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7 Ways to Tell if Gold is Real

Stacks of gold bars.
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Expert jewelers and bullion specialists can easily separate real gold from counterfeit metal, but it isn’t as easy as it looks. There are a lot of ways that you can spot fake gold, and we’re going to go into each one today. By the end of this article, you’ll know X different techniques to tell if gold is real. Then, you’ll be able to identify all sorts of gold jewelry, coins, and bullion, becoming a more experienced collector or investor. 

Counterfeit gold is, unfortunately, everywhere. The recent scandal in China involving 83 tons of fake gold bars shows us just how easy it is to get caught out. Gold has been used as a currency and held incredibly high value for centuries, and for almost as long, people have been creating false precious metals to illegally make money. Unfortunately, many innocent investors have fallen victim to this crime, so it’s more important than ever to educate yourself in matters of counterfeit gold. When you know the different ways to tell if the gold you’re looking at is pure, plated, or completely fake, you’ll be able to make better purchases in the future. 

How To Tell If Gold Is Real

As modern technology has advanced, fake gold has gotten more convincing. Your gold bar might have a stamp stating its purity, but that’s easy to replicate. Your new necklace might feel solid enough, but the plating could peel away at any time. No single test can say for certain if you own real gold, but you can apply many of these techniques in different ways to form a conclusion closer to the truth. Now, let’s dive in and discover 7 new ways you can tell if gold is real or fake. 

Raw gold.

With all the fake gold out there, it's important to know how to spot the real stuff.

 

1. How To Tell If Gold Is Real With The Hallmark Test 

Minted gold or jewelry often features a marking called a hallmark, intended to show the quality or purity of the gold used. This label can also state if your gold is plated, and what other materials may be included. On jewelry, you can often find the hallmark printed on the clasp, or on the inner band of a ring. With gold coins and bullion, the purity is often clearly stated on the metal’s surface. The hallmark test isn’t completely foolproof, as these stamps can be falsified, and even solid gold can come without a hallmark. However, a thorough visual inspection is the best way to start when determining if gold is real. Some jeweler’s marks are small and difficult to see with the naked eye, so a magnifying glass may be helpful. 

Examine every inch of your gold item to find any discerning markings. You may find a stamp showing a number between 1 and 999 which signifies the fineness of the gold used. Another popular grading system uses karats, so watch out for a symbol showing 0-24K. There are a number of different scales and codes used around the world to signify certain metals. Some 18 karat gold may have the number 750 stamped on the surface, while 925 signifies sterling silver. Many different markings are used by jewelers the world over to label their work, so it’s easy to tell if gold is real using these. 

Both of these hallmarks can tell you the percentage of pure gold in your item, but what about plated gold? Minted gold can feature a different marking which states what metal lies beneath the gold plating. Common letters signifying a gold-plated piece include GP (gold plated), GF (gold filled), and GEP (gold electroplated). Gold is often thinly layered over cheaper and stronger metals; popular choices include silver or copper. While an item such as this still contains gold metal, it wouldn’t be considered real gold. 

The final clue you can look for on your visual inspection is discoloration in your piece of gold. You’ll definitely need a magnifying glass for this part, as even the smallest mark can be a sign that your gold is not real. As gold is a soft metal, plated prices can often wear away to reveal the metal beneath. If you can see a different colored material poking through the gold you own, it’s a sign that the item is fake. If you spot discoloration which is silver in color, the metal is likely to be silver or titanium. Any red discoloration is a sign of copper or brass beneath the plating. 

2. How To Tell If Gold Is Real With a Skin Test

While not technically a formal test, you can easily tell if gold is fake by examining how it reacts with your skin. Real gold is completely chemically unreactive; it’s one of the properties which makes this metal so valuable. For this reason, there should be no reaction with your skin when wearing gold jewelry or holding solid gold. Pure gold is hypoallergenic and shouldn’t leave any mark on your skin, but discoloration or other markings are a sign your gold is fake. 

