Because of how valuable and beautiful gold is, some jewelers have developed ways of making gold lookalikes. If you suspect your new piece isn’t made of real gold, there are simple ways to find out. One simple method of testing gold in the comfort of your home is with vinegar.
The Step-by-Step Process of Testing Gold with Vinegar
To test gold with vinegar, you need a few simple tools:
- White Vinegar
- A bowl
Follow the steps below once you have the tools you need:
Step 1 — Wipe the jewelry properly to prepare it for the test.
Step 2 — Use the eyedropper to suck some vinegar, up to about half its capacity.
Step 3 — Put the jewelry into a bowl and press a few drops of vinegar directly onto it. Placing the ring in a bowl would keep the vinegar from sliding off, making your test result more conclusive.
Step 4 — Leave the jewelry in the bowl for 15 minutes and return to check the result. If you notice any reactions, such as the jewelry turning black or green, then it isn’t made of real gold. Gold doesn’t react with the acetic acid in white vinegar, unlike some other metals, so your jewelry could be real gold.
Step 5 — Rinse your jewelry after getting the result and clean it properly with a microfiber cloth to remove all traces and smell of vinegar. Vinegar can also be used to clean gold jewelry.
How Does the Gold Test on Vinegar Work?
Vinegar is a very acidic solution that can dissolve the coating or gold plating some jewelers use to create gold lookalikes. As the plating dissolves, it leaves behind a green or black color on the surface of your jewelry. Leaving the jewelry in vinegar for longer can cause the discoloration to increase,
There’s a possibility of your metal dissolving if you leave it in vinegar for long enough. Some metals most vulnerable to vinegar’s powers are aluminum, copper, and iron. On the other hand, gold is a very stable metal and doesn’t change color with prolonged exposure to vinegar.
Gold has a unique reaction to vinegar as instead of the solution causing harm to gold, it cleans it. The acetic acid present in white vinegar dissolves any build-up of chemicals on your gold jewelry.
Is the Vinegar Test Safe for Gold?
Using vinegar to test gold is safe since the solution cannot harm real gold jewelry. Your gold jewelry would look cleaner after the test, as some people use vinegar as a cleaning agent. It’s also safe to turn vinegar down the drain since it has no adverse effects on the pipes in your drainage system.
What Type of Vinegar is Good to Test Gold?
Since there are different types of vinegar, it’s important to know the type that works well for testing gold. The most suitable type of vinegar is white vinegar, which is easy to get in grocery stores. You can also use a Heinz Multipurpose Vinegar. It’s not yet proven that apple cider vinegar would work for this test; however, any type of vinegar you use must be high in acidity.
Other Ways to Test Gold
Aside from using vinegar, there are other ways to test if your jewelry is real gold.
1. Scratch Test
You need a piece of unglazed ceramic plate or tiles to perform the scratch test. Scrape a piece of gold across the ceramic surface and carefully observe the marking that it leaves. Authentic gold will leave a gold-colored streak; other metals usually leave a black mark on ceramic.
Because gold is a soft metal, this test will also leave a scratch mark on your jewelry.
2. Magnet Test
Gold isn’t a magnetic metal, so bringing a magnet close to it should be no reaction. Also, jewelers rarely use magnetic alloys to create gold. Therefore, using the magnet test, you can check if your jewelry is real gold.
Neodymium magnets work best for this test because they are extremely powerful rare earth magnets. They are also very affordable and easy to buy.
Once you have your neodymium magnet, place the jewelry on a non-magnetic surface. Bring the magnet close to the jewelry and observe any reactions. If you don’t see any movement, your jewelry is likely made of gold.
When you conduct the magnet test, try to move the clasps as far away from the magnet as possible. Jewelers commonly use magnetic metals to make clasps, especially the types that have spring mechanisms.
3. Letter Marks
The fact that some gold content is present in a piece doesn’t qualify it as gold. In the United States, the law requires all jewelry marked as gold to be at least ten karats in purity. Jewelers should disclose when their piece is a lookalike with some gold content.
Some standard markings that you’ll find on jewelry are:
GP – Gold Plated
GF – Gold Filled
GE – Gold Electroplated
GEP – Gold Electro Plated
HGP – Heavy Gold Plated
HEG – Heavy Gold Electroplated
All items with any of the above marks are not gold jewelry.
Hallmark are inscriptions that a jeweler puts on their jewelry to give basic information about the jewelry. Jewelry hallmark contains the gold purity, manufacturer’s name, designer name, and year of production. In the United States, jewelers use the karat system, while Europeans use the millesimal fineness system.
The hallmark is usually placed in parts of the jewelry where it’s barely visible. You might need to use a magnifying glass to locate and see what is inscribed on the piece.
Don’t discard any piece without a hallmark as fake, as some vintage and antique pieces do not have them. The absence of a hallmark might be because the piece was made in a country where hallmarking isn’t compulsory. The hallmark might also have worn off as the jewelry touches the wearer’s skin.
5. Magnifying Glass
Observing some of its physical properties with a magnifying glass lets you know if a piece is made of real gold. Some things that you should observe under a magnifying glass are:
- Discoloration— Because gold is soft, it doesn’t scratch easily. However, gold is chemically inert and resists chemical and environmental factors well. As a result, your gold piece will not discolor with age.
- Shininess and Strange Color— Gold has a soft bight yellow, and any strange color tones indicate that your piece is fake. Even variations like white and rose gold usually have a uniform color around the piece.
6. Machine Test
You can test the genuineness of gold with the high-accuracy machines that professional jewelers use. Apart from the reliability of the results, these machines do not degrade or wear out your piece like some other test methods. If you plan to test gold regularly, it’s worth investing in an X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) Thermo testing machine.
XRF Thermo testing machines bombard the jewelry with high-energy gamma or x-rays, exciting its atoms. The excited atoms then emit x-rays, whose radiation the machine analyzes to detect what the material is made of. The accuracy of this test informs you of the purity of your gold jewelry, and you can use it to test other metals too.
Is Vinegar the Best Way to Test Gold?
While vinegar is a great way to test gold at home, it isn’t the best. Testing gold with vinegar is better than methods like scratch or lighter tests since it leaves no harm on your jewelry. Also, white vinegar is inexpensive, and you might even have it in your kitchen already, so you don’t have to spend much on this test.
Professionals do not use the vinegar test often because it is not as accurate as other methods of testing gold. The results aren’t as accurate because gold isn’t the only metal unreactive to vinegar. Therefore, you must combine the vinegar method with others to ensure your result.
Machines are superior for testing gold because the results are accurate and conclusive. Also, the machines can tell you the jewelry’s make-up and purity if your gold is alloyed. Because of the accuracy of machines, they are the means that professional jewelers use to determine what’s real gold.