Gold can be measured in many different ways. In precious metals, appearances can be deceiving. What looks like a lot of silver and gold might only contain small amounts, only visually misrepresented by the overuse of other metals such as nickel, copper, and zinc. There are different standards in different countries for measuring the amount of gold in bullion or jewelry, and in this guide, you’ll learn about all of them.
Why Measure Gold?
Measuring gold with a weighing scale to determine its market value is the standard method of measurement employed by the gold industry today. Most precious metals are denser than water, so an easy way to figure out whether jewelry is genuine is to put it in a container filled with water. The parts that sink to the bottom might not necessarily be real gold, but they’re surely made of metal, whereas those that float might be made of some other rare earth mineral.
Even among its precious metal relatives, gold is one of the densest. One of the reasons gold has become so valuable to humans is its formidable weight, aside from the fact that in its pure form, gold can be crafted into every shape imaginable. Gold has been turned into leaves, bars, rings, and family crests and is used as a reliable conductor in many modern electrical components.
Anyone who has ever held a gold bar in their hands can attest to the metal’s impressive density and weight. A small piece of gold is inviting for petty thieves, but an entire briefcase’s worth requires a large-scale operation, as it cannot be carried by hand. Unlike paper cash and credit cards, when you hold a gold item, you truly sense its worth by its weight alone.
The Density of Gold
Gold has a density of 19.32 grams per cubic centimeter, ranking it as one of the densest metals on Earth. Many people are confused by the terms density and gravity, but the two refer to the same thing.
Density is the mass of a gold item relative to its volume. In scientific terms, density is unit mass per unit volume—for example, milliliter per cubic centimeter or grams per cubic meter. Mass is nearly synonymous with weight, so when talking about gold, silver, and other precious metals, you can use them interchangeably.
Mainstream gold products are rarely pure gold. The purity of a gold item is measured in karats, with 10 karats being the lowest amount considered to be genuine by US standards and 24 karats signifying pure gold. Pure gold is soft and malleable and can be scratched and broken easily when worn every day, which is why 24k gold wedding bands are not a popular choice among couples.
Gold gets its body, rigidity, and characteristic toughness by being alloyed with other metals such as nickel, zinc, palladium, and copper. When measuring the density of your gold, you can choose to remove these alloys for increased accuracy. A mixture of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid called aqua regia is capable of melting away all other materials in your gold jewelry and bullion, although it will radically change its appearance in the process.
The Density of Gold Compared with Other Metals
In the precious metals market, the two most important measurements are weight and purity. When weighed on its own and without alloy, platinum is about 88% heavier than 9 karats of gold, 59% heavier than 14 karats, and 11% heavier than pure 24-karat gold. If you place a wedding band in your hand, a ring made of platinum will feel significantly more substantial than gold, which might be why it’s deemed a more luxurious substitute.
Platinum is the densest of all the precious metals, meaning it weighs the most while taking up the least amount of space. Every cubic meter of platinum weighs 21,400 kilograms. Gold is a close second, coming in at 19,320 kilos per cubic meter, followed by palladium and silver at 12,160 kilos and 10,490 kilos per cubic meter, respectively.
Comparing the density of gold to other precious metals is important, especially when you’re planning to buy it by bulk in bullion. Because platinum is heavier, a smaller bar will weigh the same as a bigger bar of gold and even bigger bars of silver and palladium. Silver is nearly half the density of gold, meaning it would take twice the amount of gold to fill a briefcase with the same amount of silver, which would then be four times as heavy.
This also has repercussions on the prices of these metals. Suppose that gold suddenly shoots up in value: your platinum engagement ring will remain more valuable because it has a higher density and weight compared with gold. The same applies to silver and palladium jewelry, which will need to virtually double their weight to compete against their equivalent weight in gold and platinum items.
Measuring Your Gold Bullion and Jewelry
Pure 24-karat gold is very seldom sold as bullion or jewelry. Gold is more often alloyed with nickel and copper so that it will last longer without showing signs of deformation in a bank vault or on your ring finger. A purity of 18 karats is the best you can hope for when buying gold jewelry, because while 24 karat rings and bracelets are sold on places like Etsy, they will scratch more easily and may even break completely if not treated with care.
White gold is a popular amalgam of gold, nickel, and zinc. It has the same value as yellow gold but with these two metals acting as bleaching agents, it takes on the lustrous white color that gives it its name. Rhodium is a close relative of platinum that is used to coat gold jewelry so that it stays in shape for a long time.
Measuring by Water
Measuring the volume of your gold jewelry is simple, but you must take into account that these measurements are not exact because, unless it’s certified to be 24 karats, your jewelry is certainly alloyed with some other metal. There’s no way to determine the percentages of metal in jewelry without seeing its paperwork, but this is a good way to measure. Here are the steps you need to follow:
- First, clean your jewelry to rid it of any dirt and grime it might have accumulated while in storage or from long periods of use.
- Place it on top of a high-precision scale and jot down how much it weighs in grams.
- Take a graduated cylinder and fill it up with water. It helps to accurately adjust the water so that it meets up with a measurement line, making your records more precise.
- Put your ring, bracelet, or gold item inside the beaker and wait until the water settles down.
- Jot down the increased volume of water inside the beaker.
Now you need to crunch some numbers. Start by looking at the starting volume of water inside the beaker, then subtract it from the increased volume after you’ve dropped in your jewelry. Next, calculate the exact density by dividing its weight in grams by its resulting volume in milliliters.
The quotient should tell you how much gold is in your jewelry by comparing it with the original density of 19.32 grams per milliliter. The closer your jewelry or bullion is to the standard density, the closer it is to pure, fine gold.
A Few Caveats
While the method of measurement outlined above is helpful for mainstream gold bars and jewelry, it might not be effective in all cases. Silver, copper, nickel, and palladium, when mixed with gold, will produce a noticeably different density. Then again, some gold items are produced with tungsten, the density of which is nearly identical to that of gold.
Tungsten gold rings are available for purchase on websites like Etsy and Amazon and they look as shiny as any regular gold alloy, but you’ll need professional help to determine the amount of gold in the mix.
Gold is a Solid Investment
Overall, gold is still a safe investment when you’re trying to hedge against inflation because it guarantees a hefty weight for a physically small quantity. Gold is less prone to price jumps and dips because, unlike platinum and palladium, its practical uses extend beyond a single industry. Palladium and platinum might be rarer than gold, but their worth is greatly affected by the supply and demand of the automotive industry.
Get your gold with the certified correct weight and density from Oxford Gold Group, a Los Angeles-based company that offers gold, silver, platinum, and platinum collectible coins and bars. They also offer gold and silver individual retirement plans, as the value of gold and silver has remained undisputed since ancient times.
Safeguard yourself against the depreciation of the dollar by investing in something that predates human conceptions of money and bartering and has held value since its discovery. Call 833-600-4653 and get investment advice from our gold experts today.