Precious metals have always been highly regarded by human beings for different reasons. Gold is one of the most valuable metals for reasons such as its tremendous corrosion-resistant composition, its visual allure, malleability, and its attributed value.
Pure gold, for example, is highly valuable, though seeing it in jewelry is unlikely. Other materials need to be thrown into the mix to make the color and the general arrangement of pure gold feasible to work with.
Rarity is most certainly another claim to fame that gold can boast. Its atomic number is 79, which means there are not many naturally occurring elements in the universe that are less common.
Unfortunately, these properties have led some to be dishonest to those seeking real gold products. Some of the unfortunate victims may be inadvertently wearing fake gold jewelry because of such actions.
Typically, more common precious metal types and other materials are used to replicate the visual and feel of real gold. While jewelry is not the only application of the precious metal, this industry is the most notorious for these attempts at trickery.
However, being informed can help you avoid retaining fake gold pieces under the guise of reality. Perhaps you may still end up purchasing the items, but you can at least go through the process of testing gold for verification.
The information below is meant to help you do exactly that. Perhaps you don’t have access to anything too fancy and you’re at home. If so, the options below can help you, without much setup, to differentiate fake gold from real gold.
What Will I Learn?
- Understanding the Measure of Pure Gold
- Gold's History and Properties
- Home Tests That May Be Used to Test Gold Jewelry
- Are White Gold and Rose Gold Real?
- Common Scams That Attempt to Pass Off Fake Gold Jewelry
- Popular Machine Testing Alternatives
- What Ranks as the Most Reliable Way to Test Gold Jewelry?
- A Word of Caution: Fake Gold Jewelry Can Bypass Single Tests
- The Bottom Line: Visiting a Professional Jeweler with a Gold Piece Is Always Recommended
- Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding the Measure of Pure Gold
When someone refers to the concept of pure gold, what is meant? First, it helps to understand how real gold is measured.
A unit of measurement known as carats is used as the baseline for the “pure gold” scale. Assuming the gold is real, the highest level of purity ranks at 24 carats. This is pure gold in the truest sense since it means that there are no other metals or materials mixed in.
A reduction in the cartage indicates that other metals are indeed mixed in with whatever gold item you may be looking at.
Take 18-carat gold jewelry, for example. It indicates a 75% gold composition. Though gold is real, 25% of it is made up of other metals.
You may also use fineness to ascertain the purity of a gold piece. Again, this metric is an indicator of how much gold there is in the mix. This time, a scale of 1,000 parts per thousand is used.
When gold is real, you could potentially have 99.5 or .995 as a measurement. This would mean other metals account for five of the 1,000 parts of the gold piece, with the other 995 being made up of real gold.
As indicated before, while real gold jewelry is fairly obtainable, truly pure gold is more of a challenge. The color of yellow gold jewelry and the texture needed to make it workable both come from mixtures with other metals.
For example, a combination of real gold with palladium or silver creates white gold, while rose gold is a mixture with copper.
Pay Attention to the Indicators (Hallmark Test)
While it’s not one of the official tests, if you want to confirm if gold is real, the hallmark test can provide a decent start. Often, a real gold piece will have an identification stamp, providing information on the manufacturer and content.
The hallmark test, also called the manufacturer’s stamp test uses the principles of karats and the Millesimal Fineness system to provide some level of verification that the gold is real. Under the karat system, real gold has the following valid numbers:
As far as the Millesimal Fineness system goes, if the gold is real, it would bear one of the following purity numbers:
You likely have fake gold on your hands if the figures you have don’t match the ones you’re seeing above.
Gold's History and Properties
Not many precious metals were held in the high regard that authentic gold was to societies of a bygone age. Even today, even a small gold piece is quite valuable.
Nevertheless, it meant a great deal thousands of years ago. It saw applications in currency, jewelry, and architecture just as it sees today. However, gold was believed to carry healing powers by some of these civilizations.
