Spotting the difference between real gold and fake gold can be a little precarious. Sometimes, the appearance of jewelry will look gold, but it’s simply gold plated. There are plenty of odd ways that supposedly work to authenticate gold at home. We’ve heard people ask, “What happens when you put gold in bleach?” and “How to check if gold is real with a lighter.” For safety’s sake, we don’t recommend either of those at-home gold tests. So, what ACTUALLY works to see if your gold is real or fake?
We’ve created a simple 5-step process to help you tell if your jewelry is made of real gold, all in the comfort of your own home.
Use these at-home gold tests to authenticate 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 Hamel’s and we’ll test it for you in minutes!
Keep in mind: even if you have a bunch of broken gold jewelry or scrap gold lying around, it can be very profitable to sell!
Simple At-Home Gold Tests:
1) Look for gold hallmarks
The quickest and simplest way to check the authenticity of your gold is to 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).
Is 10k gold any good?
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, like a gold heirloom, 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. It’s not unusual to 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. Discoloration can also appear on your skin when wearing gold jewelry. If your jewelry leaves any green or black discoloration it is not real gold.
2) Is gold magnetic?
Gold is not magnetic. On the other hand, imitation gold and other alloys are, so they will attract a magnet. To perform this at-home gold test, you’ll need a stronger than average magnet. 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 with another method to test your gold’s authenticity from home!
*Note- it is common for the clasp on some gold jewelry to be another metal besides gold. Steer clear of the clasp on your piece when testing with a magnet to prevent any confusion.
3) Perform an acid test to authenticate gold
This at-home gold test may be difficult since it can be hard to obtain nitric acid and there’s always risk involved when bringing any type of acid into your home. If you do perform this task, you should wear a mask since this can be a potential health hazard if not handled properly. 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 allow the acid to saturate the underlying metal.
If the acid produces a green reaction, the jewelry in question 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 no reaction at all—real gold should not react when it comes in contact with nitric acid.
4) Try the streak test with unglazed ceramic
Disclaimer: this technique is a gamble because there is the possibility of damaging your jewelry.
First, find or purchase a piece of unglazed ceramic. If you do not have one readily available, this can be easily purchased at a home improvement store. Then, run the jewelry across the surface of the ceramic, leaving behind a streak of color.
Real gold will leave a gold streak on the ceramic, while fake gold will produce a black streak.
5) Weigh gold
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 gold jewelry. Compare the piece in question to 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.
This at-home gold test can also be performed with water. Place your gold jewelry in a cup of water. Real gold is dense and will immediately sink. Imitation gold will simply float. Additionally, real gold will not rust.
What if I want a professional to examine my gold?
All of these tests can be performed at home; some with more caution than others. However, none of these methods are infallible. The best way to tell if gold is real or not is to have a reputable jewelry buyer take a look at it. This way, you’re able to get an honest assessment of your jewelry or watch from a competent gold buyer.
Most jewelry stores charge a small fee to test if your gold is real, but Leo Hamel’s offers this service for free.
If you are in the San Diego region and would like your jewelry or watches tested to see if they are real gold, fill out this web form or contact us at (619) 299-1500 and we’ll evaluate it for free. If you enjoyed this article about testing your gold to see if it’s real, please share this on Facebook!