How to Tell if Gold is Real - DIY - Moriartys Gem Art
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  • How to Tell if Gold is Real - DIY

    by Jeff Moriarty February 10, 2023

    Gold is one of the most valuable and expensive metals that humankind has. Because of gold’s shiny yellow texture and its capability of being shaped, it has been a favorite for crafting jewelry. 

    Since gold is so expensive, it is a great investment, however, gold is easy to fake. 

    There have been numerous stories about people getting scammed by gold dealers selling fake gold bars; it is even easier to fake different pieces of jewelry. 

    If you are thinking about buying gold or you have gold at home and you want to check to see if it is real, here are a few ways to see if the gold is real. 

    To see if your gold is real, you would want to perform a few different tests to get a good idea of whether your gold is real or not.

    How To Test Real Gold 

    How To Check If Gold Is Real With A Lighter

    Checking to see if your gold is real with a lighter is one of the easiest ways to test your gold. You want to try to burn your gold. If the gold is real, the piece of gold will get brighter as you put the flame to the gold. The gold won’t actually catch on fire and burn; if your piece of gold starts to smoke or gets darker, it is pretty likely that you have a fake piece of gold.

    Why Does A Lighter Work?

    Real gold doesn’t burn or get darker when heat is applied. If the piece of gold is real, the heat will melt the gold which is why gold can be molded and formed into different shapes without losing its color.

    Other metals like copper, iron, and brass change color and get darker when it is exposed to heat. If your piece of gold has gold plating, the gold coating will melt and you will start to see the darker metal underneath.

    Tips For Using A Lighter To Test The Authenticity Of Gold

    Use A Butane Lighter Instead Of A Regular Lighter

    When you are using a lighter to test if your piece of gold is real or not, you want to make sure that you have an intense and stable flame that you are able to control. 

    Heat The Piece Of Gold For At Least 60 Seconds

    Heating the piece of gold for one minute should be enough time to affect the metal. If you have a larger piece of gold, heat it for a little longer.

    Use Tools That Are Inflammable To Handle The Gold

    When you are heating the gold to test if it is real or not, the piece of gold will get really hot, so you want to make sure you are using tools that are inflammable like tongs or pliers.

    How To Test If Your Gold Is Real With A Magnet

    When you are trying to test a piece of gold, hold a magnet next to your piece of gold. If the magnet sticks to your gold, then it is most likely fake. When you are using this test, be sure to use a strong magnet for this test otherwise you might not get an accurate result.

    Why Does A Magnet Work?

    Gold should not be a magnetic metal, so it won’t stick to magnets. This is an easy and quick test to tell if your gold jewelry is made of real gold. 

    Be sure to keep in mind that some base metals are used as gold alloys that can be non-magnetic, so this test is not dependable.

    How To Test If Your Gold Is Real Using Ceramic

    Use a ceramic plate and scratch the piece of gold that you are testing against it. If the piece of gold is real, you will see a yellow streak on the plate. If the piece of gold is fake, you will see a dark streak.

    Why Does Using Ceramic Work?

    When you are scratching a piece of gold with a hard object like ceramic, it will leave a golden or yellow streak because gold is a super soft metal.

    If your piece of gold is fake, that means it is made of metals that are darker in color, so scratching it with a hard object will result in a dark streak.

    Tips For Using Ceramic To Test The Authenticity Of Gold

    1. Use an unglazed ceramic plate. Glazed ceramic will not show the color of the metal as clearly.
    2. Use a light touch when you are scratching the ceramic because you don’t want to damage the gold piece.

    Caution For Using Ceramic To Test If Your Gold Is Real

    Gold plated or gold filled jewelry can also leave a yellow or golden streak because of the thin layer of gold on the service. However, since these types of jewelry aren’t fully made of gold, you will see a darker streak under the yellow or golden streak.

    How To Test If Your Gold Is Real Using The Float Test

    Start with filling a cup or a bowl with water and carefully drop the piece of gold into it.

    If the piece of gold is real, it will sink to the bottom. However, if it is fake, it will float to the top or stay in the middle.

    Why Does The Float Test Work?

    The float test works because gold is a dense metal, so it will typically sink to the bottom. 

    On the contrary, if the piece of gold is fake, it is often made of lighter metals, so it will either float or be slower to sink.

    Similar to the magnet test, this test isn’t always dependable. Some pieces of gold that are fake are heavy and dense like real gold, so it will sink to the bottom. 

    As said before, make sure you are doing multiple tests to check the authenticity of your piece of gold. 

