A comprehensive guide on how to distinguish genuine gold from fake or counterfeit materials, featuring simple tests and expert tips for accurate results.

How to Tell if Gold is Real

Real gold rings and gold bands

Gold is a highly desirable precious metal that has been an icon for decades. Today, the demand for gold, the amount of gold in the central bank reserves, the value of the U.S. dollar, and the desire to hold gold as a hedge against inflation and currency devaluation, all contribute to driving up the price of this valuable metal. The term “real gold” does not necessarily mean that the piece of jewelry is made of pure gold. Real gold refers to a solid gold alloy, whose gold content is above a certain threshold. In the United States, pieces containing less than 58.3% gold, or 10 karats, are not considered gold for commercial purposes.

As the price of gold continues to rise rapidly, the amount of false gold circulating the market is as well. It is remarkable how precise people can replicate counterfeit gold to look real, and the average person would not be able to determine the real from the fake. You may have a golden necklace or bracelet lying around, and you want to know if you can make some money by bringing it to a place that buys gold jewelry near you. You want to know if it’s real gold before taking it to the pawnshop so that you do not waste your time. Even when fake gold appears indistinguishable from real gold, there are still ways for you to tell them apart. In this article, we’ll discuss the many ways you can test for real gold at home.

Check for a Hallmark

Nearly all real gold is stamped with a purity hallmark that indicates the karat weight of the jewelry, like 10K or 14K. This stamp is usually located on the clasp of a necklace or bracelet, or on the inner band of a ring. Look for small numbers or signs of imprinting on the jewelry. Be aware that some regions of the world will stamp their jewelry differently than others. American jewelry will be stamped with a number followed by the letter “K”, indicating how much of the metal is actually gold. European gold is marked with the gold content expressed as a decimal.

If you can locate this engraving, there is a chance you own real gold. However, the engraving could also be fake. The purity hallmark is a good clue to start your testing, but you should continue to conduct further tests to authenticate your item.

Look for Discoloration

Sometimes, a piece of jewelry is gold plated or gold filled. If scratched hard enough, the metal beneath the gold surface will be revealed, indicating that the item is not pure gold. Check for any scratches under which the metal below is visible or discolored spots where the top layer has been rubbed off. These are signs that the jewelry is just layered with gold, and not made entirely of it.

Real gold will not change color or rust like most other metals. If your piece of jewelry displays any silver, green, or different colors, you can be sure that it isn’t real gold. If you wear the jewelry in water and discover discoloring on your skin, this also indicates that the jewelry isn’t real gold.

The Scratch Test

This test requires you to have either a black jeweler’s stone, an unglazed ceramic plate, or an unglazed porcelain tile. Take the material of your choice and firmly rub it across the gold jewelry. Apply enough pressure to leave a mark, but without seriously damaging the item. Next, take a look at the color of the produced streak. Real gold will show a golden, yellow color. If you see a black streak, then you either have pyrite or fake gold.

You risk damaging your gold if you perform this test improperly. By scratching the gold, you can cause irreplaceable damage and risk altering its value. There are other harmless methods you can use to authenticate pure gold.

The Magnet Test

Hold a magnet up to the item and see if there is an attraction. Gold is not a magnetic metal, so if your piece of jewelry sticks to the magnet, it is fake. However, just because there is no reaction to the magnet does not mean it is real. Some counterfeit gold pieces use non-magnetic metals as a way to trick people.

The magnet test is an easy test, but it is not a full-proof way to determine whether your gold is real.

Gold bars from small to large

The Density Test

Pure gold is heavy due to its high density; there are very few metals that are heavier than gold. Grab a cup of water and place your gold piece into the water. If it’s genuine gold, it will immediately sink to the bottom. If your gold item floats or hovers above the cup’s bottom, then it’s either fake or plated gold. As a rule of thumb, the higher the density, the purer the gold.

The issue with this test is that it is very difficult to come up with a reliable benchmark as to how dense an alloy of a certain karat might be. Additionally, fake items can have other heavy metals that sink just as well as gold does. This is why the density test should only be a preliminary method.

The Acid Test

Real gold will not react to nitric acid. Scratch lightly on the surface of the piece of jewelry and apply a small amount of nitric acid on it using a dropper. If there is no reaction, the item is probably made from real gold. A milky substance means that the item is gold-plated sterling silver and a green-colored reaction indicates that your item is a base metal or gold plated.

The Gold Acid Test is the most popular and accurate method to authenticate gold at home. However, due to the difficulty of acquiring the acid, and the safety risks of doing this in your home, it may be best to leave this test to a reputable jeweler.

Ask an Expert

If you have performed all of the tests mentioned above and are still unsure if your gold is real, ask an expert at a reputable pawn shop that buys gold near you. A professional jewelry dealer will have the best testing kits that can be used to quickly determine if something is real gold or fake. Do your research to find a reliable and honest gold buyer to get an honest and fair assessment of the true value of your scrap gold.

Back to blog