8 Ways to Tell if Gold is Real

In many parts of the world, gold is the most expensive precious metal due to its rarity and its beauty. Gold is also valuable because you can shape it differently without getting broken or damaged– it’s more resilient than most metals. People have always associated pure gold with wealth and prestige; however, as the famous saying goes, “Not all that glitters is gold.”.

What is Real Gold?

It’s important to know what characterizes pure gold for you to find out if something is pure gold. A vital term you might have heard often used in finding out the purity of gold is karat; the karat system measures the ratio of gold to other alloys in a piece of jewelry. 

Higher amounts of pure gold in a material signify a higher gold purity level. An unmixed portion of gold usually measured 24 karats, and the lower the number of karats, the lesser the purity of the piece of jewelry. For example, an 8-karat piece of jewelry is not as pure as one that is 20-karat.

The most popular purity of gold used for jewelry is 14-karat gold; the reason it’s popular is because of its cost. 18-karat gold in most jewelry stores costs (almost) twice as much as 14-karat gold, while the difference between 14 and 10-karat gold is negligible in most cases.

The standard for what can be classified as real gold varies based on location; in the United States, you cannot sell anything less than 10 karats (58.3% gold) as gold.

You can also measure the purity of gold on the millesimal fineness system. This system works by measuring the parts per thousand of actual gold in the alloy, measuring from 000 to 999/1000. Below is a gold purity chart showing using the karat and millesimal fineness systems.

% of Gold ContentKarat SystemMillesimal Fineness System
58.314k583 (585)

Why is Gold Mixed?

Aside from gold bars, you would hardly find practical use of 24-karat gold materials; the reasons for this are:

1. The Texture

Pure gold is incredibly soft, and the fact it bends so easily makes it a poor choice for jewelry like rings intended to retain their shape. Pure gold is mixed with other alloys to make it have some rigidity.

2. To Get A Particular Shade And Color

The color of 24-karat gold is a very bright shade of orange (brighter than many think it is). In some cases, a manufacturer might be looking for a different shade of gold; they would need to mix the gold with an alloy to produce the desired color. For example, white gold is created by mixing gold with palladium or silver, while copper mixed with gold results in the soft pink complexion of rose gold.

3. To Reduce Its Cost

Pure gold is costly because of its scarcity and the difficulty of processing it. The high cost takes 24-karat gold jewelry out of the reach of many; however, by reducing the purity of gold, manufacturers can make cheaper gold materials.

4. To Prevent Scratches

Ironically, you can easily deface gold despite its durability; however, pure gold scratches easily. Gold is mixed with other metals to protect it from looking rough and unattractive with use.

What is Fake Gold?

Because gold is such a valuable metal, there are many knockoffs and lookalikes, and you might get fooled if you don’t know real gold. Also, you might sell off a piece of expensive gold jewelry for a silly price if you can’t detect the purity of the gold you’re about to sell. Some elements naturally look like gold; however, some people purposely make or use fake jewelry while claiming authentic gold.

Therefore, fake gold is any material with an insufficient quantity of gold or none in its makeup. Explained below are some ways that people can make these knockoffs.

1. Metal Lookalikes

Manufacturers can make several metals look like gold, such as copper, brass, and bronze; a buyer who is untrained in spotting the difference can buy these thinking they just bought gold. However, the value of these metals comes nowhere close to that of authentic gold; for example, the current price of brass is $1.25-$1.92 per pound, while the price of gold is $1,899.35 per Troy ounce, according to businessinsider. These metals also do not have the durability that gold has, so wear and tear are apparent with time.

2. Metals Mixed With Small Portions Of Gold

There are other materials sold that look like real gold but result from mixing small portions of gold with other metals. Jewelers made some of these materials due to gold shortages in times of war or the demand for cheaper jewelry that looked like gold. However, with time, some dubious sellers use them to cheat unsuspecting buyers of what they’re about to purchase.

Common metal mixtures include:

  • Rolled Gold
    Rolled gold is made by heat-fusing a thin layer of gold to one or both sides of brass or copper; the manufacturers roll the mixed material out into sheets. The composition of rolled gold usually consists of at least 5 percent of the total weight. People commonly used rolled gold in the 1920s and 30s for objects such as watches and fountain pens. 
  • Plated Gold
    Manufacturers make plated gold by placing a thin layer of gold onto another metal’s surface by chemical or electrochemical plating; the most common bases are copper or silver. Gold plating was popularized in the 19th century by Daniel Davis Jr, an American science instrument maker. 
    Plated gold is often used in electronics to reduce the corrosion of copper; jewelers also use it in the manufacture of jewelry. The durability of plated gold results from the thickness of the gold plating, whose standard measurement is in micrometers (microns).
  • Washed Gold
    Gold washing puts a thin layer of gold over another metal by dipping or burnishing the metal. The most common base metal used in washed gold is sterling silver.
    Gold-colored jewelry was popularly produced this way in the 1940s due to the shortage in supply of gold during the Second World War. Washed gold is not durable as it typically consists of a 0.175-micron wash thickness. When the wash wears off, you can rewash the metal to restore its appearance.

3. Painted Metal

Another way people try to make gold lookalikes is by painting metal. Painted metal isn’t as hard to detect as the above, but when done right can look very authentic to the unsuspecting. To make painted material look like real gold, you cannot paint it once; instead, it would require the need for layered painting. 

