Fineness of Precious Metals

Fineness of Precious Metals


the quantity of gold, silver, platinum, or palladium in an alloy used in the manufacture of jewelry, dental prostheses, coins, and medals.

Most countries employ the metric system of designating fineness, a system introduced in the USSR on Nov. 15, 1927. In this system, fineness is expressed as the number of parts of a precious metal per 1,000 parts (by weight) of an alloy. The United

States, Great Britain, and Switzerland use the carat system, in which 1,000 fineness of a metal corresponds to 24 arbitrary units, or carats. Before 1927, Russia employed the zolotnik system for designating fineness (one Russian pound was equal to 96 zolotniki); fineness was expressed as the weight content of metal per 96 units of alloy. The fineness of precious metal alloys authorized for the manufacture of jewelry and other articles is determined by legislation. The finenesses accepted in the USSR are given in Table 1 on page 103.

Fineness is guaranteed by the state, which requires that the article first undergo assay control (assaying and analysis) and then be stamped with hallmarks. Ingots of precious metals are stamped with the fineness determined in the alloy. Although orders, medals, and coins are not hallmarked, the fineness of their constituent alloys is strictly regulated and controlled. In the USSR, fineness control for alloys and articles is carried out by assay supervision inspectorates, which also mark the metal.

In countries where there is state assay supervision, the selling of articles made from precious metals without hallmarks is prohibited and the forging of hallmarks is punishable by law. Hallmarks of various shapes and designs are used. The design—usually the emblem of a country, city, or the like —incorporates assay numbers in Great Britain and various other countries. Arbitrary numbers, such as 1 or 2, corresponding to a given fineness are used in place of assay numbers in Austria, Argentina, Bulgaria, Hungary, Cameroon, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Portugal, and Mexico. Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey use pictorial characters for the same purpose. Sometimes fineness is designated by a hallmark comprised of metric fineness numbers, as in Mongolia. In the USSR, the hallmark consists of three elements: (1) an emblem (a hammer and sickle within a five-pointed star); (2) a three-digit metric fineness number; and (3) a code letter, which is affixed after the prescribed inspection by the assay inspectorate.

The hallmarking of jewelry and domestic articles has been practiced since the Middle Ages—from the 15th century in England and Italy and from the 16th in France. It was introduced in many countries during the 20th century (1913 in Canada, 1923 in Australia). State control of fineness is either optional or lax in a number of countries, and when jewelry and domestic articles are hallmarked it is usually by the manufacturing firms; this is the case in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Canada, Malta, the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden. In Russia, state hallmarking was legally instituted in 1613 for silver articles and in 1700 for gold. The USSR passed legislation on hallmarking platinum in 1927 and on hallmarking palladium in 1956.


Marenkov, E. A. Spravochnik probirera. Moscow, 1953.