How To Tell If Gold Is Real

The quintessential symbol for status, power, and wealth is gold.

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How To Tell If Gold Is Real

The quintessential symbol for status, power, and wealth is gold, often reserved only for royalty.

There are many different accounts of when the first gold mining operations were established and operated. Some believe it began with the ancient Egyptians in 3,100 BCE. However, archaeological sites like the over-6,000-year-old mines of the Asos region of Ethiopia and the 5,500-year-old Sakdrisi mine of Georgia put the systematic practice of gold mining back several thousands of years earlier. Some mines in South Africa may be older than others.

Ancient Egyptians believed that gold was the flesh and blood of Ra, the sun god. Gold is luxurious and valuable because it is beautiful and easy to work with. It doesn't tarnish or rust, and it doesn't dissolve (except by aqua regia, which is the name of nitrohydrochloric acids used in the test mentioned below). However, it is not easy to extract gold: Only 50 grams are made from a ton of ore. It is also an excellent electrical conductor, which is why it's used in so many technological devices.

Ways To Test Gold Authenticity

This article will discuss several home tests that you can use to determine if your gold is real gold.

Stamp Test: Look For Hallmarks

A hallmark is an engraving that identifies the content of a piece of jewelry made from gold. The hallmarks are usually hidden discreetly, such as inside a ring.

Karats and millesimal finesse determine standard purity scales. If you want to verify that your gold is genuine, the hallmark test (also known as the magnifying glasses test) is a great place to start.

  • Under the Karat System, valid purity numbers include 8k, 9k, 10k, 14k, 15k, 18k, 20k, 21k, 22k, 23k, and 24k.
  • Under the Millesimal Fineness System, valid purity numbers include 333, 375 or 417, 583, 625, 625, 750 and 833, 875 to 916, 958, 999
  • False purity numbers (anything else than the above)
  • Manufacturer (like ESPO for Esposito, etc.)

To provide further credibility to a piece of gold's authenticity and make it easier for you to verify and identify it, hallmarks are used to show its purity and manufacturer. This level of testing is not foolproof, as anyone can engrave any mark they want.

You have fake gold if the numbers are anything but the ones above. 800, 925, and 950 are not numbers that refer to gold. They are for silver. Why would they put 925 on gold when used for silver? This is often because the jewelry is usually gold-plated with sterling silver.

You should also check for marks that indicate whether the value was measured with the karat system or millesimal fineness system. Any other numbers would mean fake gold.

Some jewelry made of real gold may not have hallmarks. For example, some older pieces might have original markings worn away.

Lookout For Letter Markings

All gold marked below 10k (41.7% purity) is considered fake.

The following markings will be easy to recognize for anyone who is familiarized with the various levels of quality:

  • GP
  • GF
  • GE
  • GAP
  • HGP
  • HEG

If you are looking for genuine gold, it is best to avoid the following designations. All indicate gold plating:

  • Gold Plated
  • Gold Filled 
  • Gold Electrode
  • Electro-Plated Gold
  • Heavy gold plating
  • Heavy gold electroplated

These markings show that only a tiny amount of gold was used in covering a piece made from another type of metal to give it the appearance of gold.

You can see how the higher purity levels stack up against each other by looking at 24k and 18k gold. 24k gold is 99.9% pure, while 18k is 75%. Unfortunately, it is rare to find 100% pure gold. Pure gold is an incredibly soft metal and would not make for durable jewelry.

Skin Test: Look For Bluish Greenish Tints On Your Skin

The skin test involves holding a piece of gold jewelry in your hands for just a few minutes. Your skin's perspiration will react to the metal, changing the color of your skin or leaving it unchanged. There is no discoloration when real gold comes in contact with skin. Fake gold can cause the skin to turn dark blue or green at contact points.

This exception is made if you apply liquid foundation to your skin and test it on gold. Your skin will become blackened at the contact points of gold. This test is more reliable if you remove all makeup before testing.

You can also use makeup to check for gold authenticity. First, apply a liquid foundation to your skin and add powder. After the makeup has dried completely, rub the jewelry gently against your skin. If there is a dark streak on your makeup from the jewelry, it could be real gold.

