15 Precious Metals Terms All Gold Buyers Should Know

When entering the world of precious metals, it’s important to know the meanings of key terms you may hear often. Below are 15 of those terms and their definitions.

Add textFor the sake of simplicity, “gold” in any of the definitions below can be replaced with silver, platinum, or palladium.

1. Ingot

gold ira, gold bars, gold bullion bars
A mass of metal formed into a convenient shape for shipping, storing, or further processing.

Ingot and bar may be used interchangeably in regards to precious metals.

2. Bullion

Gold_Render3 sm (2)
Precious metals in the form of bars, coins, or other ingots.

Not to be confused with bouillon, the French word for broth.

3. Circulated/Uncirculated

Liberty Gold Coin - Obverse

Circulated coins have been used as currency by the public, and uncirculated coins have not.

Uncirculated coins are usually in much better condition than circulated ones.

4. Proof

Proof GOLD American Eagle
Coins labeled as proof undergo a specialized minting process that results in a sharper, shinier coin.

Proof coins have high collectible value in addition to bullion value.

Example: Proof Gold American Eagles, Proof Silver American Eagles

5. Paper gold

Any form of gold investment in which the investor does not physically possess the gold.

Examples: gold ETFs, gold mining stocks, paper gold certificates

6. Spot price

gold ira, how to buy gold, gold as an investment
A precious metal’s live trading price.

Determined by the price of the metal’s most heavily traded futures contract at the time. Gold at spot price is referred to as spot gold.

7. Fineness/Purity

gold ira, gold investments, bullion gold
Fineness, or purity, represents the amount or percentage of gold contained in a particular piece.

Most often expressed as a decimal (“0.999 pure gold”) or percentage (“99.90% pure gold”).

Example: The Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coin has a fineness of 0.9999, meaning it contains 99.99% pure gold.

8. Karat

Detail of a golden Nugget
Another expression of the purity of a precious metal.

Using a gold coin as an example, to calculate karats, the mass of pure gold in the coin is multiplied by 24 then divided by the total mass of the coin. One karat represents 1/24 of the whole, so a 22-karat gold coin is 22 parts gold and 2 parts base metals or impurities. 24-karat gold is “pure gold”.

Not to be confused with carat, which in American English is a measure of the weight of diamonds. Read more on karat vs. carat here.

9. Assay

Assessment of the contents and quality of a precious metal product.

A coin or bar that has been assayed is guaranteed to contain the amount and purity of metal indicated.

10. Melt value

The value of a coin or bar’s precious metal content.

Calculated by multiplying the weight of precious metal in the coin or bar by the spot price of that metal. May also be called intrinsic value.

Example: At a spot price of $1,200/oz., a ½-oz. Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coin, which contains ½ oz. of pure gold, would have a melt value of $600. (Purity must be taken into consideration – another coin of the same weight but lower gold purity would have a lower melt value.)

11. Premium

Gold Prices Are Going Higher
Dollar amount or percentage that a coin or bar sells for over its melt value.

12. Spread

Difference between the selling price (ask) and buying price (bid/buyback price) of a precious metal coin, bar, or other trading unit. May be expressed as a dollar amount or percentage.

Spread (percentage) = (Ask – Bid) / Ask

Example: A coin with an ask price of $1,000 and a bid price of $800 has a spread of $200 or 20%.

13. Liquidity

The ease with which a certain coin or bar can be bought and sold.

1-oz. American Silver Eagle coins have high liquidity as they have a large, active base of buyers and sellers.

14. Mint

By Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Facility where precious metal coins or bars are produced.

The United States Mint produces coins at the Philadelphia Mint, the Denver Mint, the San Francisco Mint, and the West Point Mint.

15. Numismatics

The study or collection of physical currency.

A person who collects or studies coins or other forms of currency is called a numismatist. Coins such as the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle and the Peace Silver Dollar are popular among numismatists.

For more information on adding precious metals to an IRA or making a cash purchase, call American Bullion today at 1-800-326-9598 to speak with one of our knowledgeable specialists.

About American Bullion

American Bullion, Inc. specializes in converting IRAs, old 401(k)s, or other qualified retirement plans from paper-based assets to physical gold coins and bars through a Gold IRA rollover or transfer. We’ve pioneered a system to handle all the details for you, tax-free and hassle-free. Interested in buying gold and silver and storing it yourself, outside of your retirement account? Simple – we’ve insured and shipped millions of dollars’ worth of gold, silver, platinum, and palladium to thousands of homes just like yours. As a U.S. Mint nationally listed dealer, we strive to be the best Gold IRA company in the industry and guarantee every transaction is fast, simple, and secure. See our American Bullion Reviews page for testimonials from our many satisfied clients.