How To Determine If Gold Is Real

How to Determine if Gold is Real

So you’ve inherited your great-grandmother’s gold diamond ring or found one at a pawn shop or antique store, and you’re wondering if it’s the real deal? Have you just collected a piece of junk, or have you stumbled upon a goldmine? Here is an explanation of the differences between “real”, “pure”, and “fake” gold, and ten ways to determine if the gold in your possession is, in fact, real.

What is real gold?

“Real gold” is a usually gold alloy, where gold is mixed with other metals (typically silver, copper, zinc, and palladium) to create a solid product. You might have heard of white, yellow, and rose gold. In reality, these colors are achieved by using specific percentages of the metals mentioned above. In contrast, “pure gold” is 100% gold and is relatively soft. A pure gold ring would be more expensive and less durable than a gold alloy.

The purity of gold is described in karats, with 24 karats being 100% gold and 1 karat being 1/24 parts gold and 23/24 parts other metals. The minimum purity or “fineness” in order for a metal to be classified as gold varies around the world. In the U.S., 10 karats is the minimum standard, whereas in Europe, the minimum can be as low as 9 or even 8 karats in some countries.

What is fake gold made from?

Fake gold is either a metal alloy that is less than the minimum karatage to be commercially sold as gold, or jewelry made of a different metal that is then covered with a thin layer or sheet of gold on the outside. These techniques are known as gold plating and gold filling. There are a few simple tests you can do to work out if your gold is real.

10 Simple Tests to Determine if Gold is Real

  • Official markings
This is the simplest test to do, and doesn’t require any special equipment. Examine the jewelry closely to look for the karat stamp and/or “hallmark” (usually located near the clasp on necklaces and bracelets). This will tell you how many parts per thousand are pure gold, and a complete hallmark will also include a maker’s mark, an assay office or town mark (who did the testing and where), and possibly a letter showing the year of testing. As you inspect the jewelry, look for any signs of discoloration or tarnishing, as these will be an indication that it may not be real gold.

  • Magnet test
The magnet test is also very straightforward. Place the ring or other jewelry near a strong magnet (not a refrigerator magnet) to see if the metal is attracted to the magnet. Gold is not magnetic, but some other metals, such as nickel, iron, and cobalt, are attracted to a magnetic field. If the metal is attracted, it may be a fake, having been cast with a magnetic metal and then covered with a thin layer of gold for appearances. It also may be a real gold alloy that uses magnetic metals in the mix. Conversely, if the metal is not attracted to the magnet, either it’s real gold, or it’s a fake that’s made from other non-magnetic metals.

  • Float test
Place the ring or jewelry in water, to observe if it sinks or floats. Real gold will sink immediately to the bottom of the container.

  • Density test
To calculate the density of the piece, first, weigh it in grams. Be aware that any diamonds attached to a ring will add to the weight and make the density calculation less accurate. Then place it in a container of water with exact measurements on the side (in milliliters), noting the level of the water before and after. Now, divide the weight in grams by the volume displacement in milliliters to find the density. A density of 19.32 g/ml indicates pure gold, with a 14 karat white gold alloy having a density of at least 12.6 g/ml. Gold alloys with a karat rating between 14 and 24 will have a density between the two extremes.

  • Bite test
This test can damage the ring (it’s easier to perform on rings than other jewelry) and also your teeth, so proceed to use the bite test with caution. Bite down on the gold and note if the bite mark appears in the ring. The purer the gold, the deeper the bite mark left behind. This test can be deceiving, however, as lead is even softer than gold and the ring will show bite marks if it’s made of lead with gold plating.

  • Skin test
Wearers of fake gold rings will notice a greenish black discoloration on their skin over time, from chemical reactions between the skin and the base and alloy metals. To perform an accelerated skin test, warm your hands until sweaty, and hold the piece of jewelry for a few minutes. The metal will react with the perspiration, creating a greenish black tinge if it’s not real gold.

  • Ceramic plate test
For a ceramic plate test, you will need to source an unglazed ceramic plate or another unglazed ceramic surface (these can sometimes be found in antique stores). Drag the ring or piece of jewelry across the surface of the plate, noting the color of the streak it leaves behind. Real gold will leave a golden streak, whereas other metals will leave a black streak. Note that your piece of jewelry can become damaged during this test.

  • Liquid foundation test
The liquid foundation test gives seemingly opposite results to the ceramic plate test. It’s not entirely reliable, but can be combined with the other tests to give a reasonable indication as to whether the gold is real. Apply liquid foundation and powder to your forehead, and drag the piece across the surface. A black streak on the skin could indicate that the gold is real, especially if you have low iron—this causes the hemoglobin in the skin cells to rise to the surface.

  • Nitric acid test
This is one of the most reliable tests to see if your gold is real. Make a small scratch in the surface of the jewelry and drop a small amount of nitric acid on the scratch. If the gold is fake, the area will turn green. A gold-plated piece made of sterling silver will become milky in color where the acid was placed. If the gold is real, there will be no discoloration or damage, and the drop of nitric acid will remain on the surface as a clear drop of liquid.

  • Professional appraisal
The surest way to determine if gold is real is to take the jewelry piece to a professional consultant who can test it for you. Reputable jewelry dealers often have a gold testing kit that they can use to test your gold for a small fee. If you are selling scrap gold, any reputable gold buyer will be able to tell you if the gold is real and how much it’s worth.


About the author:

Lynn Lewis is a freelance writer and personal stylist based in Los Angeles, CA. She has fashion and jewelry clients throughout LA, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood, including David’s Gold. She loves writing about fashion and accessories. In her free time, she spends her days roaming boutiques to find the newest trends to bring to her clients.


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