Real vs. Fake – How to determine if your item is gold or not

All that glitters truly is not gold. The jewelry industry is rife with imposters, from gold-plated sterling silver to under 10k gold masquerading as its more valuable pure 24k cousin. While it’s a bit difficult to verify the authenticity of gold, with a little help and a light touch, you can do your best to find answers.

THE TAG TEST: You may be able to avoid performing a battery of tests on your piece by simply digging out your grandmother’s old magnifying glass. Inspect the piece all over. Keep an eye out for the metal’s karat notation, which may be inscribed somewhere on its surface. Anything 10k or greater is considered real gold. A few words of caution: if you’re dealing with an heirloom, time could easily obscure this tag. Additionally, many counterfeit pieces include this marking so as to improve their masquerade, and some European pieces may carry different markings altogether. It’s a good idea to seek the advice of a jeweler or appraiser.

THE BLEMISH TEST: While you’ve got your magnifying glass out, take another look over the piece, this time keeping an eye out for any kind of discoloration in areas receiving the most friction, that is, the parts of the piece in most frequent contact with your skin (for a ring, this would be the inside surface and edges).  Look for any sort of green or black discoloration. If it appears the surface of the gold is rubbing off to reveal a different metal below, your piece is probably merely gold-plated. Make sure to pay extra attention to clasps and edges.

THE BITE TEST: This one’s a bit old-fashioned. Follow in the footsteps of old-time gold diggers and Olympic champions and bite down on the piece in question. Real gold should be ductile enough for your teeth to leave behind impressions in its surface. The deeper the marks, the purer the gold. However, this test isn’t usually recommended, unless you’re in the market for a dented piece of fine jewelry or a broken tooth.

THE MAGNET TEST: For this test, you’ll need a reasonably strong magnet, anything from something industrial purchased at a hardware store to the latch on your favorite purse. If your piece is at all attracted to the magnet, if it’s drawn towards it or if it sticks to its surface, it’s a fake. Gold is not a magnetic metal, and the presence of a magnet should have no effect on it. However, gold can be faked with other nonmagnetic metals, so this test can only give you an absolute negative.

There are two additional tests you can employ, but it involves measuring density, or the application of nitric acid which we feel falls into the “don’t try this at home” category. While nitric acid kits are available on Amazon for home use, they can be dangerous and why risk damaging your jewelry?

As you can see, testing gold for its authenticity can be difficult and inconclusive. If you find yourself stuck, or not wanting to go borrow your son’s calculator, take your piece to an appraiser or trusted jeweler. Or better yet, contact us, we’d be happy to help.