How to Tell if Gold is Real

Gold is one of the rarest metals in the crust of the Earth. It is so valuable and desired that it is considered a precious metal. As a consequence, it is a recurrent object of counterfeit, both for jewelry and gold bullion. The best option to make sure you have the real deal 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. So, in this article, we list a few simple tests you can make at home to check if your gold is 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-karat gold) to be considered real gold jewelry. A gold coin or a gold bar produced by mints will either contain 22k (91.67%) or 24k gold (99.99%). It is also possible that the gold content in the product is described in millesimal fineness, such as .916 or .999.

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 a fake. We suggest you follow up with a specialist to confirm it.

Check for hallmarks

Most U.S. manufacturers stamp their gold pieces with a 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 coins or bars, they will be on one of the sides (either the reverse or the obverse).


A picture showing the hallmark on the inner side of a gold bracelet.


Stamps can vary, according to the manufacturer. But the gold content will either be in karat 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 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 just gold-plated jewelry. These letters can be:

  • GP (Gold Plated);
  • GF (Gold Filled);
  • GE (Gold Electroplated);
  • GEP (Gold Electro Plated);
  • HGP (Heavy Gold Plated);
  • HEG (Heavy Gold Electroplated).

This test is not 100% accurate as many counterfeiters nowadays also engrave their fake pieces with a purity level and try to copy the stamps of big manufacturers.

Look for discolorations or wear marks

While looking for stamps and purity levels, check and see if there are any discolorations or wear marks on your jewelry piece. Especially around the edges or on the inner circle of rings. Because solid gold is very soft, if the piece is merely gold plated, it should rub away as you use it over time. 

The Skin Test

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 your gold piece is mixed 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.

The Size and Weight Test

Gold is much denser than other cheaper metals. If you have a gold coin that you are positively 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. 

Just remember that American Gold Eagle coins are slightly heavier than 24-karat gold bullion coins on the market, such as the American Gold Buffalo and the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf. American Gold Eagles contain 22 karats because a small amount of copper is added to the alloy for increased durability. However, the copper is added on top of the pure troy ounce of gold. That results in a heavier coin.

You can check our posts: Is Gold Heavier Than Silver? and How Heavy Is a Gold Coin?

The Magnet Test

Gold is not a magnetic metal, even an 18-karat or some 14-karat piece of jewelry. With that information in mind, you can 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 made of other, ferromagnetic metals and just a gold plate. If that is the case, they will be attracted to the magnet.

More on this topic here: Is Gold Magnetic? See For Yourself

The Float Test

This is a simple test that will quickly identify some cheap counterfeit coins and fake 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 it floats or hovers a little over the bottom, you could possibly have counterfeit gold.

The Density Test

As we mentioned above, gold has a high density of 19.3 g/cc (grams per cubic centimeters). So, 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 make a density test and see if your gold item comes 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;

Cylinder containing water on milliliter markings.

Source



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. Then, slowly drop your piece of gold in 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 by 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 displaced 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 piece of jewelry might not be as pure as you might have thought. 

Learn more about Gold Density (Video Included).

The Vinegar Test

This test is very simple but might damage your jewelry if it is not real gold. To do this test, just apply some drops of vinegar (preferably white vinegar) to the gold piece. Fake gold will change color under vinegar. Just make sure to choose an inconspicuous place to drop the vinegar on your jewelry. Even if it is fake, you can still wear it.

The Nitric Acid Test

This test should only be taken as a last resort, though it is one of the most accurate ones on this list. 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 lydite stone. Rub your piece of gold against it. It should leave a visible trace on the surface of the touchstone.

Apply some nitric acid on the marks. If there is any base metal other than 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). It dissolves gold.

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.

Sigma Metalytic Scanners

Sigma Metalytic Scanners and similar electronic testers are arguably the most reliable way to verify the precious metal content of your product. They produce different 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.

SD Bullion

In conclusion, you should keep in mind that the tests listed above are not 100% foolproof. They can give you an indication if the gold is possibly real or fake. But, ultimately, only an expert will be able to tell for sure. 

Nevertheless, the best way to make sure you own top-quality products is to shop only from trusted dealers. 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 make sure to talk to one of our customer service representatives in case you have any questions. They are available from Mondays to Thursdays, from 8 am to 6 pm EST, and on Fridays from 8 am to 5 pm EST.

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Chase Turner
Chase Turner
Director

Chase has been buying and selling gold, silver and platinum since 2009, when he opened a local gold shop. He fell in love with buying gold and silver bullion after learning how the world monetary system

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