Gold is not just a precious metal—it’s one of the most precious, so knowing how to tell if gold is real can boil down to a matter of real financial consequence. For example, the value of an 18k gold designer chain could be worth over $1,000, while an electroplated gold chain worth next to nothing.
Using a Professional to Identify Gold
If you must know conclusively the purity of the gold jewelry you have, there is no substitute for a professional jeweler or jewelry appraiser. For a usually nominal fee, a professional can do any of several tests to scientifically verify the quality of the material.
A fire assay test can determine gold content, but it sacrifices a small amount of gold, and is often seen as too destructive. Another professional tool used is an XRF reader. XRF technology uses x-rays and measures the resulting secondary fluorescent x-rays to determine the gold’s qualitative and quantitative composition.
This non-destructive x-ray technique might be considered the ‘gold standard’ of testing. However, many jewelers do not have the equipment (as they have no regular need for it), thus they will simply do a test where they rub the gold against a testing stone, then apply an acid solution to determine the karat value.
If you would like to try on your own to identify whether your gold is real, there are acid test kits available to purchase for around $30. And some other techniques are available, but none are without potential error.
Using Purity Marks to Tell if Gold is Real
The first thing to look for on a piece of gold is a gold purity mark. Pure gold is too soft to use in jewelry, so it is mixed with other metals to produce a serviceable alloy. Pure gold is known as 24 karat gold, and alloys are identified as a percentage of that purity, for instance, 18 karat gold is 18/24ths pure, or 75%. All gold jewelry sold in the United States should carry a symbol of either karat weight (18k) or an international purity mark (750 for 18k gold).
While a good indicator of gold content, just checking the mark isn’t foolproof. Some older pieces may have no mark or the mark may have been worn off. And other pieces, particularly those claiming to be 14 and 10 carats, may be intentionally mismarked (i.e. fake).
How to Test for Plated Gold
Most gold buyers and jewelry buyers do not purchase gold plated jewelry because the amount of gold found in the pieces is negligible. Thus if you have suspicions about the authenticity of your gold jewelry, it is good to know how to check for plated gold.
Plated gold is gold that is chemically or electrochemically bonded to the surface of another metal, like copper or silver. Plated gold can be marked with EP (electroplated), GEP (gold electroplated), RGP (rolled gold plated), and HGE (heavy gold electroplate). However, just because a piece doesn’t have one of these marks doesn’t mean it is solid gold.
The easiest test for plated gold is simple observation. Although gold can change color slightly with age (antique pieces may have dark areas around the edges), check the piece carefully for any area that appears unevenly colored, or that has chipped in any way. If a nick or chip reveals another metal underneath, the piece is obviously gold plated.
The most reliable test to perform on a potentially plated piece is using a nitric acid test kit. A nitric acid test involves dropping a small amount of nitric acid into a small scratch on a piece and observing the reaction. Any kind of reaction at all is an indication that the piece is plated.
A simpler test to determine if a piece is gold plated is to use a magnet—but you’ll need to use a strong one. If the piece shows any attraction to the magnet, it is most likely plated. The problem with a magnet test is that a result showing no attraction isn’t necessarily an indication of solid gold piece. Some unscrupulous manufacturers plate non-magnetic metals with gold, and a magnet test would not reveal the truth.
How to Sell Your Gold
If you would like to sell your gold for a fair cash offer, research has shown that local pawn shops often provide higher offers than large national gold buyers. If the gold you wish to sell is designer gold jewelry, then it is best to contact a jewelry buyer like Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers, who specializes in designer jewelry and understands the true value of your piece on the international estate jewelry market. If you have designer or antique gold jewelry that you would like to sell for a generous cash offer, contact us now for a free (no obligations) appraisal of your item.
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Learn more about selling your gold jewelry for more cash at the following link: Where to Sell Gold Jewelry.