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How To Tell if Gold Is Real

by Molly Jones
Last updated on August 21, 2023
Wedding Set

Wondering how to tell if gold is real? Shopping for gold jewelry online can be daunting – you have to take stores for their word that the gold they’re selling is actually gold. Luckily, we’ve got your back. If you want extra assurance that the beautiful piece of gold jewelry you splurged on is authentic gold, we have provided the following tips and tricks to help.

But before we get into it, let’s go over what gold is and the common substitutes people use in its place.

What Is Gold?

Clean Origin gold ring. How to tell if gold is real.
Gold Ring

Gold is a precious metal used in jewelry, electronics, and other products. Pure gold is a rare metal created by the pressure of an exploding star thought to be 25x larger than our sun. The dying star created neutrons; then heavier elements, such as iron, swallowed up the neutrons and created gold. The element we call pure gold floated within the cosmic soup that later formed Earth. It eventually ended up deep within Earth’s crust for us to mine later.

Unique Properties Of Gold That Tell You It’s Real

Clean Origin gold rings. How to tell if gold is real.
Stacked Gold Rings

Gold is truly out of this world–and not just because it’s the result of an exploding star. Real gold has special properties that make pure gold jewelry, food, and equipment truly unique.

You Can Eat Gold

People often use gold leaf in cooking and baking. The process of making gold leaf involves hammering and rolling a sheet of pure gold until it is very thin. The resulting substance is incredibly durable, and it can add a touch of elegance to any dish.

Gold Is Nonreactive

Gold is a very popular metal for jewelry because it’s nonreactive and chemically inert. That means it neither reacts with other elements nor undergoes any chemical reactions with other substances; therefore, it won’t tarnish or corrode over time. It also means that if you wear gold jewelry on your skin, it won’t cause irritation or discoloration.

This is important to know when testing gold. If you use a chemical test kit to determine whether or not something is real gold the results will be accurate only if the tested sample doesn’t contain any other chemicals. Those other chemicals might interfere with the test results, which we’ll talk more about below.

Gold Is a Soft Metal

Gold is a soft metal, which means that it’s malleable, ductile, and formable. That’s not to say it’s soft like your skin—it’s actually quite hard and strong. It also has a very high melting point (1,064°C). It won’t melt even in the hottest conditions.

Gold is valuable to use in jewelry because it is malleable; it can conform to many different shapes and sizes. It can also combine with other metals like copper or silver to create all kinds of beautiful pieces of jewelry for you to wear every day.

What Is Fake Gold?

There's No Fake Gold at Clean Origin. How to tell if gold is real.
At Clean Origin We Only Use 14k Gold And Higher

Now that we understand what precious gold is, we also need to understand what it isn’t. After all, knowing the difference between real and fake gold jewelry can save you hundreds of dollars when purchasing what you believe to be a real gold piece of jewelry.

Understanding the Karat System To Tell if Gold Is Real

The karat system is a way of measuring the purity of an alloy. An alloy is any mixture of two or more elements. In the case of gold jewelry, it is any mixture that contains gold.

As a general standard, anything with at least a 10K rating qualifies as gold jewelry (this may vary slightly from country to country). This means there are at least 10 parts or more of gold mixed with other metals (usually copper or silver). For example, 14K white gold contains 14 parts pure gold mixed with 10 parts of other metals.

Anything Under 10K Gold Does Not Qualify as Real Gold

In the United States, any gold alloy with less than a 10K rating does not qualify as real gold. 10K gold jewelry will have 41.7% gold metal, and 58.3% will be an alloy metal. Oftentimes, corrupt sellers will try to sell 9K gold (or lower) pieces, yet charge you the price of 10K gold.

Gold Plated Pieces

Gold plating is a form of electroplating. A thin layer of gold is plated onto the surface of an object–usually a brass, sterling silver, or other less expensive metal. It’s often used to make jewelry, or to give other objects a golden sheen.

