To the untrained eye, gold is gold. It all looks the same. The primary difference: coloration.
Fear not if you suspect that your gold isn’t the stated purity level. There are tests you can perform to confirm the facts. Before jumping in, let’s talk about what makes gold fake.
Fake Gold, and Fools Gold
You can run tests all day long to determine if you have real gold or fake gold. But do you know what the difference is?
Fake gold isn’t pure, but it is still considered gold. Why? Because fake gold still contains a certain amount of gold. Fake gold doesn’t necessarily mean “counterfeit” gold. For example, a gold-plated piece of jewelry includes a thin lining of gold. Other metals -- such as nickel, brass, silver, or stainless steel -- make up the remainder of the mold. The gold plating is a luxurious finish to the product.
When gold is mixed with other alloy metals, it begins to show characteristics that indicate it’s fake. Discoloration of the metal is one of those indicators. Real gold is not impacted by oxidation, so it doesn’t easily tarnish, corrode, or discolor.
Don’t mix up the terms fool’s gold and fake gold. These are two entirely different things. Fool’s gold isn’t gold, period. It’s a form of pyrite that is almost always mistaken for gold due to its brass-yellow color. Its surface is rough and made up of crystals. There is no value to fool’s gold, but it looks like genuine gold at first glance.
#1: Stamp Test: Check for Hallmarks
You may need a magnifying glass to conduct the stamp test, especially when looking at smaller pieces of jewelry. Refineries melt down the gold and place them into molds, then they stamp them or engrave them with a hallmark. The hallmark is specific to the manufacturer. Why? To inform the buyer and to build trust with the product. The stamp includes information such as:
- The level of purity based on karat (i.e., ten karats, 24 karats, etc.)
- The level of purity based on the Millesimal Fineness system
- Manufacturer’s name abbreviated
Most people are familiar with the karat system, ranging from 0 to 24: the greater the number, the more pure the gold. The number itself represents the percentage of gold found in the metal. For example, if you have 24 karat gold, it means you have 99.9% purity. 24 out of 24 parts contain gold. If you notice a piece states it has less than ten karats, it is considered fake.
The Millesimal Fineness system is another measure of purity. It expresses the percentage of gold in parts per thousand. Typical numbers that represent gold are 333, 375, 417, 583, 585, 625, 750, 833, 875, 916, 958, and 999. If gold shows a stamp of 800, 925, or 950, it is not gold. These numbers indicate silver, which means the item is primarily silver with gold plating for a finish.
When looking at a gold piece, you may notice letter markings in addition to the purity. If you see any of the following, it means the item is not made entirely of gold:
- Gold Plated (GP)
- Gold Filled (GF)
- Gold Electroplated (GE or GEP)
- Heavy Gold Plated (HGP)
- Heavy Gold Electroplated (HGEP)
The stamp test is not 100% foolproof. Why? Hallmarks can wear off over time. Plus, you can add engravings to gold pieces.
#2: Float or Density Test
This is a quick and simple test.
The Float Test
To perform the float test, drop your gold into a bowl or cup of water. Observe what happens next: The piece may be fake if the gold floats. If the gold sinks, it’s probably real gold.
Gold may sink because it is real, or it may sink because other alloys assist it. If the float test does not convince you that your gold is authentic, you can try a few more tests.
The Density Test
Gold is a dense metal of 19.32 g/ml. The density test measures the displacement of water with your gold. The test requires a scale and a graduated cylinder.
First, determine the mass in grams of your gold piece and place the piece aside. Using a graduated cylinder, fill it with water until it is half full. Record the water level in cubic centimeters (cc). Next, take your gold piece and place it into the cylinder. Record the water level again. Now it’s time to perform simple math.
What is the difference between the water level before the gold piece was submerged and after? Take the weight of your gold piece and divide it by the change in water level to determine your gold’s density. How does it compare to the density of pure gold? If it’s close, congratulations: Your gold is real.
#3: Magnet Test
Have a magnet handy? If so, try the magnet test.
Materials that are attracted to magnets are called ferromagnetic. Examples include iron, nickel, cobalt, stainless steel, etc. Gold is not on the list of ferromagnetic materials, so you shouldn’t see any type of attraction. Does the magnet repel the gold? This occurs with diamagnetic materials, including silver, lead, mercury, and copper. Since gold is not considered magnetic, yes, it can repel.
Heed caution. This test may not be effective as gold falls into the same categories as other diamagnetic materials. You could get a false positive or false negative with this test.
#4: Magnifying Test
Grab a magnifying glass and your gold to get started with the magnifying test. Here, you want to look very carefully at the surface of your gold. Look for any type of discoloration or dullness.
Real gold keeps its color and shine. The elements do not affect it, but they may affect other alloys. Any sign of discoloration is a key indicator that the gold is fake. Extreme shine is another as well as spotting. Spots are a sign of wear, especially with gold plating.
#5: Scratch or Tile Test
The scratch or tile test uses a ceramic tile to validate if your gold piece is real or fake. It is not complicated at all. Take your gold and scrap it against the ceramic tile. It needs to penetrate the tile enough to leave a mark but do not use much force. You do not want to damage your gold piece.
What does the mark look like? A black streak suggests that the gold is not authentic. Real gold leaves a gold-colored mark.
#6: Skin Test
Are you curious about how your skin can act as a test to authenticate your gold? Think back. Have you ever worn a piece of jewelry that, when removed after wearing it for a long-time, left discoloration on your skin? Possibly a green, blue, or even purple color?
The discoloration is an immediate sign of oxidation. Real gold is not easily affected. Therefore it never discolors nor leaves discolor on your skin. Unfortunately, if you notice any type of skin discoloration after wearing a gold piece, it is likely that the piece is made of other metals and is not real gold.
#7: Liquid Foundation Test
Yes, makeup could help you determine whether you have real or fake gold. Take liquid foundation and smear it on your hand. You only need a thin layer. Wait for the foundation to dry, press the gold against it, and gently rub it. Assess the results. What do you see? Real gold creates a line in the foundation, whereas fake gold results in discoloration.
#8: Acid Test
Two options of acid tests are available: Vinegar and Nitric Acid.
Using vinegar is straightforward. Place your gold on a soft cloth and simply apply a few drops of vinegar to its surface. Does the color change? If not, the gold is real. If it does, the gold is fake.
To perform the nitric acid test, you will need a black stone or a testing stone. With the black stone in hand, rub the gold on it to make a visible mark. Then, add a drop of nitric acid to the mark on the black stone. Is there a reaction? If the gold is fake, the spot immediately turns green. If the gold is real, there is no effect.
The Bottom Line
Gold is an investment, so don’t be fooled when purchasing. Take the time to assess a piece of jewelry or a gold bar for its authenticity. There are several options available for you to test gold in the comfort of your own home. If all else fails, professionals are also on standby. This could ultimately make or break your investment, especially if fake gold falls into your hands.
Are you interested in gold but can’t afford the upfront cost? You have options with Acre Gold. Our monthly subscriptions are the perfect way to get you started.