Gold rose to a six-month high on Friday as investors turned to bullion as a safe-haven from East-West tensions before a vote planned for Sunday on whether Ukraine's Crimea region should join Russia.
Moscow shipped more troops and armor into Crimea on Friday and repeated its threat to invade other parts of Ukraine, showing no sign of heeding Western pleas to back off from a Cold War-style confrontation.
Russia's stock markets tumbled and the cost of insuring its debt soared on the last day of trading before pro-Moscow authorities in Crimea hold a referendum on joining Russia, a move all but certain to lead to U.S. and European Union sanctions on Monday.
"There are people here with possible concerns that you will see a heavy price spike (in gold) if this vote does go in," said Thomas Capalbo, a precious metals trader at Newedge, a brokerage in New York. "Gold is up on situational buying."
Spot gold rose as much as 1.4 percent to its highest level since Sept. 9 at $1,387.90 an ounce early in the session before it later pared gains.
U.S. gold futures settled up $6.60 at $1,379 an ounce, with trading volume about 30 percent above its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed.
The metal has gained 3 percent this week, also helped by China's first corporate bond default and fears of slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.
Gold was also supported by Friday's data showing U.S. consumer sentiment weakened in early March.
The market was awaiting the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy meeting on March 18-19. The central bank is expected to announce another $10 billion cut to its bond-buying stimulus.
U.S. economic data showing that growth has been hurt by severe cold weather has recently hit the dollar, which fell 0.2 percent against a basket of currencies after weak U.S. producer prices on Friday.
Global uncertainties sent investors looking for gold, with holdings in SPDR Gold Trust - the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund - rising 2.1 tonnes to 813.30 tonnes on Thursday.
Among other precious metals, silver followed gold's moves, with a 1 percent increase to $21.35 an ounce. Platinum was down 0.6 percent at $1,463 an ounce, while palladium fell 0.5 percent to $769.50 an ounce.