How to Tell If Gold is Real: 10 Ways to Know

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If you’re a fan of gold jewelry, you always want to own the real thing and not some cheap counterfeit. Whether it’s a piece you’ve bought or inherited or one you’re contemplating buying, it’s wise to know how to tell if gold is real. 

Well, you don’t have to go out of your way to test your gold jewelry. This article will share 10 easy tests you can do at home to know if your jewelry is the real deal.

What is “real gold”?

When you hear “real gold,” are you thinking of a pure gold metal bar? Well, that’s not what it means. You cannot have jewelry made from 100% gold because gold is soft and will not make durable jewelry on its own. 

For a piece of jewelry to be called real gold, it contains a certain amount of gold. This threshold differs from place to place. For example, in the United States, it must be at least 10-karat gold. You will understand better once you learn how to identify real gold.

How to tell if gold is real 

One easy way to tell if your gold is real is to take it to expert jewelers for an appraisal. This is the most accurate way to confirm the value of your gold jewelry. Still, if you’re not ready to make a trip to the jewelers, you can also use several easily accessible household items. Here are 10 methods you can try.

1. Float Test

This is a simple test for your gold jewelry. Gold density is 19.32g/ml and so real gold would normally not float in water. 

To carry out this test, dip your suspected gold jewelry in a large jar of water. If it floats, it is likely gold-plated, but if it sinks, it is real gold. Not to worry, water will not harm your gold necklace

2. Observe for Tarnish

Pure gold does not tarnish, so if you find discolorations around the edges of your pieces, you’re most likely holding a plated piece. If your piece is not 24-karat gold, the standard for pure gold, it may tarnish over time.

3. Vinegar Test

Place your gold jewelry on a flat surface and put a few drops of vinegar on it. Let the vinegar remain on it for about 15 minutes. If there is a color change, your piece is not real gold because pure gold will not react with vinegar. If you still want to wear your jewelry, whether it is real or fake, you may consider avoiding this test because fake gold jewelry will remain discolored. 

💡 Watch Out: If your suspected gold piece has semi-precious gemstones, be careful how you apply the vinegar, so it does not ruin it. We’d recommend skipping this test or just taking the piece to a jeweler.

4. Magnet Test

For this test, you’ll need to use a strong magnet. Gold does not have magnetic properties. If you place a magnet close to your jewelry and it attracts, it’s likely not a real gold piece.

5. Discoloration on Skin 

If you notice any discoloration on your skin from wearing your gold piece or holding it, it is not pure gold. Gold will not react with oil or sweat, but other metals do. Silver will usually leave black stains, while copper leaves green stains.

💡 Quick Note: Gold pieces as high as 14K may leave these discolorations since they are combined with other alloys. Use this method alongside other methods to confirm the authenticity of your gold piece.

6. Number Marking 

Gold jewelry usually has a hallmark engraved on it. These hallmarks are written in tiny font and in places that are not readily visible, like the inside of a ring. You may need a magnifying glass to see clearly what is engraved on your jewelry piece.

Two standard purity scales are the karat system and the millesimal fineness system. The karat system measures the amount of gold to other alloys present in the jewelry. Karats are measured from 0 to 24, with 24 representing pure gold.

The millesimal fineness system indicates the purity of gold in percentages. It runs from 0 to 999, with 999 representing pure gold. The number 999 is easily converted to 99.9% gold.

Different jewelers may use either one of the purity scales to mark their jewelry. If your gold jewelry is marked 14k, 14 out of 24 parts are made of gold. In the same way, if it is marked 585, it implies that 58.5% of the jewelry is made of gold while the remaining 41.5% is made of a different metal.

Note that with the number marking system, you have to confirm it with other methods of gold testing since scammers can engrave any number of their choice on a gold piece.

7. Letter Marking

Letter marking is a way to label gold jewelry based on its quality. Once you see some letters engraved on your jewelry piece, you should know it is fake. They include:

  • GP: Gold Plated 
  • GF: Gold Filled
  • GE: Gold Electroplated
  • GEP: Gold Electro Plated
  • HGP: Heavy Gold Plated
  • HEG: Heavy Gold Electroplated

Jewelry with any of these markings is made from metal and covered with a thin layer of gold. 

8. Density Test 

Gold has a particular density of 19.32g/ml. The amount of gold present in your gold piece will determine its density. You need a graduated measuring cylinder and a kitchen scale for this method.

  1. Weigh your gold piece and record the measurement in grams and not ounces
  2. Fill your measuring cylinder halfway, leaving room for it to rise when you place your jewelry in it
  3. Place your cylinder on a flat surface and take the measurements
  4. Place your gold piece in it and record the new water level
  5. Subtract the initial water measurement from the final water measurement to get the amount of water that has been displaced
  6. Then, divide the weight of your gold piece by the amount of water that has been displaced. 

The number you get is the density in grams per milliliter of the gold jewelry.

Compare the density with the standard of different purities of gold. There may be slight differences, but a huge difference means it is counterfeit.

9. Makeup Test

Gold does not react with cosmetic foundations. For this test, apply foundation to your skin, let it dry and then drag your gold piece across it. Fake gold will react with the foundation and leave green or black streaks.

10. Unglazed Ceramic Test

Make sure the ceramic is unglazed. Rub your gold across the ceramic. If you see gold streaks, then your gold jewelry is pure, but if it leaves a black streak, then it is not real gold. You can get the unglazed ceramic online or from your local store. This method usually scratches the gold a bit, so if you can’t risk a scratch or two, skip this one.

11. Take it to a Jeweler

jeweler inspecting how to tell if gold is real

You can take your gold piece to a jeweler to confirm its authenticity. They use the nitric test, also called the acid test method. You can get nitric acid when you purchase an acid testing kit. This kit is specially curated, but the results can be a bit tricky to understand, so it’s better to let an expert do it. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell if unmarked gold is real?

If your gold jewelry is unmarked, you can use other testing methods such as the float test, vinegar test, magnet test, or density test. Even if your gold piece is marked, we still recommend testing it with one or two other methods 

How can you tell if something is gold or gold plated 

Gold plated means a low-end metal like brass or copper is electroplated with a layer of gold. The layer of gold is thin, usually about 0.05% of actual gold or less. To know if your jewelry is gold or gold plated, use various gold testing methods such as the float test, density test, and makeup test.

Separate the Real from the Counterfeit

For us jewelry lovers, there are fewer things more painful than paying good money for a gold piece, flaunting it, and then finding out it’s a fake. You will often be unable to return it or get your money back.

If you’re doing your test at home, use more than one method to confirm if your gold jewelry is real gold. For each method, take caution not to damage your gold piece.

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