Gold is the oldest precious metal known to man. Evidence of its extraction and use goes back to 6000 years ago. Its appealing color, ease of processing, electrical conductivity, and chemical properties made it accessible for various purposes. In addition, it is one of the most durable of metals, it does not tarnish or react with almost any everyday chemical, so it was believed to be indestructible. This and the fact that it’s rare and difficult to extract made it the most valuable of commodities in the old world.
10 Ways to Tell if Gold is Real
Even today, gold is considered one of the most precious possessions a person can have. There are different ways some have tried to increase the gain from gold. Mixing it with other metals, especially lead, plating the objects with thin layers of gold, or using materials of a similar color, many have tried to sell a less-of-an-ounce-worth of gold. Thankfully, there are many ways to tell if the item is made of pure gold or not. Here are the 10 most common.
Try to find the gold’s official number marking
Though not all items made of real gold have official hallmarks due to aging and the fact that gold gradually changes shape over time, it is a reliable yet simple start of telling if the gold is fake. These hallmarks come in a few different forms. The three most common hallmarks found are the ones that mark the manufacturer (usually three letters or abbreviations), karat system, or Millesimal Fitness numbers.
It is good to read these because sometimes these hallmark characters can tell straight if the gold is inaccurate.
- Brand abbreviations are easy to assess by checking the way the alleged manufacturer stamps its gold. Some put the actual name of their company, while others use official three-to-four character abbreviations.
- The Karat system weighs the gold in an item, and through this, it assesses its purity. The official karat numbers are 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24k.
- The Millesimal Fitness system refers not only to gold but other metals. The purity stamps that refer to gold are 333, 375, 417, 583 in one system and 585, 625, 750, 833, 875, 916, 958, and 999 in the other. Any other number imprinted on an item means the item is not made of gold, but either fake gold or plated with gold with some different base (silver, lead, etc.)
Check for a particular letter marking that indicates the gold is not pure
There are different letter markings that straight away tell you if the gold is pure or better if it’s not. Below is the list of letter stamps that indeed show the item is not pure gold:
- GP – gold plated
- GF – gold filled
- GE, GEP – gold electroplated
- HGP – heavy gold plated
- HEG – heavy gold electroplated
Search for discoloration where gold has worn away
If the item fails to provide you with an appropriate stamp, take a good look at it. If you find any discoloration you may come across under the shiny golden surface of the item is a definite mark the thing is fake gold or gold-plated at best. The discoloration usually has grey or silver-ish notes and darker tones that indicate the item is made of different materials.
Search for discoloration on your skin after holding the gold
If you are about to purchase a gold item or you are suspecting the one in your possession is not made of pure gold, feel free to hold it in your palm for a few minutes. Close the palm and let the skin perspire a little. After a few minutes, open your hand, and if you see any discoloration on your skin, you probably haven’t held pure gold at that moment.
Gold is known to be inert, or as we already mentioned, it doesn’t react to other chemicals, even the complex and corrosive chemical structure of human sweat. Therefore you should never have changes in color on your skin when wearing or holding items made of pure gold. Instead, it’s the presence of other elements and compounds in gold alloys that create these discolorations. The most common ones are black, red, blue, and green.
One exception is the makeup or any other agent put on the skin. These chemicals can leave colored traces in contact with gold, so it is best to keep your hands clean when conducting this test. There is an alternative suggestion to the gold test that includes using makeup. Note that this is not a particular way of determining whether the gold is accurate, as some compounds present in the potential alloy may act the same as gold.
Drop the gold into the water and see if it will sink
If the item passes the test, it won’t tell you for certain the gold is accurate; you will be sure the gold is fake if it fails. The passing grade for this test is sinking. We here go by the logic that gold is denser than water. If the item floats, water is more viscous, meaning there is no way the item is made of pure gold. Many other compounds and elements are denser than water, so additional tests are required to assess the purity with certainty if the item sinks.
According to a legend, a famous Greek philosopher Archimedes famously shouted ‘Eureka’ when he allegedly devised a way of telling if an item is of real gold with great certainty. It involves the fact that pure gold has a typical density. Though it is not easy to conduct this test on small items, larger items can be tested this way. First, we need to weigh the item to determine its precise weight. After that, we sink it in the water, of which we know the accurate volume, and we measure the difference in volume when we sink the item.
