How to Tell If Gold is Real

May 21, 2020
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A surprisingly common question we receive is how to tell if your gold jewelry is real. The easiest way to know is to take it to a jeweler. A professional, like Stewart Kuper Jewelers, can also tell you more about your jewelry, such as the value and how many karats it is. 

If you cannot get to a jeweler, there are a few at-home options you can try. However, some of these methods can damage jewelry, so only use them on pieces you own and aren’t worried about damaging. 

Check for a Gold Stamp

The simplest and quickest way to verify if your gold is real or not is to check for a Gold Jewelry Stamp. This is a small stamp in an unseen place that marks the karat of the piece and the manufacturer’s stamp.

Look for the following:

  • 10K Gold: 10K, 417 (41.7% gold)
  • 14K Gold: 14K, 14K P, 585 (58.5% gold)
  • 18K Gold: 18K, 750 (75% gold)
  • 22K Gold: 22K, 917 (91.7% gold)
  • 24K Gold: 24K, 999 (99.9% gold)

If the gold is below 10 karats it can’t legally be marked/sold as gold in the U.S. If you see something labeled 10K or less, it’s not “real” gold. Another exception is that older jewelry doesn’t always have this mark.

However, the stamp may not be accurate! Forgers will commonly recreate this mark on fake gold pieces. 

Is It Magnetic?

Real gold is not magnetic. But this test isn’t as simple as taking a magnet from your refrigerator and putting it to your jewelry. To properly see if your gold is real or not, you will need to pick up a heavy-duty magnet from your local hardware store or a jeweler’s magnet. 

If the magnet is strong enough, fake gold will be attracted to it. Real gold will not be affected. 

Does it Sink or Float?

Assuming the piece of jewelry is light enough, you can try dropping it into a glass of water. Fake gold will float, while real gold will sink. This test depends solely on the initial weight of the jewelry and will not work for heavier items or items with gemstones. 

Is It Tarnished?

If your gold jewelry is fading, rusting, spotting, or fogging over time, it is more than likely not pure gold. Gold alloys, which make up a majority of gold jewelry, are prone to tarnishing over time. Thankfully, this tarnish can easily be removed. 

Pure gold will never tarnish or rust. 

Does it Stain Your Skin?

If you take off a gold piece of jewelry and notice it left an unsightly green or black mark on your skin, then it is not real gold. You can combat this by applying a thin coat of clear nail polish to the back of the piece of jewelry so it doesn’t come into direct contact with your skin. 

If the gold is real, it will not stain your skin. 

Testing its Sound

If you have keen hearing, you can test thicker pieces of gold, such as coins, by listening to the sound it makes when it’s struck. This is known as the “ping” test. Precious metals will make a resonating, high-pitched ringing sound. Faux gold will sound duller and the ring will be shorter. 

You can test this by balancing your coin or piece of jewelry on the end of your finger and tapping it with a coin. 

Ceramic test

The final simple way to test your gold is by using ceramic. This could damage your gold and ceramic, so use caution with this method. All you have to do is drag the gold across a ceramic plate using light pressure. If you see a gold mark left on the plate, then the gold is real. If the mark is black, it’s fake. 

Nitric Acid Testing

This test is for trained professionals ONLY. Do not use nitric acid without hand and eye protection. It can cause severe burns if it comes in contact with your skin and is extremely toxic. It should not be handled by anyone other than those trained to use it.

This test does require lightly damaging the piece of jewelry, so do not do this if you do not want to harm the gold. 

To test your gold using nitric acid, make a small scratch on the surface of the gold in an unseen area. Place a drop of nitric acid on the scratch and observe it. If the spot the acid came into contact with turns green, then the gold is fake. If the spot looks milky, then it is probably gold over a sterling silver core. If nothing happens, then it is real gold. 

If you’re interested in learning more about gold, check out our past FAQ on gold jewelry! 

At Stewart Kuper Jewelers, we purchase your unloved gold, jewelry & diamonds that you no longer wear. Book your personal appointment today! Call 520-750-0050.