All About Assays and Certificates of Authenticity

If you are a collector or investor of precious metals such as silver or gold, then you might have heard the term assay and certificate of authenticity before. What you might not know are what these two terms mean and why you should always look for the certificate of authenticity and the assay if you are investing in or collecting precious metals. Knowing what these two items are in relation to precious metals can help you make the best decisions when it comes to purchasing gold and silver, and it can also help you when it comes time to sell precious metals.

What is an Assay?

If you hear the term assay in the precious metals world, you should know that this is basically an analysis that is done to test the composition and measure the composition of metals such as alloys and ore. When talking about gold and silver specifically, an assay is just the process used to ensure that the bars and coins meet specific standards when it comes to content and purity for that specific mint. An example of this would be that if you see a mint says a gold coin is 99.9% pure, the assy would ensure that all of the gold in that lot at the mint meets this purity standard. This allows you to purchase precious metals knowing that what you are getting is what the mint says, which helps you when it comes to building your investment portfolio or selling your precious metals later on.

Back in the day when gold and silver were used in circulation, assaying was very common, especially with coins like the silver half-dollar. Even though most countries like the United States no longer use gold or silver on a regular basis for spending, the process of assaying is still very important for buyers and sellers of these precious metals. You will still want to know the purity levels of either gold or silver regardless of whether you are coming at this from an investor or collector, and assaying is still the best way to ensure the item meets those specific standards and qualifications.

The Process of Assaying

When it comes to the assaying process, there are many different ways to go about assaying, with it depending on the precious metal that is being looked at. The first thing that happens in the process is that the assayer will take a sample of the product. This is done either from taking shavings from the metal or grabbing a sample in the molten state before the metal is formed into coins or bars. After that is completed the assayer will choose one of the following options to proceed with the assaying process.

Dry Assay- A dry assay is often done for gold and silver and this is when chemical cleaning agents called fluxes are heated with the metal. During this process, it will show impurities in the metal and it will create a slag. The precious metal will separate during this process and then you will see the pure form of that metal sitting at the bottom. Once the mixture has been cooled, the assayer will chip away the slag, and then the metal will be compared and weighed.

Fire Assay- A fire assay can be used to check both silver and gold for purity, and it is one of the oldest ways out there to check the precious metals. For this method both the gold and silver put together in a disposable crucible and then impurities can be checked within the sample.

Wet Assay– Solvents are dissolved in the wet assay method, which leaves a solution so that the assayer can chemically analyze the samples. Either electrolysis or salts are used on the precious metals to separate them.

X-Ray Fluorescence Assay- When you look at X-Ray Fluorescence Assaying, this process is how the  name describes it. The metal will emit X-rays and irradiation by an X-Ray beam is used, and then depending on the intensity level of the X-ray the assayer can then judge the metal.

Spectrograph Assay- In a spectrograph assay, the sample has to emit light in order for the assayer to judge the quality and purity of the metal. This process is done by the assayer grabbing a sample and then putting an electrical discharge through it. The strength and intensity of the light emitted from the sample will then allow the assayer to check the metal content of the sample.

Other Assay Methods- There are other assay methods out there as well, such as titration which is often used for silver. To assay gold there is also the cupellation process. To test the purity of platinum the assayer can use OES, ICP or inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry.

Why Assaying Is Done

Whether you are an investor or collector of precious metals like gold or silver, you want your product assayed. Assaying is to just ensure that the precious metal has the purity content that you have come to expect or want in your precious metals. Whether you are talking about palladium, platinum, gold or silver, you want to know that the mint is producing the purity level it claims or that is required for that specific product. This is also a way to ensure that the mint you are buying your precious metal from is honest, which helps you as a collector or investor to make good financial decisions and to buy products you know are legit and pure as claimed.

Assay Types

If you have purchased gold, silver or other precious metals in the past, then you know that most precious metals come with some form of an assay. Some types of smaller precious metals come with an assay card, which includes the date the product was created and the purity of the product. There is also an assay certificate which is there to tell you the purity of the product and also provide you with a way to authenticate your precious metal. Investors and collectors like the assay because it is proof of a certain purity level and proof of the authenticity of the product.

An assay will also tell you the serial number of the precious metal you purchased, which also helps prove the authenticity of the product as well as the integrity of it. If the assay card is really good then it will also have the type of metal on the card, such as pure platinum or pure silver. The assay will also include a mark or logo of the mint where the precious metal came from, such as Perth Mint. All of this information on the assay is important because it helps you know you are buying a legit and pure product just as the mint or company claimed.

Certificates of Authenticity

A certificate of authenticity, which is also known as COA for short, is similar to an assay card but often times is in sticker or seal form on the item. The seal might be on the certificate itself or on a piece of paper, and it basically just proves the precious metal you purchased is authentic, hence the name. Thre is no process though to prove the purity of the precious metal, which makes a certificate of authenticity different than an assay card or certificate. A certificate of authenticity also does not seal the precious metal, which is also different from the assay card or certificate.

The certificate of authenticity does, however, contain vital information about the precious metal, such as a stamp of approval and purity level. It often has a maker’s mark on it and there is information about the weight and fineness of the precious metal on it as well. While you might think every precious metal item comes with a certificate of authenticity, that is not true at all, and sometimes a precious metal does not come with one for one reason or another. If the item comes with an assay card or certificate then you probably will not get the certificate of authenticity since the assay card does all that plus more.

Precious Metals with an Assay Card

Overall you will get an assay card with items like bullion bars, both gold and silver come standard with an assay card. An assay card often times comes with palladium and platinum as well. Most bars are pretty big items, meaning they are valuable and also have the highest purity levels, which is why an assay card comes with them almost always. Some limited edition or special coins will also come with an assay card in order to prove value and authenticity. Most regular bullion coins, however, especially those still in circulation do not come with an assay card.

Precious Metals with Certificates of Authenticity

Items that will come with a certificate of authenticity include special release or limited edition coins, mostly just to prove the authenticity of the product. Commemorative pieces are a good example of a type of precious metal that will come with a certificate of authenticity. You will mostly only find certificates of authenticity with coins and special limited edition items, as bars do not come with this product unless it is an unusual circumstance.