Jump to: Real Gold Vs. Fake Gold | Check for hallmarks | Look for discolorations | The Ceramic Scratch Test | The Skin Test | The Liquid Foundation Test | The Size and Weight Test | The Magnet Test | The Float Test | The Density Test | The Nitric Acid Test | The Vinegar Test | Sigma Metalytic Scanners | Hire a Gold Appraiser | Shop from Trusted Dealers
Gold is one of the rarest and most valuable metals in the crust of the Earth. It is so demanded and desired that it is considered a precious metal. Consequently, it is a recurrent object of counterfeits, both jewelry and gold bullion.
The best option to make sure you have genuine gold is to take your piece to a trusted precious metal dealer or jeweler. However, we know that may not be the option for those who don't live in big business centers.
In this article, we list a few simple tips on how to tell if gold is real. Small tricks you can do at home to test gold objects and identify whether they are real or fake.
But first and foremost, what is a real gold product?
By international standards, a piece of gold jewelry must contain at least 41.7% gold content (or 10-k gold, according to the karat system) to be considered real gold jewelry.
It is also possible that the gold content in the product is described through the millesimal fineness system, such as .916 or .999.
Plated gold usually contains a thin layer of gold with a core of base metals, such as copper, tin, or zinc. It is not considered real gold but fake.
With that information in mind, take as many of the tests described below as possible. If your gold piece fails in one of them, it might be an indication of fake gold items. We suggest you follow up with a specialist, a precious metal appraiser or jeweler, to confirm it.
1. Check for Hallmarks
The hallmark test may be the simplest tip to check authentic gold.
Most U.S. manufacturers stamp their gold pieces with hallmark and purity levels to ensure credibility and authenticity. Just do a visual inspection at first to look for them.
In jewelry, they will usually be in a concealed location, such as the inside of a ring or bracelet. On gold coins or bars, they will be on one of the sides (either the reverse or the obverse). You may need a magnifying glass to see it.
Stamps can vary, according to the manufacturer. But the gold content will either be described in the karat system or millesimal fineness.
10k (.417), 14k (.583 or .585), 15k (.625), 18k (.750), 20k (.833), 21k (.875), 22k (.916), 23k (.958) or 24k (.999) are indications of genuine gold, but in different levels of purity.
In other words, these hallmarks tell you how much gold the item is made of. The purer the gold, the higher the karatage or fineness.
In addition, you can find letter markings on your piece that indicate some sort of gold plating, meaning the piece is not really made of gold, but alloyed with other metals. It is just gold-plated jewelry. These letters can be:
- GP (Gold Plated);
- GF (Gold Filled);
- GE (Gold Electroplated);
- GEP (Gold Electroplated);
- HGP (Heavy Gold Plated);
- HEG (Heavy Gold Electroplated).
The stamp test is not 100% accurate as many counterfeiters nowadays also engrave fake pieces with a purity level and try to copy the stamps of big manufacturers.
2. Look for discolorations or wear marks
You can test gold through careful observation of your item. While looking for stamps and purity levels, check for discolorations or wear marks on your gold piece. Especially around the edges or on the inner circle of rings.
Solid gold is a very soft metal. If the piece is merely a gold-plated item, the characteristic golden color may darken, and it should rub away as you use it over time. The same effect may happen to white gold jewelry as well.
The ceramic scratch test is a simple and commonly used method to test gold authenticity. This test involves scratching the gold item against an unglazed ceramic plate or tile.
If the gold leaves a mark on the ceramic's surface, it is likely to be fake or of lower purity. Real gold will not leave any marks or will only leave a faint gold streak.
This test is based on the fact that gold is a relatively soft metal, with a Mohs hardness scale rating of 2.5 to 3. This means it can be scratched by harder materials, such as ceramic or glass, with a hardness rating of around 5.5.
However, the scratch left by gold on a ceramic surface is typically very faint, since gold is also malleable and tends to deform rather than scratch.
You can tell real gold by wearing it over time.
Have you ever seen black or green marks on your skin after wearing a jewelry piece for a long time? Pure gold does not react to oil from your skin or sweat. If you see black marks on your skin, it probably means you have a gold piece alloyed with silver. Copper, on the other hand, is responsible for the green marks.
With your hand clean and dry, hold the piece of gold for a couple of minutes until you feel your palm perspiring. Open your hand and check if there are any coloring marks on your skin. Remember, pure gold won't react to your bare skin.
This is one of the simplest ways to test gold at home. However, keep in mind that results are not necessarily reliable and you should consider them together with other tests.
On your skin, apply some liquid foundation and powder. Then, rub your gold piece on the area. If it leaves a black mark, it is evidence that your gold is real.
6. The Size and Weight Test
Gold is much denser than other cheaper metals. If you have a gold coin you are sure to be pure gold, you can compare its volume and weight to a gold coin about which you are unsure.
For instance, compare two American Gold Eagle coins to see if they have the same volume and weight. Just hold one against the other to see if the edges match and if they have, seemingly, the same thickness. And weigh both of them on a scale.
