used to measure diamonds. The word comes from the Greek word “carob” which is a plant seed that was used to weigh against gemstones because of their relatively uniform weight. The carat system was eventually standardized where one carat is fixed at 0.2 grams.
Although carat measures the diamond’s weight, it can generally determine the diamond’s size. Here is a chart of “round” diamonds showing their carat and their relative size in millimeters.
As you go up in carat, the price increases exponentially because diamonds over one carat are far rarer. A two carat diamond is worth more per carat than a one carat diamond of equal grade.
What carat is right for you (or your special someone)? If you’re considering an engagement ring, according to www.adiamondbuyingguide.com, in 2013 the average size of the center diamond was 1.1 carats. If you would like to get a better comparison of different diamond sizes, check out this Diamond Size Chart.
Often we think of “cut” as the shape or style of the diamond. In fact, shape is entirely different (and will be explained later). Cut actually refers to the “reflective qualities” and is what is graded when a diamond is certified. The quality of the cut determines how much light is reflected when it enters the diamond. The reflected light is commonly known as the diamond’s brilliance. The pictures below show the common features of a cut diamond and how light enters different cut variants.
Cut grades go from Ideal, Excellent, Very Good, Good, and then Fair & Poor, where ideal cuts maximize the amount of light reflected, and fair & poor cuts only reflects a small proportion of the light that enters them.
Grades of clarity assess the overall flaws (blemishes and inclusions) of the diamond. All natural diamonds contain some sort of flaws, hence why flawless diamonds are incredibly rare, and thus incredibly expensive. Blemishes are flaws you can see on the surface, like chips and scratches, and inclusions are flaws found inside the diamond, like bubbles, cracks, and mineral flecks.
The following clarity grades are under 10x magnification (inclusions in grades F through VS are NOT visible to the naked eye):
We think of diamonds as being clear like glass or appearing white because of the light they capture. When gemologists grade diamonds on colour, they are actually looking for either the presence or absence of colour—the less colour apparent to the eye, the higher its value. Naturally coloured diamonds are an exception to this rule, because they are unique and extremely rare. Diamonds are graded from D (colourless) all the way to Z (Light Yellow):
The more colourless the diamond, the more it will emphasize its brilliance made by the diamond’s cut.
The 5th “C”: Certificates
Certificates are a grading report of your diamond’s 4 C’s conducted by a qualified gemologist using special equipment. This is to ensure that what you’re paying for is what you’re getting. Because the 4 C’s are often impossible to recognize to the untrained eye, it’s important to make sure a professional has gone over your diamonds. Most certified diamonds are done by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) or AGS (American Gem Society) and will look like this:
Diamonds are an expensive investment. The smallest detail could drastically change its value compared to what you paid for it, and you wouldn’t even know. If you’re buying diamonds or diamond jewelry, make sure it comes with a certificate!
Earlier we spoke of cut diamonds referring to the reflective qualities, not its shape or style. The diamond shape doesn’t reflect its value as much as the 4 C’s, but it is still something to consider when purchasing your diamond jewelry. Depending on your taste, there are many different cut shapes to choose from:
(Note that a one carat heart diamond will weigh the same as a one carat round diamond, but it does not mean that they will be the exact same size)
Now that you know the basics of diamonds, you can go out and research what diamond is best for you. BlueNile.com is a perfect place to start to check out diamond prices based on the four C’s you just learned about. Or, if you wish to speak to us directly about your diamonds, call 604-876-4653 and book an appointment with our very own gemologist – Rachel Cohen. Here she is at the JCK Jewelry Show in Las Vegas June 2014.
What’s the difference between a 1918 Canadian 50-cent coin and a 1921 Canadian 50-cent coin? Easy answer: 3 years. Informative answer: the 1921 is far rarer (suspected that only 75 exist), and is worth 25,000 times more (estimated to be worth $249,000 USD).
Of course, that seems obvious enough. Besides rarity, there are other aspects which can determine a coin’s value. To coin collectors where hundreds and thousands of coins are out there to be acquired, the difference between one coin and another can come down to the smallest detail, and yet can differentiate their values immensely. Mintage/supply, grade/condition, toning, composition, and rare variations/errors are factors within the discipline of numismatics (study of currency) that effect the value, and that coin collectors consider when they seek out rare coins.
If you have a coin and you want to see if it’s a rare coin, checking the mintage and the number of currently available coins is your first step. Mintage is the number of produced coins. Using the economic principle of scarcity, when there is a high supply of a particular coin, it’s not worth a lot because there are plenty to go around. This is why most circulated coins or the change in your piggy-bank tends to be worth nothing more than its face value. The 1921 50-cent coin example is one coin which was in circulation but was taken out and melted down. Its drastic cut in supply made it a rare coin. However, a high demand in spite of a coin’s high supply could increase that coin’s value. This happens when a coin is part of a set or has a mint mark separate from other coins of the same type.
A coin’s grade or condition, next to rarity, is the most important factor when evaluating the worth of a coin. Like anything collectible, a mint condition and well maintained piece is more sought after, thus more valuable than a slightly damaged piece. The American Numismatic Association uses an adjectival scale to grade a coins condition. The key things to look for are a) overall wear and b) loss of design details.