Authentic gold jewelry won't cause the skin to turn yellow, as it is non-reactive. The makeup test can be used to verify if the jewelry is genuine.

Discolorations in gold jewelry indicate that there is an alloy mixed in as well.

Test Of Size And Weight

This test applies to coins and bars. You can:

  • Compare the gold that you are interested in testing with one that is already proven to be real gold
  • You can use a set of calipers and a scale for jewelers, or a Fisch Tester

Gold is denser than most other metals. Therefore, you may have fake gold if your piece is too large or too small for its weight.

Bullion coins are real coins made of precious metals like gold, silver, and palladium. They can be used as investments or collectibles.

The Magnet Test

Watch for a reaction by placing a strong magnet near a piece of gold. The attraction of magnets to gold is unlikely because it is non-magnetic. You most likely don't have actual gold if it is magnetic.

Some base metals that can mix with gold can also be non-magnetic, so it is possible to get a false reading. This test is not foolproof, so it's a good idea that you do it in conjunction with another method.

The Float Test

Drop the piece in a glass of water. Real gold is dense. If it doesn't float at all or hovers over the bottom of the container, you may have real gold.

Ceramic Scratch Test

Grab an unglazed ceramic plate or tile piece, and rub a bit of gold on its surface. A trail of gold or gold marks will be left by real gold. Other metals will leave a black trail.

The Water Test/The Density Test

A calculation is used here. This is what you will need:

  • A scale to weigh the jewelry
  • A water container
  • A way to measure water levels in millimeters or the levels before and after the jewelry is placed into the water.

Do the following calculation: Subtract the "before" and the "after" measurements. Then, divide the jewelry's weight by the difference in water levels. This will give you the density.

The standard density for real gold is 19.3g/mL. Therefore, this figure, or something very close, is likely to be real gold.

Density can be used to determine the authenticity of gold. However, there may be differences between types of gold. The purer the gold, the heavier it is. For example, 14k- 22k gold density will range between 12.9 to 17.7 for yellow and 14 to 17.8 for white.

Acid Tests

Vinegar Test

The only requirement for this test is to apply a few drops of vinegar to the metal.

There will be no color change if the metal is genuine gold. However, fake gold will cause the metal to change in color.

Nitric Acid Test

Gold is a noble metal which means it is resistant to oxidation, corrosion, and acid. First, rub your gold on a piece of black stone to make a visible mark. Then, apply nitric acid on the spot.

The acid will dissolve any base metals other than genuine gold.

Apply nitrohydrochloric acid, also known as aqua regia (75% hydrochloric and 25% nitric acids), to the mark. If the mark disappears, you have real gold because this mixture dissolves gold.

The Machine Test

Electronic Tester (Sigma Metalycs Machine)

The Sigma Metalytics Precious Metal Verifier has a calibrated accuracy of 0.1 millimeters, which allows it to differentiate between different metals in a matter of seconds. This equipment can be used to measure bullion and coins. However, Sigma Metalytics recommends using the Kee Gold Tester to test for fake gold jewelry.

The machine transmits electromagnetic waves into the item, which pass through any surface materials, such as wrapping or plating, to determine the resistance of the metal underneath. The meter display shows a range of resistance consistent or not with the resistance of the metal it has been calibrated to detect.

XRF Spectrometer

The machine sends X-rays through gold to excite its atoms and create a higher energy state.

Radiation is released when excited atoms return back to their normal state. The machine monitors and analyzes this radiation, which then identifies the material using the radiation reading. This method is a fast and accurate way to determine if you have real or fake gold.

These methods do not cause any chemical or mechanical damage to your piece.

The Fail-Safe Test

The best way to find out how much gold you have in your gold is to take it to a trusted jeweler to have it tested.

The public has many options for confirming the gold content of jewelry. Experience is the best way to verify gold content. However, those trying to pass off lesser metals like real gold have become more sophisticated in their "craft," so even the jeweler may have to resort to a machine for verification.

Many home tests can help you determine if your gold is genuine. However, they all show probability, and they do not prove 100%.

A reputable jeweler can help you determine if your gold is genuine.

So take the guesswork out of the equation and bring your unwanted precious metals down to AU Precious Metal Solutions, and we will let you know if your gold is real.