Methods Of Knowing Real Gold

Now that you know how other materials can look like gold, below are some methods you can use to detect if what you have or want to buy is real gold.

1. Let A Jeweler Check It For You

The most reliable method of checking if the gold you have is real or not is to take it to a professional jeweler. The professionals have several very accurate methods of checking the authenticity of your gold, and in many cases, they can detect the purity of the material.

Their experience dealing with authentic and counterfeit jewelry gives them an edge over those regular customers. Some jewelers are so good at their craft that they can detect fake gold without any machine verification; however, as producers of fake gold become more clever, even the professionals would need the help of machines.

2. Testing With Machines

You can check if gold is genuine on your own using some machines that professional jewelers use to get high-accuracy detection of fake gold. You should consider buying an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) Thermo testing machine if you often plan to test gold items.

XRF Thermo testing machines work by bombarding the gold with high-energy X-rays or gamma rays in a process known as excitation. The excited atoms would emit fluorescent X-rays; next, the machine analyzes the radiation reading to detect the makeup of the tested material. Because thermo testing machines would show you the elements that make up your gold, you can know how many karats make up the gold jewelry.

You can use gold testing machines continually without causing any damage to the items as you test them constantly. Also, many of them are usually handheld devices that operate with batteries and can test other precious metals like palladium, platinum, and silver.

3. The Magnifying Glass Test

You can test the authenticity of gold by using a strong magnifying glass to see if the gold displays any unusual properties. Things to look out for under the magnifying glass are:

  1. Shininess and strange color— while authentic gold is a soft bright yellow, it is not too shiny or yellow. Also, if you see any strange color tones, the gold isn’t genuine.
  2. Discoloration— even though gold scratches easily, it is a notoriously chemically inert substance; this makes it resistant to environmental and chemical factors.

4. Look For Hallmarks

Authentic gold products usually have a hallmark; this is a small stamp that indicates the gold’s weight in karat and some instances, the manufacturer’s name and country of origin. The hallmark number used depends on where it was created– in the US, the karat system is the standard, and in Europe, manufacturers use the millesimal fineness system.

The hallmark is usually very tiny and might require you to use a magnifying glass to spot what the manufacturers engraved correctly. However, authentic gold can be without a hallmark if it is a gold article created before the hallmarking system. Also, a piece of gold material that constantly contacts the skin would have its hallmark stamp wear off with time.

5. Look For A Letter Mark

Manufacturers of materials created with tiny quantities of gold are mandated in most parts of the world to mark these items. Markings are put on the materials to indicate that they aren’t authentic gold while detailing the procedure used in making them. Some of the standard markings are:

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

Materials that have these marks do not pass as gold, even though some gold content is in their makeup.

6. Perform A Magnet Test

Gold is a non-magnetic metal; if you place a magnet close to real gold, there should be no attraction. It would be best to get a strong magnet from a hardware store to do this test because regular magnets might not be strong enough. Take note that there might be a reaction if your gold is a mixture that has a magnetic material like iron; however, people don’t often mix magnetic metals with gold.

7. Testing Gold With Vinegar

White vinegar is a solution that consists of acetic acid and water and does not react well with most metals. However, vinegar does not affect gold when it comes in contact with it.

To perform a vinegar test, you need white vinegar and a glass container or liquid dropper. Pour the white vinegar into the glass and place the gold in it; remove the gold from the container after 15 minutes and rinse it. If the material you placed in is real gold, it should shine; if not, it would likely change color.

If you prefer to use a dropper, fill the dropper with white vinegar first. Next, you should place the gold on a flat surface and place a few drops of vinegar on the gold. Wait for about 15 minutes and check for any changes as you did with the glass container.

8. Test The Gold’s Density

This method would involve you doing some calculations to find the density of the material you’re testing. The density of 24-karat gold is 19.3g/mL (grams per milliliter); only tungsten has a very close density to gold, and most metals are lower. To calculate the density of gold, you would need the following materials:

  1. A scale that weighs in grams
  2. A container of water that can measure milliliters.

Step 1– Weigh the gold on your scale.
Step 2– Check the starting quantity of water in your container.
Step 3– Place the gold into the container carefully to avoid spills, wait for the water to settle, and check the new quantity in milliliters.
Step 4– Subtract the quantity before from the after measurement.
Step 5– Divide the weight of the jewelry by the number you got above; the number you get is the density of the material.
The formula in simple terms = Gold weight / (Water quantity after – Water quantity before)

You would hardly get a 19.3g/mL density as the tested material likely has another metal in its composition. However, the closer the number is to the standard density, the more likely it’s authentic gold. Also, bear in mind that different types of gold have varying densities; for example, white gold is heavier than yellow.

The Best Means Of Measurement

There are other means of testing gold authenticity, such as biting, scratching, and placing on the skin. However, some of these other means can be quite impractical, inaccurate, or cause damage to the gold. None of the homemade means of testing is highly accurate, and you should use them in conjunction with each other.

The most accurate way to tell if gold is real is to use machines or take it to a jeweler to test it for you. Machine measurements are better because they check the authenticity of your gold and give you other details such as the composition and the karat value of your jewelry.

Read More: How To Measure Ring Size

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