About Good (AG)
Very Good (VG) – 25% original detail
Fine (F) – 50% original detail
Very Fine (VF) – 75% original detail
Extremely Fine (XF) – 95% original detail
About Uncirculated (AU) – 95-99% original detail
Uncirculated (Unc.) – 99% original detail
Mint State (MS) – 100% original detail and no signs of wear or handling
Toning is the discolouration of the coin when the metal reacts with oxygen and chemicals in the air. This obviously is a factor in grading coins, and would be considered a form of wear on the coin. But often toning can add value to a coin because it’s a natural wear, and to some collectors this is an appealing quality. The key word is “natural”. As soon as you touch it with your bare fingers, scratch at its surface, or even try to restore its original colour, the value of it drops tremendously. (Tip: Never touch the sides of rare coins. Always hold them on the edge with gloves).
A coins composition or metal content can also determine the value of a coin. Most coins are made with copper or nickel or a combination of the two metals (bimetallic coins), but higher-end specialty coins and bullion coins are made with precious metals such as gold, silver or platinum. For obvious reasons, precious metal coins are worth a lot and have guaranteed investment value. Sometimes, a coins composition adds that rarity factor. For example, during World War II, Canadian nickel was reserved for the war effort, so the five-cent nickel coin was made with tombac instead. Even though tombac is not an expensive metal, the variation in its metal composition made it a sought after coin by collectors.
Rare variations and errors make coins extremely valuable just because they are unique and there are so few of them (again the principle of scarcity). Rare variations could be limited edition coins that are made to commemorate an event or person, or a difference in the mint mark or design in a particular year. Then there are extreme rare variation coins such as the Canadian 1936 “dot” penny made in the final year of King George V’s reign. A miniscule dot was placed below the date on the reverse side of the coin. Only three versions of the coin are known, and have been auctioned at around $250,000 USD.
Errors are mistakes in the design when technical difficulties occur during the minting process. Coins that slip through this way are some of the rarest coins. The American 1937-D three-legged buffalo nickel is a famous coin because the die (imprint on the coin) was over-polished, wiping out one of the buffalo’s legs.
You might have realized that I have left out Age as a factor of value. Of course the age of a coin adds value, but it’s no guarantee that an old coin is worth a lot except its face value. The other factors above have higher priority to collectors, unless it’s an ancient coin.
Personal Preference: Collection Themes, Aesthetic Design, Historical Significance
Other reasons why a coin could be so valuable are up to the collector. Coin collections and themes play a part in determining if a coin is valuable or not. Each collector looks for little subtleties or details such as country, year, mint marks, variety or limited edition coins, subject or heritage coins, personage coins, and period coins such as coins made during an empire or a king’s reign.
Then there are collectors that are more interested in the aesthetic design than its grade or rarity. Sometimes we forget that artists are designing the coins we hold in our hands, or the commemorative coins that come out each year.
Of course, aesthetic design could be how a coin was worn down or toned a particular way, which makes for added uniqueness. Naturally blackened Victorian pennies, which have only the most raised surface showing the underlying copper, meaning the head is clearly presented.
Historical significance is one of the most popular reasons we collect coins. Haven’t you found an old coin—a coin older than you—and imagined where it had been up until you found it? Geoffrey Cope, a writer at CoinWeek.com, said: “Art in the form of coins is not only what we study but the emotion when we hold a piece of history.” I have a German mark from 1871, the year the German states unified into a single nation. It’s in Good (G) condition, an old coin, but millions were produced. However, it’s the historical significance that matters me, and holding a piece of history like that, the emotion I feel, is much more valuable than dollars and cents.
The Five Stages of Metal Refining: From Ore to Pure
The Royal Canadian Mint refines their gold using these five steps:
Doré bars in purities ranging from 5% to 95% are melted in a furnace. Dip samples are taken from the molten gold to determine its purity.
Chlorine gas is injected into the molten metal mix. All metals but gold float to the surface to form a slag of molten chloride. The resulting 995 fine gold is poured into an anode mould.
Soda ash is added to the molten chloride slag recovered from chlorination. The reaction causes gold particles to collect in a silver-gold alloy ‘button’ that settles at the bottom of the crucible.
This process brings gold to 9999 purity. The gold anode is placed in a bath containing a solution of hydrochloric acid and gold chloride. The anode is then subjected to an electric current. The anode dissolves, and the dissolved gold plates onto a titanium cathode. Impurities (mostly silver) fall to the bottom of the cell or form soluble chlorides.
5. Final pour
9999 fine gold is cast into bars of various sizes or turned into granulation gold.
When Great Britain got rid of the Half-Penny thirty years ago, there were fears that it would cause a spike in inflation as retailers all began rounding up to the nearest penny. In all likelyhood, however, it didn’t really have much effect at all.
When the Royal Mint stopped producing the half-penny in the early eighties, inflation had already taken its toll on the coin, to the point that retailers complained they couldn’t give them away as change, people would simply leave them behind on the counter. It was also speculated that the cost to produce the coin was much higher than its face value, but history is full of examples of coins that cost more than their face value. These are some of the reasons that Great Britain eventually abolished the half-penny, but why did it take so long?
Does this sound familiar? With the Canadian penny now a relic of a bygone era, we’d like to know how if you think that these small denomination coins really matter. Do you miss the penny? What impact does not having pennies have on you? Join the conversation in Google+ below!
We are pleased to officially launch our new website full of great new features and information to help you learn more about the process of buying and selling precious metals including gold, silver and platinum, as well as diamonds.
Canada Gold aims to equip you with all the information that you will need to make an informed decision regarding the purchase or sale of your precious metals and diamonds. Whether you choose to do business with us or not, we are pleased to present you with the most relevant tools and articles to make your decision that much easier.