    How To Test If Your Gold Is Real Using Vinegar

    Start by applying a few drops of white vinegar to the piece of gold jewelry. If the piece of gold is real, it will not change color, however if the piece of gold is fake, the vinegar will cause it to react and change color.

    Why Does Vinegar Work?

    Vinegar is very destructive, so when you apply the vinegar to a fake piece of gold, the vinegar will cause the jewelry to tarnish. Gold is a non-reactive metal, so real pieces of gold will not react to vinegar. 

    Tips For Using Gold To Test The Authenticity Of Gold

    1. Use Distilled White Vinegar for this test. Other types of vinegar like apple cider vinegar may not be as effective as using distilled white vinegar.
    2. Apply the drops of vinegar to a discreet part of the piece of jewelry like the back of it. This will not ruin the appearance of the piece of jewelry if it is fake.

    How To Test If Your Gold Is Real Using Acid

    Using acid is an advanced way of testing to see if your gold is real or not. This method should only be done if you are experienced with chemicals.

    For this test, you will need two types of acid, nitric and nitrohydrochloric. Nitric acid will dissolve any non-gold base metals that are in your piece. Nitrohydrochloric acid will dissolve real gold. 

    When conducting this test, you want a dark surface like a dark stone. Rub the piece of gold on the dark surface until it leaves a mark. Then add a few drops of nitric acid to the mark; it will dissolve any metal that is not gold, so if it is fake, the marks will basically disappear.

    However, if the mark is still there, add a few drops of nitrohydrochloric acid. Nitrohydrochloric Acid will dissolve any marks of real gold.

    Safety Tips For Using Acid To Test The Authenticity Of Your Gold

    Though this test is more accurate and reliable than most, it is very dangerous. Before trying the acid test, keep in mind these precautions:

    • Wear gloves and eye protection
    • Work in a well-ventilated space
    • Avoid skin contact with the acids
    • Use small amounts of acid
    • Dispose the acids properly when you are done
    • Conduct the test on a small part of your jewelry

    Rub The Gold On Your Skin

    Take the piece of gold and hold it up to your skin then rub it back and forth. Or you can hold the piece of gold in between your hands for a few minutes.

    If the gold is real, your skin won’t react to the metal. However, if the piece of gold is fake, you may see your skin turning green, blue, or black.

    Why Does Rubbing Gold Against Your Skin Work?

    Gold is a hypoallergenic metal; this means it won’t cause any allergic reaction when it comes in contact with your skin. Gold is a great choice for people who are allergic to metal.

    Other Ways To Tell If Your Piece Of Gold Is Real

    Look For Hallmarks In Your Gold Jewelry

    A piece of gold jewelry is typically engraved with a hallmark; most real gold has a hallmark that shows its purity which is its karat.

    Karat is the unit that is used to measure the purity of gold. When the karat is higher, the piece of gold is purer. The most common karats are 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, and 24k.

    Here is an overview of what each of the karats mean:

      • 24k: This is the purest form of gold and the highest karat level for gold. 24k means it is 100% pure gold.
  • 22k: 22 karat gold is about 91.7% pure gold.
  • 18k: 18 karat gold is about 75% pure gold
  • 14k: 14 karat gold is about 58.5% pure gold.
  • 10k: 10 karat gold is about 41.7% pure gold.
  • Just because your piece of gold doesn’t have a hallmark doesn’t mean that it’s fake. Older pieces of gold may not have a hallmark because it wasn’t required in the past.

    Most of the time, the hallmark is on the inside of the ring, on the clasp of a necklace or bracelet, or on the post of the earrings.

    Check The Gold For Letter Markings

    Along with hallmarks, some pieces of gold will have letter markings. The markings on the gold pieces represent information about the jewelry, including whether it is gold plated, the manufacturer, or even the country of origin. 

    Some of the gold letter markings include:

  • GP: Gold Plated
  • GF: Gold Filled
  • GE: Gold Electroplated
  • HGP: Heavy Gold Plated
  • HEG: Heavy Gold Electroplated
  • RGP: Rolled Gold Plate
  • These markings mean that your gold jewelry is not made entirely of gold. If your piece of gold is plated, it typically means that it is made of cheap metals covered in a thin layer of gold. 

    The “Heavy” that is indicated in some of the markings means that there is a thick outer layer of gold, but it is still not authentic gold. If you see these markings on the piece of gold, it is likely that the gold piece is fake. 

    Check The Size & Weight Of The Piece Of Gold

    In order to complete this test, you will need a real piece of gold that is identical or close to the weight and size of the piece you are testing. You will want to use a caliper to measure the thickness of both pieces of gold. 