This is most easily done in a container that has volume gradients. After that, we divide the item’s weight with the difference in volume (that’s the item’s volume), and anything below 19.3 g/cc is fake gold. Gold is the heaviest ordinary object, followed by lead which is 11.35 g/cc. So if you get anything heavier than 19.3 g/cc, you most probably have something more valuable than gold, which should not be expected.
Put a strong magnet against the gold to see if it will stick
Another test that, if the item fails, will tell you for sure that you don’t have pure gold in your hands is using a strong magnet. The most robust standard magnetic alloy now is neodymium, but it is expensive and not easy to find. If the item is attracted to an appeal, the article fails the test. It means there are ferromagnetic materials in the structure, and the item is not pure gold.
Pure gold is not attracted to magnets under normal circumstances. No magnetic reaction, just like water, shouldn’t end the testing because many gold alloy components are also not ferromagnetic. This is why your test shouldn’t end there, but it is a good indicator that you should proceed.
Rub the gold against an unglazed ceramic and see if it will leave a streak
If you visited a jeweler or goldsmith shop, you might have noticed a slab on their desk. This is most probably a piece of ceramic that is used to conduct a scratch test. Through the scratch test, we leave a slight mineral trace called a streak, by which jewelers can tell if the item is authentic or not.
Scratch the part of the item that is not commonly exposed, as this test can leave a scratch mark. Gold leaves a distinguished gold streak, and it is uniquely related to this metal. All other metals will leave either a black or grey streak. So, if your item is pure gold, it should only leave a streak of the same color. Notice that light can make the tone a little more different, and that shouldn’t be a worry. Do not conduct this test more than once or twice, though, as it damages the item and reduces its gold content.
Get a gold-testing kit
Gold testing kits are a fun way to tell if the item is authentic gold. There are two most common types
- The acid kit
Acid kits utilize the chemical properties of gold and its alloys to test the purity of the item. The test is conducted in several steps through which different acids are introduced to the material to distinguish other elements and real gold. In addition, the difficulty comes with a color matrix that helps you conclude whether the results match a particular value.
Gold is entirely resistant to most acids, and it can be dissolved in a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid, known as aqua regia.
- The electronic kit
Electronic testers also include acids which should be introduced to the item to help close the circuit. The electronic tester is then attached to the item, and electrical readings are displayed on it. Comparing the readings with charts provided with the kit will help you determine the item’s gold presence.
- The acid kit
Test the gold based on its sound
Another way to see if the item is potentially gold or not is to check how it sounds when it’s struck. Just like a crystal, gold and precious metals have a characteristic atomic grid that allows them to have a high-pitched, prolonged ring when struck with a small hammer or something similar. Alloys can’t usually boast with the way they sing, and neither can some non-precious metals.
Again, this test doesn’t altogether remove doubts if the item is real gold or not; it can determine that it isn’t if the item indeed fails the test.
The individual tests we shared with you have one thing in common. They can only tell you for sure if the item is not gold. Conducting only one test doesn’t remove much of a doubt, and the truth is that even if you conduct all of the tests, the doubt will not be 100% avoided. This is partly due to the logical principles and because the gold scammers are getting better and better at facilitating fake gold items that are more and more difficult to determine.
To honestly tell if and how much of the gold is real will take a thoroughly scientific approach. This, of course, takes machines that are fine-tuned enough to probe and detect inconsistencies in materials if there are any. For example, electromagnetic precious metal verifiers like Kee Gold Tester by Sygma Metalytics or various spectrometers can utilize gold’s unique and exact electromagnetic properties to verify if the item is real gold or not.
The machines are pretty expensive to get for only a couple of items, and they pay off in the long run across multiple tests. The one way you can get to them is through different institutes and services, and of course – the jewelers.
Jewelers are experienced experts trained in detecting impurities in gold items, and they may be your best option to ensure your item is absolute gold. They already developed skills in different techniques, and they usually possess the machines that will determine the gold’s presence with certainty. They will not only be able to tell if there is gold, but they can determine precisely how pure the golden item is, what kind of gold, how many karats, etc.
Checking the authenticity of gold items at home can be fun, and it can save much money to determine fakes yourself with these simple methods. However, telling the gold content for sure is best left to experts and tested scientific techniques. Check your local jeweler and ask if they have proper methods to determine the realness of gold with certainty.