Our skin naturally releases sweat and oils throughout the day, and this can create chemical reactions with certain metals. Silver can leave black marks on the skin, while copper leaves a green stain behind. Pure gold leaves no mark whatsoever, so if a piece of jewelry stains your skin, it isn’t real gold. On the other hand, lower karat gold jewelry can leave a mark on the skin, generally at 14 and below. In this case, you need to use another test to further confirm your conclusion. 

3. How To Tell If Gold Is Real With Vinegar

The vinegar test is a popular and easy choice to check if you have real gold at home. All you need is white vinegar, a common household item, and the gold you wish to validate. The vinegar test is simple to complete and is one of the most popular ways to find out if you own fake gold. You can determine if solid gold, gold jewelry, and anything else made from the precious metal are genuine using this easy test. The clue lies in the acetic acid contained within white vinegar, which will not react with real gold, but changes color when exposed to counterfeit metal. 

To test your gold with vinegar, you can either use just a few drops or fully submerge the item. We recommend starting with a drop test if you’re unsure to avoid doing accidental damage. Fill a liquid dropper with white vinegar from the bottle. With your gold for the testing, set on a paper towel to avoid spillages, add a few drops of vinegar on top of the gold. Next, you need to carefully watch for a reaction; if the vinegar changes color then your gold is not real. If the color doesn’t vary, meaning the metal has not reacted, then you own genuine gold. 

This next method is more ideal if you’re testing a gold chain or other intricate items that are harder to drop vinegar on. Fill a medium-sized glass bowl with white vinegar, and place your gold item inside. Let the bowl sit for 15 minutes before removing your tested metal and rinsing it under clean water. Pure gold will shine after a bath of white vinegar, but any color changes are a sign of counterfeit materials. It’s important to use only white vinegar and no other kind for this test, as a different hue of liquid could falsify the results. 

4. How To Tell If Gold Is Real With The Magnet Test 

One convenient way to test your gold at home is with the magnet test, it’s easy and the results are simple. You can use the magnet test to check if any type of gold is real, as the forces of magnetism cannot lie. Gold as an element is not magnetic, and in fact pure gold has a slight negative susceptibility to magnets, meaning it can repel ever so slightly. The precious metal gold is classed as a diamagnetic or non-magnetic metal, so if you find your gold piece is attracted to a magnet, then it isn’t 100% pure. 

To test your gold’s magnetic properties, you need a ferromagnetic strong magnet. A regular fridge magnet isn’t strong enough, so you may need to buy magnet sticks from a hardware store. To test a metal item, simply hold the magnet close by. If your gold is genuine then there should be no movement whatsoever. However, this simple test isn’t completely accurate. 

Some other metals such as stainless steel can be used to make counterfeit gold, and this will also have no reaction when exposed to a magnetic field. Additionally, gold plated items may be attracted to a magnet. While a gold plated piece wouldn’t be considered real gold, it does contain some genuine material. The precious metal may be layered over a magnetic material such as iron, so you will need to do further tests. 

5. How To Tell If Gold Is Real With The Float Test

The Float Test is a simple term for testing the density of your piece of gold. You can check if the piece of precious metal floats in a glass of water, but you can also take the investigation a step further to get a more accurate reading of gold content. All you need to begin is a container of water large enough that your piece of gold has room to either sink or float. Drop the item into the liquid, and watch to see the results. If the object floats or does not sink to the bottom of the container, this means it is less dense than the water. 

Pure gold has a density of about 19.3g/ml. Clean water is much less dense, so genuine gold would sink straight to the bottom. If the item you test does not sink, this indicates it is either counterfeit of plated gold. In this case, you can use another of our listed tests to further explore the possibilities. If your gold item successfully passes this simple test, it’s another sign that the metal is real. On the other hand, there are plenty of other metals that are denser than water commonly used in counterfeit gold. You can be more certain of your gold’s validity by employing a more accurate density test. 

