How to Tell if Gold is Real With a Lighter

For centuries, gold has remained one of the most sought-after metals for jewelers to forge beautiful pieces from. Gold, like other valuable substances, is the subject of imitation. Thankfully, you can find out if gold is real using something that most people have in their kitchen– a lighter.

How Does The Gold Lighter Test Work?

Gold Lighter Test

The lighter test aims to heat the jewelry you’re testing and see how it reacts. The reaction of gold to heat is different from most other metals. When you expose metals to prolonged heat, they tend to become darker; on the other hand, gold will have a bright reddish flare.

Some metals might also have the reddish flare that gold has; however, they won’t cool like gold will. When real gold cools, it returns to its natural color, while other metals will have a blackish color. The lighter test works by observing the metal to see how the color changes.

How to Perform the Lighter Test on Gold

Using this method, you only need a lighter that produces a constant flame to check if gold is real. The lighter shouldn’t be too small and have enough fuel. Also, you need a plier or something to hold your jewelry with so it doesn’t burn you. Finally, you need to have water nearby to cool the jewelry immediately after testing.

When you have all the necessary tools, follow the easy steps below.

  • Hold your jewelry at a safe distance using the plier.
  • Turn the lighter on and apply its flame to the piece, keeping it on a particular spot for about one minute. You should begin to see the metal react to the heat. If the metal gets darker, it’s likely not real gold; real gold should begin to brighten.
  • Ensure you cool your jewelry with water before you touch it again.

Note: You must only carry out this test with a lighter. Exposing your jewelry to an intense flame like that of a blowtorch can cause it to melt.

What are the Pros and Cons of the Lighter Test?

Before you decide to use the lighter test, it’s essential to know the pros and cons of this method of gold testing.

Pro #1 – It’s Easy and Cheap

The lighter test has one significant advantage– it’s easy and cheap. The ease and inexpensive nature of the test is one of the reasons people have used it for centuries. Pawnshop owners find this method particularly useful since they are presented with fake jewelry quite often.

Con #1 – It’s Inaccurate

The biggest issue with the lighter test is that it’s quite inaccurate. Firstly, most jewelry made of real gold nowadays are further plated so that every piece can have a uniform color. 

Most big jewelry manufacturers get the various parts of a piece from different jewelers. 14-karat white gold pendant from Jeweler A might not look precisely like 14-karat white gold clasp from Jeweler B. To make every piece look uniform with the chain, the manufacturer will plate every piece of the chain with the same color.

When you perform the lighter test on your plated authentic gold jewelry, the plating will blacken, and you’ll think your jewelry is fake. Also, you might melt away the plating, leaving your piece with an uneven look. No big jewelry store will allow you to perform the lighter test on their real gold pieces for the above reasons.

Con #2 – It Can Destroy Your Jewelry Irreparably

Another disadvantage of the lighter test is that it has the potential to destroy your jewelry irreparably. If your jewelry is not real gold, it will be almost impossible to restore the darkened metal to its original state.

Even in the case of plated real gold, no amount of polishing can restore the uniform look the jewelry once had. The only way the jewelry can recover is to have it re-plated.

Con #3 – Cannot be Trusted Below 18-karat Gold

The lighter test works best on high-purity gold, gold from 18 karats upward. If you perform the test on a 14 or 12-karat gold piece, you might get the results of false gold. The inaccurate results would be because the other metal(s) that the jeweler used to alloy the gold might react to the fire first.

Other Ways to Tell If Gold is Real

Since testing gold with a lighter has more cons than pros, below are other ways to tell if gold is real.

1. Magnet Test

gold test magnet
Test Magnet

You can check if your jewelry is real gold by checking if it reacts to a magnet. Real gold isn’t magnetic, so a magnet shouldn’t attract it. However, you might see a reaction on the rare occasion that your gold jewelry consists of a magnetic metal alloy.

The best type of magnet to use for the magnet test is a neodymium magnet. A neodymium magnet is an extremely powerful rare earth magnet. Neodymium magnets are also recommended for this test because they are affordable.

Place your jewelry on a non-magnetic surface (like wood, plastic, or foam) to perform the magnet test. Bring the magnet close to the jewelry and watch out for any reactions. If the jewelry doesn’t move, then it’s likely made of gold. 

This test isn’t conclusive as some other non-magnetic metals look like gold. Also, ignore any reactions on the clasps as jewelers make the string in most chain clasps from iron, which is a magnetic metal.

2. Check for Hallmarks 

Real gold jewelry usually has a hallmark that gives information such as the karat weight and manufacturer’s name. Jewelers write hallmark inscriptions in the United States using the karat system, while European jewelers employ the millesimal fineness system.

Manufacturers usually put the hallmark on hidden jewelry parts, so you might have to look for it carefully. Sometimes, you might need to use a magnifying glass to see the inscription. 

The issue with the hallmark test is that not all real gold jewelry has hallmarks. For instance, antique pieces manufactured before hallmarking became a regular practice won’t have them. Also, hallmarks can wear off as the jewelry keeps coming in contact with your skin.

3. Check for Letter Marks

In many countries, government regulations require jewelers to indicate when their products only contain trace amounts of gold. For example, in the United States, jewelers are not allowed to call a metal gold if it goes beneath ten karats. When manufacturers make these products, they are to give marks that indicate the manufacturing process.

Some typical markers include:

GP – Gold Plated
GE – Gold Electroplated
GEP – Gold Electro Plate

GF – Gold Filled
HGP – Heavy Gold Plated
HEG – Heavy Gold Electroplated

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

4. Density Test

This method would require you to do some mathematical calculations. The calculation will be to find the density of the material you’re testing. As a reference point, the density of 24-karat gold is 19.3g/mL (grams per milliliter); most metals have a lower density than that.

To calculate the density of jewelry you will need a scale that weighs in grams and a container that can measure in milliliters.

Step 1– Place the gold on your scale and note its weight.
Step 2– Note the quantity of water you’re starting the test with.
Step 3– Carefully place the gold into the container, avoiding any spills as you do so. Wait for the water to be settled and record the new quantity.
Step 4– Subtract the previous quantity from the new one.
Step 5– Divide the recorded weight of the jewelry by the answer you got above, and whatever answer you get is the density of the material.

In simple terms, the formula = Gold weight / (Water quantity after – Water quantity before)
Note: Your calculation will hardly give you 19.3g/mL since even real gold metal will contain alloys. However, you should still get a close number. Finally, note that the densities of different kinds of gold vary; for instance, white gold is heavier than yellow.

5. XRF Tester

If you intend to test gold for authenticity frequently, you should think about purchasing an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) thermo testing machine. XRF thermo testing machines work by bombarding the gold with high-energy X-rays or gamma rays. This process of sending high-energy rays is known as excitation.

After excitation, the atoms will emit fluorescent X-rays. The system then analyzes the radiation data to determine the chemical composition of the tested material. Because the machine displays the chemical composition, you can learn the specific purity of the gold jewelry you’re testing.

There are battery-operated, handheld XRF machines. One major perk of using this testing system is that you can use it continuously without endangering your jewelry. Furthermore, you can test other precious metals like palladium, platinum, and silver.

6. Give it To a Jeweler

The surest and most hassle-free way to test if gold is real is to give it to a jeweler. Experienced jewelers have handled more gold than most people will see in their lifetime. Therefore, some can distinguish real gold by simply holding or looking at a piece.

However, a good jeweler will always use machines or other proven methods to test your gold correctly.

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