Gold 101: How to Determine if Your Jewelry is REAL Gold

It’s simple to tell if your jewelry is made of real gold. Use these at-home techniques to test your piece, but remember that none of them are totally error-proof. The most reliable method is to bring the gold into a jeweler like Leo’s and we’ll test it for you in minutes!

Take a Look
Inspect the piece for an official stamp. A magnifying glass may be helpful for this step. The stamp will show the purity of the gold in karats (10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, or 24k) or fineness (1-999 or .1-.999). Pure gold is 24k, while anything less than 10k is not considered real gold in the United States. Keep in mind that if it’s an older piece, the stamp may not be visible anymore due to wear or previous repairs/work. It’s also important to realize that even fakes can have an authentic looking stamp, so you may need to investigate further than just a visual inspection.

Another easy thing to look for is discoloration. You might find discoloration from wear on the edges of the piece or in areas that experience heavy friction—the key is what’s underneath the gold that’s coming off. If wear reveals another metal underneath the gold layer, your jewelry is probably gold plated, not 100% gold.

Magnet Test
Gold is not magnetic, but many of the metals people use to make fake gold are. You’ll need a fairly strong magnet for this test—a refrigerator magnet may not be strong enough, so look for a better one in a hardware store, a woman’s purse clasp, or even children’s toys. If the jewelry in question is attracted to the magnet, it’s not real gold. On the flip side, just because it’s not attracted to a magnetic material does not necessarily mean it’s real gold either—non-magnetic metals are used in counterfeit pieces too. You must dig deeper!

Nitric Acid
This test may be difficult since it can be hard to obtain nitric acid and there’s always risk involved when brining any type of acid into your home. If you’re uncomfortable with this process, leave it to the professionals! Many jewelers use the nitric acid method to determine the authenticity of gold jewelry. Drop a small amount of nitric acid onto the piece and look for a reaction. If the jewelry is gold plated, you may have to make a tiny scratch in the metal to get allow the acid to saturate the underlying metal. If the acid produces a green reaction, the piece is probably a base metal or gold plated. A white, milky reaction is most likely indicative of gold plating over sterling silver. What you really want to see is nothing at all—real gold should not react when it comes in contact with nitric acid.

Unglazed Ceramic Plate
Disclaimer: this technique may scratch your piece! Rub the jewelry on a piece of unglazed ceramic—this can be easily purchased at a home improvement store. Real gold will leave a gold streak on the ceramic, while fake gold will produce a black streak.

Compare Weights
Using a balance scale (or any scale that is able to measure small changes in weight—i.e. your bathroom scale will not work), weigh two pieces of jewelry—the piece in question as well as a similarly sized piece that you’re sure is real gold. Since gold is much heavier than almost all other metals, you’ll be able to tell if your item is real if it weighs about the same amount as the authentic piece you’re comparing it to.

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