    For weighing the pieces of gold, use a digital scale. If the piece of gold you are testing is real gold, it should be about the same size and weight as the authentic piece of gold you are comparing it to.

    Be Cautious With This Test

    Though this test can help you get a better idea of how much your gold piece should weigh depending on its size, it is not a dependable way of seeing if your piece of gold is real. 

    Gold plated pieces can be similar size and weight to real pieces of gold because they are made of a solid metal base that is covered in a thin layer of gold.

    You also want to keep in mind that when you are using this test, remember that different karats of gold have different densities. The purer the gold, the higher the density. For example, a 24k piece of gold is going to be denser than an 18k piece of gold.

    How To Avoid Buying Fake Gold Jewelry

    Before taking your jewelry to a professional to have them test, there are some things to keep in mind to help you avoid buying fake jewelry.

    Ask For A Certificate Of Authenticity From The Seller

    Before you buy a piece of gold, get a written description that includes the carat weight, the color, and any other important details. If you can, get a receipt or request an appraisal document.

    Look Up The Hallmark Online

    All goldsmiths have their own unique mark that they stamp on each piece of jewelry they make. Use this mark to look up the jeweler online to verify their reputation.

    If you don’t see a hallmark, you may also see a symbol for the company that sold the jewelry like a store name or a logo. 

    Look At The Current Market Value Of Gold

    The price of gold varies, so it is good to get an idea of how much it is worth before you buy or sell gold. 

    When you are looking up the price of gold, keep an eye on the “spot price” which is the current market price of gold. The spot price only applies to pure gold.

    Get Your Own Gold Jewelry Appraisal

    If you are still not feeling confident on whether your piece of gold is real or not, you can take it to a jeweler for an appraisal which is a professional evaluation of the worth of your jewelry. 

    A quality appraiser will provide you with a detailed report that includes the weight, purity, and the current market value of the piece of gold. 

    Using an appraisal is the best way to confirm the authenticity of your piece of gold; it will also help you sell the piece of gold for the right price if you decide to sell it. 

    Conclusion

    There are many different ways to test the authenticity of your piece of gold at home, but remember that these tests are not always dependable and accurate. 

    The best way to tell if your gold is real or not is to take it to a professional jeweler who will use more elaborate ways like loupe, an electronic gold tester, or X-ray fluorescence.

    Overall, these at home tests are good indications of whether your piece of gold is real. 

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is the easiest way to test gold?

    The easiest way to test if your gold is real or not, is either the lighter method, the vinegar method, using a magnet, or unglazed ceramic. These methods are safe and will give you a good way to tell if your gold is real or not. 

    Will gold turn black when you burn it with a lighter?

    The gold will not turn black when you burn it with a lighter. However, if your piece of gold jewelry turns black when you burn it with a lighter, it is most likely fake.

    Does real gold react to sunlight?

    Pure gold will not react when it is exposed to sunlight. Real pieces of gold jewelry will not tarnish or lose their gold shine. If your piece of jewelry starts to change color, it is most likely fake. 

    Is real gold magnetic?

    Pure gold is not magnetic. 

    Is 24 karat gold jewelry real gold?

    24k gold is pure gold, but you want to be cautious when anyone claims that their gold piece of jewelry is 24k. Pure gold is too soft to be used in jewelry, so it is typically mixed with other metals; that way it is more durable.

    24k gold is rare, so if someone says their piece of jewelry is 24k gold, it is most likely fake.

    What are common base metals that are used for gold alloys?

    The most common metals that are used to make gold alloys are silver and copper. Other metals that are used are palladium and titanium.

     Does Gold Alloys Mean It Is Fake?

    Gold Alloy means that it is a mix of metals; for example, combining real gold and sterling silver creates a gold alloy. It could also be a mix of pure gold with palladium, titanium, brass, iron, and copper.

    Some gold alloys can be valuable, but others are not worth much. It is important to know the karatage or the purity of the piece of gold.

    Is Gold-Plated Jewelry Real Gold?

    Gold-Plated jewelry is not real gold; most of the time, there is a thin layer of gold that is applied on top to another metal. The gold on the gold-plated jewelry will start to wear away which will expose the metal that is underneath. 

    Is White Gold Real Gold?

    White gold is an alloy; white gold is made by mixing real gold with white metals. White metals include silver and palladium.

    Jeff Moriarty
    Jeff Moriarty

    Jeff Moriarty has been in the jewelry industry for almost 20 years. His family now only owns a retail jewelry store in Crown Point, Indiana, but he also travels the world with his father in search of rare gemstones.

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