Like other precious metals, gold is measured by troy weight and by grams. When it is alloyed with other metals the term carat or karat is used to indicate the amount of gold present, with 24 carats being pure gold and lower ratings proportionally less. The purity of a gold bars can also be expressed as a decimal figure ranging from 0 to 1, known as the millesimal fineness, such as 0.995.
The price of gold is determined on the open market, but a procedure known as the Gold Fixing in London, originating in 1919, provides a twice-daily benchmark figure to the gold industry.
Historically gold was used to back currency in an economic system known as the gold standard in which one unit of currency was equivalent to a certain weight of gold. As part of this system, governments and central banks attempted to control the price of gold by setting values at which they would exchange it for currency. For a long period the United States government set the price of gold at $20.67 per troy ounce ($664.56/kg) but in 1934 the price of gold was set at $35.00 per troy ounce ($1125.27/kg). By 1961 it was becoming hard to maintain this price, and a pool of US and European banks began to act together to defend the price of gold against market forces.
On March 17, 1968, economic circumstances caused the collapse of the gold pool, and a two-tiered pricing scheme was established whereby gold was still used to settle international accounts at the old $35.00 per troy ounce ($1.13/g) but the price of gold on the private market was allowed to fluctuate; this two-tiered pricing system was abandoned in 1975 when the price of gold was left to find its free-market level. Central banks still hold historical gold reserves as a reserve asset although the level has generally been declining. The largest gold depository in the world is that of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, held at Fort Knox.
Since 1968 the price of gold on the open market has ranged widely, with a record high of $850/oz ($27,300/kg) on 21 January 1980, to a low of $252.90/oz ($8,131/kg) on 21 June 1999 (London Fixing). Prices have risen to the $468/oz mark in 2005, due to a depreciation of the US dollar and inflation due to rising energy costs. The price of gold has remained relatively constant in currencies not tied to the US dollar; for example, it has not varied by more than 10% from €330/oz (€10,600/kg) or A$560/oz (A$18,000/kg) during this time.
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