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When it comes to bullion, pure silver is a minimum of 0.999 fine (99.9% pure or "three nines fine"). Some mints go as high as 0.99999 on special pieces. So how can anything with a purity mark have less than what is stated, particularly jewelry?

The federal hallmarking law in the USA specifies what these exceptions are. When a precious metal item is marked with a purity number - 950PLAT, sterling silver, 10k - there are conditions and tolerances which spell out what components are included in the assay.

So where does this non-precious metal come from? It is not realistic to use a spring made from 24k gold, for instance, as it is woefully inadequate to perform a lifetime of openings and closings. That's not what precious metals do though they can be adapted in certain situations.

The uninformed buyer might be shocked to learn how much worthless metal is in sterling jewelry.
Thus, the functioning part of clasps, buckles, pivots, pins, and select other parts are not included in the assay guarantee. It's like they don't exist. The uninformed buyer might be shocked to learn how much worthless metal is in sterling jewelry. Maybe not such a good deal after all.

Liken it to the food industry: Their labeling laws allow an item that contains 100% fat to be labeled as fat-free. It's not quite that bad with precious metals but dubious sellers will find creative ways to finance themselves through mistruths and deception.

The precious metal parts of sterling silver items have a tolerance of 0.003. It must be a minimum of 92.2% pure. You aren't breaking any laws if it is 95.7% or 99.2% but manufacturers lose money by using more precious metals than required. When an item uses solder, the allowable tolerance increases to 0.006. Be aware that older pieces had different standards, sometimes allowing a 13k bracelet to be stamped 14k!

Gold has similar tolerances for whole and soldered items. Platinum has no tolerance for under-assaying. Precious metal marking standards can be found in the following documents:
Reusing scrap metals means the (unknown contaminating) alloying/soldering metals will ultimately affect the product by causing porosity, cracks, discoloration, brittleness, and voids. There may be toxic cadmium, irritating nickel, and other undesirables. It could result in a lower purity which means you will be defrauding someone, which is a felony. Melting may cause a rise in purity as lower-melting metals are boiled off. You'd lose money because that 14k gold bracelet might be 15k!

Regardless of the hows and whats, the manufacturer is legally responsible for whatever their fineness mark or accompanying documentation says. If there is no manufacturer mark on the item they are selling but there is a fineness mark then they become legally responsible for its purity. It kinda makes selling anonymous second-hand precious metals a risky proposition.

Posted by M: March 4, 2023

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