The ancient Egyptians were the most synonymous society with the use of gold. Even as early as 3,000 B.C., Egyptians had quite an impressive gold supply.
It was used in the creation of gold bars for trading as well as jewelry and other fashionable adornments for those of a royal class.
Naturally, authentic gold, having that kind of value and utility, would become the subject of several battles over the last few millennia.
While much progress has been made as a civilization, the importance of and respect afforded to gold has not necessarily changed. For example, research will show you that gold continues to be a critical asset for world banks.
Additionally, the current iteration of the US currency is still backed by gold. What this means is that real gold is not only among the pinnacle of precious metal types, but it’s also one of the most valuable commodities overall, and may even be at the top of that list.
What properties of gold make it so important and sought after? First, there is the visual allure that it presents. The naturally warm yellow tone is truly a sight to behold and is likely one of the first things whoever discovered the metal would’ve noticed.
While pure gold (independent of any other metals) is not necessarily suited for jewelry, just about any other nearly pure grade (with a small portion of other metals mixed in) presents a high malleability, which makes it super desirable to work with and pound down.
Craftsmen, metalsmiths, and others have gravitated to this flexibility, making real gold one of their favorite types of metal. Look no further than gold leafing and gold plating for examples of the ductile potential present. In fact, the former (gold leaves) allow for hammering down to thinness measuring seven-millionths of an inch.
For reference, if you were to take 7,055 such sheets and stack them atop each other, the thickness you would get would not be much more than that of a dime.
Home Tests That May Be Used to Test Gold Jewelry
Again, the popularity and potential of gold make it a prime candidate for forgery jobs. Sadly, this doesn’t only mean that those who intend to have fake gold items can have them.
It also means that many people who purchase items thinking the gold is real end up being taken advantage of and swindled by those selling imitation gold.
Not everyone has access to gold testing machines. Additionally, not everyone has the kind of aptitude a jeweler does for testing gold. Thankfully, the methods below allow you to test gold at home without needing too much to get set up.
The Skin Test
Technically speaking, you can carry out the skin test just by wearing the item of concern. However, you can also induce it by rubbing the gold piece between your hands for several minutes.
With perspiration in the mix, fake gold will cause a reaction that sees your skin take on a blue or green color. If gold is real, it does not have this kind of effect.
The Presence of liquid Foundation Can Alter the Marker of Fake Gold Jewelry
Note that there is a makeup test variation of this one. The execution is almost the same, except liquid foundation is applied to the hand before you begin. In this case, the gold item will turn your skin black. Again, real gold jewelry does not alter your skin color at all.
The Smell Test
If you have a small gold item, then it is likely suited to this kind of testing mechanism, especially since it’s so quick. Have you ever smelled your hands just after holding coins? If so, you would’ve noticed a sort of metallic scent, which is akin to the one you’re looking for here.
First, ensure your hands aren’t covered in sweat and place the gold item in the palm of one hand. Put the other hand over it and begin to rub them vigorously together. When gold pieces are real, you don’t get a smell. However, if you notice a smell that is similar to the one you get from your coins, that’s because you have fake gold on your hands.
The Fire Test
The lighter requirement makes this one easy enough to perform since many people likely have one at their disposal anyways.
A butane lighter is preferred and it should be filled with enough lighter fluid. The typical disposable variety doesn’t work as you need the flame to be as consistent and tall as it is hot.
To avoid creating a painful experience for yourself, as you test if the gold is real, hang it up on something non-flammable.
Carrying out the test requires you to hold the flame against the gold jewelry for just about a minute. Observe to see if the color is changing as you do this.
If the gold you have is indeed counterfeit, then you’ll notice its color start to darken through the test. However, authentic gold will progressively get lighter as it gets hotter.
The Float Test
Unlike the magnet test, nitric acid test, and some of the other DIY options, this one is often preferred because the setup requires nothing more than a container with enough water to cover the gold jewelry being put in it.
You want to ensure that if the gold piece should sink, there’s enough wiggle room that the water’s surface would be well above it.