6. How To Tell If Gold Is Real With a Density Test

To more accurately measure the density of a potential piece of gold, follow these steps. Using the results, you can calculate the exact density of your item and reach one step closer to confirming you have genuine gold. It’s worth noting that if you see any reaction during the density test, between the tested metal and water, it’s probably not gold. Pure gold does not rust, so any reaction with water is a sign of fake pieces. 

1. You need an accurate scale to weigh your gold item. Take a measurement and write down the number in grams. 

2. Next, you’ll need to fill a graduated cylinder or measuring jug and fill it with clean water part-way. Ensuring the container is set on a level surface, take a recording of the current water level in milliliters. 

3. Take the gold item you’re testing and place it inside the container of water. Write down the new water level, making sure that the item is fully submerged. 

4. Now, subtract the first water reading from the second, and you’ll be left with the volume of your gold item in ml. 

5. Finally, use the equation "density equals mass divided by volume" to calculate the density of your piece of gold. Take the mass of your gold item which you recorded in grams, and divide it by the volume figure found in the previous step. The result, which should be taken down in g/ml, tells you the density of the item you’ve tested. 

With this test, you can figure out the exact total density of all the materials used in your gold item. If you got a result of 19.3g/ml or a nearby figure, this is a sign that the gold you own is genuine. If the final number is much further away, it’s likely that your gold is counterfeit. While the density test cannot identify gold alloys or plated metal, it’s still one of the most accurate ways to home test gold. If you want to be certain of the specific gold content of your item, testing at a specialist jeweler is the only option. 

Gold bullion.

Using a nitric acid test kit is one of the most common ways to test if gold is real.

 

7. How To Acid Test Your Gold With Nitric Acid

One of the most popular gold testing techniques for enthusiasts is with a nitric acid test kit. While a little advanced for the casual collector, acid testing gold is a fantastic way to discover the purity of your metal. This is the same high-quality technique that jewelry stores and other experts may apply, as you can determine the exact number of carats your gold bullion or jewelry has. Gold testing kits usually contain a testing stone, several grades of nitric acid, and many of the other supplies you will need. 

We’ll lay out the basic steps to follow to test your gold with nitric acid. However, each testing kit will come with detailed and specific instructions we recommend you follow closely to accurately test your gold. 

1. Take a sharp implement and scratch and inconspicuous place on your gold piece. You need to get past the external layer of metal for an accurate result, just be careful not to do any serious damage. 

2. Add a drop of nitric acid over the scratched area and examine the reaction. Pure gold will not react in any way, while alloyed or plated metal will change color when exposed. A green hue indicates that your gold is a fake piece, but other colors can tell you about the gold content of your item. 

3. If your gold passed the first test, you can get more detailed results using the touchstone included in your kit. Take your gold piece and scape it across the surface of the testing stone to leave a layer of gold behind. Then, add a drop of nitric acid from each bottle in your test kit. The different bottles will be labeled in carats, so make a note of which drop is where. By watching which acids dissolve your gold and which do not, you can work out the purity of your precious metal. 

How To Tell If Something Is Real Gold 

These seven gold testing techniques are easy to perform at home and using each method you can work out if your gold is real. While no single test alone can confirm the validity of your precious metal, a combination of different testing styles should provide the most accurate result. The only way to get a more detailed analysis than what is available here is to take your metal to a professional appraiser, who will be able to use more complex tests.

For example, XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence) machines can tell you the exact composition of a gold piece without harming it in any way. Most collectors and investors won’t have an x-ray machine in the home, so these other tests are a good compromise. Anyone buying gold needs to be aware of the dangers of counterfeit metal, but by learning a few testing techniques, all your subsequent gold purchases will be safer. 

 

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All articles are provided as a third party analysis and do not necessarily reflect the explicit views of GSI Exchange and should not be construed as financial advice.

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