American Gold Eagles contain 22 karats because a small amount of copper and silver are added to the alloy for increased durability. However, the copper and silver content is added in addition to the pure troy ounce of gold. That results in a heavier coin.
7. The Magnet Test
Magnetism is not on the list of gold properties. Gold is not a magnetic metal, so it should not be attracted to magnets.
With that information in mind, you can perform a magnet test.
Use a strong magnet and test if the gold item is attracted to the magnetic field. Regular kitchen magnets won't do. Use a powerful neodymium magnet. You can buy one online or at a home improvement store.
Note that clasps or fasteners from bracelets and necklaces might be gold-plated accessories made of other ferromagnetic metals. If that is the case, they might be attracted to the magnet.
More on this topic here: Is Gold Magnetic? See For Yourself
8. The Float Test
This is a simple test that will quickly identify some cheap counterfeit coins and imitation gold jewelry. Gold is a very dense metal. In other words, if you drop it into a container with water, it should head straight to the bottom. If your gold item floats or hovers a little over the bottom, you could possibly have counterfeit gold.
9. The Density Test
As we mentioned above, gold has a high density of 19.3 g/cc (grams per cubic centimeter). Therefore, if you have a gold coin or a piece of jewelry that contains pure gold, or close to it, such as 22 karatas (or .916 fine), you can do a density test and see if its density is close to 19.3 g/cc.
This is a more complicated test, and you will need:
- a good scale that gives you the weight in grams, rather than ounces;
- a cylinder, a vial, or even a kitchen container with milliliter markings;
If you are testing gold bars, you might need larger containers for this test.
First, weigh your gold piece on the scale and take note of its precise weight.
Next, fill your cylinder with water up to 75% or so. Wait for the water to stop still and write down exactly how many milliliters it contains. Make sure it is on a flat surface before doing it.
Then, slowly drop your piece of gold into the cylinder. Don't spill any water or let the tip of your fingers touch it. Make another reading on the water level and subtract that from the first reading.
The difference between the first and the second reading indicates how much water the gold piece displaced. In simple terms, it indicates its volume.
Now, divide the weight of your gold piece in grams by its volume in milliliters. If your gold is pure or close to it, the result should be around 19.3.
For instance, if you have a gold ring that weighs 38 g and it displaces 2 mL of water in the cylinder, you should make the following calculation: 38 / 2 = 19.
If the result is way off, that means your gold item might not be real or, at least, alloyed with other metals.
Learn more about Gold Density (Video Included).
10. The Nitric Acid Test
This test should only be taken as a last resort, though it is one of the most accurate ways of determining real or fake gold.
Purchase a gold test kit or a nitric acid test kit. You can buy them online or at some local jewelry stores.
The test kit should contain a touchstone, which is a black tablet of slate or lyddite stone. Rub your piece of gold against it. It should leave a visible trace on the surface of the touchstone.
Apply some nitric acid to the marks. If base metals are mixed with gold, you will notice a chemical reaction as it will dissolve under the acid. If there are any golden traces still visible on the touchstone, it should be real gold.
To confirm it, apply aqua regia on it (nitrohydrochloric acid - 75% nitric acid and 25% hydrochloric acid). The mixture dissolves gold.
Real gold is a noble metal and will not react to oxidation or corrosion from acids (except aqua regia). Other metal alloys, including sterling silver, copper, and zinc, will instantly react to nitric acid.
To be more accurate, a few gold test kits contain precise mixtures for different gold purity levels. So, by applying them, you will be able to identify if you have 18k, 14k gold, etc.
If you don't have access to or can't afford a nitric acid test kit, you can try the vinegar test.
Testing gold jewelry using vinegar is a very simple way to check if you have fake gold, though it might cause chemical or mechanical damage to it.
To do this test, apply a few drops of vinegar (preferably white vinegar) to the gold piece. Real gold is a noble metal, therefore it is resistant to oxidation and corrosion from acids, including vinegar.
On the other hand, fake gold jewelry will change color under vinegar. Just choose an inconspicuous place to drop the vinegar on your item so it doesn't leave a visible mark.
12. Sigma Metalytic Scanners
Sigma Metalytic Scanners and similar electronic testers (e.g. Kee Gold Tester) are arguably the most reliable way to verify the precious metal content of your product. They produce different gold testing machines for bullion and jewelry.
The machine works by sending electromagnetic waves through the surface of the metal and analyzing its resistance to it. This is usually the test of choice among coin dealers and jewelers.
Metalytic scanners, however, might be expensive and not worth the investment if you are just looking to check on one or two pieces of gold or silver jewelry or even bullion coins and bars. It will be much cheaper to have it tested by an expert.
You should remember that the tests listed above are not 100% foolproof. They can give you an indication if the gold is possibly real or fake.
Ultimately, if in doubt about the authenticity of your gold product, take it to a professional appraiser or precious metal verifier.
You might have to pay a fee for this service, but it will give you a guarantee of your gold item's purity.
The best way to avoid counterfeits and ensure you own top-quality products is to shop only from trusted bullion dealers or jewelers.
If you are looking to invest in physical precious metals, consider us at SD Bullion. Check out the products we have available in our inventory. And talk to one of our customer service representatives in case you have any questions.