With that, simply drop the item into the container and watch the reaction. Counterfeit gold will move around slowly or float.
On the flip side, real gold will pretty much immediately sink.
There’s also a second layer to this test, which sees you observe its after effects. Once the float test is complete, real gold pieces will not be affected as far as structural integrity goes.
However, fake gold may display signs of being tarnished or getting rusty following being in the water. These effects may not happen immediately so you may have to keep an eye out for a little while.
The Ceramic Scratch Test
For this one, you want to ensure that you’re using an unglazed ceramic plate to carry out the test. With that, you simply want to scrape your gold piece across the ceramic plate’s surface.
Whether the gold is fake or real, you will see a marking on the plate, but the difference in appearance should tell the tale.
If the item is real, you’ll end up with a gold mark. Alternatively, you’ll find that you see a black streak instead.
Don’t go too harshly as you do this one. As hardy as gold can be, you can damage your jewelry pieces unintentionally.
You don’t need to apply extreme force to get the gold streak that you’re looking for, so keep it simple.
The Vinegar Test
You only need a few drops of vinegar to complete this test. Choose whatever segment of your gold piece you want to complete the test on and apply it.
If you do have fake jewelry, you’ll find that a few drops of vinegar will cause a color change, while there will be no observable deviation on the authentic counterpart.
Nitric Acid Test
Next is the nitric acid test. Gold, all things considered, is known as a noble metal. What does this mean? Well, the kind of corrosion and oxidation you may see from acids such as nitric acid on other substances would be a non-issue for gold.
Unlike the vinegar attest, you’re not applying the acid directly to the gold. Instead, you want to rub the gold piece along the surface of a black stone to leave a mark.
Take your nitric acid and apply it to the said mark. If there are any base metals apart from gold, they will be dissolved leaving only the gold.
If you can get your hands on aqua regia, you can get even more of a confirmation that your gold is real. Upon applying the substance, you’ll find that real gold will be dissolved.
The Magnet Test
A neodymium magnet is going to be needed for this one. Unfortunately, these heavily differ from the typical magnet types that you may see hanging around on your fridge.
Thankfully, as complex as the name may sound, they’re not as rare as you may think. In fact, they’re incredibly easy to purchase online.
The magnet test requires you to expose your jewelry to the magnet. Gold itself will never react to the magnet.
However, considering that some jewelers will use other materials along with gold to make jewelry pieces, the possibility of a very weak reaction.
For example, the spring in the clasp of a gold chain may cause a reaction. After all, those are not the kind of components you’d want to use gold to build.
Provided the magnet is the kind of strong rare earth magnet you need, whatever other underlying metal may be present apart from gold will react in fake jewelry.
Are White Gold and Rose Gold Real?
Given the visual differences, people may believe that rose gold and white gold fall under the gold plated or other fake classifications.
However, this is not the case. What you’re seeing is simply the result of a mixture of rose gold/white gold with other metals to improve durability.
For example, rose gold has copper (and sometimes a little sterling silver) mixed in. The white variety, on the other hand, features silver, nickel, and palladium.
So long as the amount of gold present is substantial enough, these are generally considered real varieties.
Common Scams That Attempt to Pass Off Fake Gold Jewelry
Even jewelry stores that you should be able to trust sell you gold plated and other fake gold items under the guise of realism. Unfortunately, many unsuspecting customers end up finding out too late or not at all.
Here are some of the fake items you may commonly see.
A very thin layer of gold characterizes gold-plated items. Instead of real gold, a cheap material such as brass is used instead. The thin layer referenced is then used to coat it.
The result is a piece of jewelry that undoubtedly looks like gold, but structurally, is completely different.
The visual properties of Pinchbeck are where the confusion happens as it mimics the bright look that is associated with real gold. However, it’s a combination of copper and zinc masquerading around as gold.
Costume jewelry makers are particularly known for creating Pinchbeck designs. However, before you purchase anything at the flea market, try bending it with your bare hands for a moment.
You’ll hear a metallic sound when doing so, which gives you your confirmation.
If you’ve ever heard the expression “Fool’s Gold,” it probably has its roots here. It looks strikingly similar to the real thing, which makes it very easy to fool those who may be looking for real gold.
Pyrite’s ability to fool people is nothing new, as those who have dug it up have often thought that they’ve made a small fortune only to find out it’s pyrite later on.
Sadly, some people don’t find out for a little while. Pyrite, unlike gold, will lose its luster and begin to tarnish over time, which means a black or green color is imminent.
Sterling silver is a pretty good material in its own right. However, when it’s being passed off as gold, that’s an entirely different story.
As the name implies, the silver here has a thing gold wash on its surface.
The practice of creating these pieces dates back to the WWII era in the 1940s. Back then, precious metals were not readily available.
This led to people adopting the practice of simply making gold-looking pieces as a substitute.
Popular Machine Testing Alternatives
In its purest form, gold is a simple and soft metal with defined properties. The home methods alluded to above are certainly able to help you find out where your gold pieces stand.
Of course, for those who can access them, there are more reliable machine-based methods out there in the form of the electronic gold tester and the XRF spectrometer.
Both of these operate similarly. The former sends electromagnetic waves through your gold, while the latter uses x-rays. Following this, they record the way their preferred protocol interacts with the gold to make their determination.
What Ranks as the Most Reliable Way to Test Gold Jewelry?
While it’s not one of the home methods, fire assay has long been thought to be the most foolproof way to test solid gold for purity. The process tends to be reserved for larger pieces of gold since its destructive nature can present some concerns for smaller counterparts.
The process sees lead oxide and control substances mixed in with the gold sample, after which the hole arrangement gets melted at 1650 degrees Fahrenheit. A cooling process then follows that sees heavy metal sink to the bottom of a mold and heated again in an ash container that will absorb every metal except precious variations such as gold or silver.
A Word of Caution: Fake Gold Jewelry Can Bypass Single Tests
While the home tests above can help you to detect the presence of plated gold, fake gold coins, and the like, they are not always going to give an undisputed result.
Realistically, the people making the fake jewelry continue to improve their craft and often use material combinations that can bypass some of these testing methods.
Therefore, the best countermeasure you can use is to employ multiple home tests to be as safe as possible. Even going this route doesn’t technically guarantee a successful test result, but the likelihood is greater.
The Bottom Line: Visiting a Professional Jeweler with a Gold Piece Is Always Recommended
As clear-cut as gold properties may seem, knowing whether you’re looking at an authentic gold piece is not always an easy task.
Certainly, the DIY testing methods presented above provide you with a great starting point to find out. However, if you want properly validated results, this is not the way to go about it, especially if you’re thinking of selling your items.
It’s recommended that you take your gold jewelry, coins, and bars to a qualified professional jeweler for a proper evaluation and appraisal.
Not only can you get a rundown of the authenticity of your gold, but you can also get a valuation done to know what kind of asking price may be appropriate.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Difference Between Genuine Gold and Brass Visually?
Brass is not as visually stunning as gold is. While both have a yellow hue, gold is shinier and boasts a brighter yellow, compared to brass’ slightly duller variation.
Is Real Gold Heavy or Light?
Gold’s density is high, which is why the water test (or density test) aims to see if the gold will sink. The density means it’s considered a heavy metal.
Can Vinegar Clean Real Gold?
Yes. White vinegar is recommended for cleaning gemstone and gold jewelry.
Is There Ever a Time Where Real Gold Jewelry Turns Black?
Traditionally, gold doesn’t discolor, but it’s not impossible. Nevertheless, the greater the percentage of gold, the less likely discoloration is to happen.
Does Soap Damage Genuine Gold?
Generally, soap’s structure isn’t harmful to gold. However, you are advised to remove your jewelry before a shower to avoid a film that can reduce the gold’s brilliance.