It is easy to pass off a gold plated item (like plated gold necklaces) as real gold because it has genuine gold on the outside. However, gold plating is not real gold! The process involves using an electric current to deposit atoms from a solution onto the surface of your object. This results in a thin layer of gold which must be re-plated periodically because it wears off quickly.

It’s important to know this because if you buy something that’s been gold plated, like a gold-plated brass ring, it will wear off over time and expose the base metal underneath it. This can be dangerous for some people with allergies or health conditions.

Gold Filled Jewelry

Gold Solitaire Engagement Rings.
Gold Solitaire Engagement Rings

When it comes to gold filled jewelry, the name can be a little misleading. Because while your jewelry may contain gold, it doesn’t have the same characteristics as real gold.

Gold filled jewelry contains layers of solid karat gold that bond to a base metal–such as brass or sterling silver. Like gold plated jewelry, the base metal is often used because it’s easier to work with. It is also cheaper than pure gold or platinum.

Gold filled jewelry can be a smart choice when you’re looking to save money; with gold filled jewelery you get the look of gold but at a lower cost. However, it’s important you understand that gold filled jewelry isn’t real gold. Unfortunatley, the marketing around it can be deceptive. Sometimes it can be a ploy to get you to pay more for fake gold.

Copper Alloys

Copper alloys are sometimes passed off as real gold alloy. In fact, they’re one of the most counterfeit gold items available. This is because copper has a similar look and feel to gold, so it can be difficult for people who don’t know much about gold to tell the difference between the two.

Fool’s Gold

“Fool’s gold” is a term that describes a type of iron pyrite that looks like real gold. It is often found in California and the Pacific Northwest. Fool’s gold can be identified by its yellowish color, but it has no value.

Fake gold items have used fool’s gold for centuries—probably because it looks so similar to real gold. In fact, fool’s gold was once used as a substitute for real gold in jewelry and other ornamentation in addition to various precious metals.

How To Tell if Gold Is Real

How to Tell If Gold is Real
There Are Different Methods to Test if Gold is Real

It can be difficult to determine the best way to tell if gold is real. There are so many methods of testing gold, and each one has its pros and cons.

Short of taking your gold into a jewelry store to use gold testing machines, the following methods are easy ways to test gold at home. This way, you can determine if you have real gold or fake gold.

Different Methods You Can Use Tell If Gold Is Real

The Magnet Test

Genuine gold is non-magnetic; it will not stick or pull a magnet toward it. So, in order to tell if your gold is real, you can hold a neodymium magnet to the metal. (Unfortunately, regular refrigerator magnets will not be strong enough for the magnet test). If the gold item has metals that are magnetic it will move or stick to the magnet.

This is not a foolproof test. Yellow gold, rose gold, or white gold, can also be bonded with alloys that have magnetic properties. Plus, specific counterfeit jewelry can be created using metals that are not magnetic, such as copper.

Nitric Acid Test

While nitric acid does not react with gold, it causes other metals commonly used in fake gold jewelry to melt. To perform the nitric acid test, first create a tiny yet deep scratch in your metal using a jewelry engraver or touchstone. Next, drop a bit of acid on top of the scratch. If the scratch mark turns a milky, bluish, or greenish tint, it is fake.

You can also perform the same test with aqua regia, a solution that is 75% nitric acid and 25% hydrochloric acid. Just be aware that, (unlike nitric acid) aqua regia will melt gold. And where acid turns “gold” green, aqua regia will melt it completely.

Water Tests

Rose gold jewelry from Clean Origin.
Rose Gold Jewelry From Clean Origin

Looking for a less invasive way to test gold at home to tell if it’s real? Consider the float test or density test!

Both float and density tests use water and the expectation that your gold item will sink. To perform the float test, fill a bowl, vial, or jug, at least a quarter of the way up with water, then drop your gold into the water. If your gold item floats or slowly sinks to the bottom it is fake gold.

Like the float test, the density test also has you drawing a jug a quarter of the way up with water and dropping your gold item into it. However, you will need a couple more items to complete the test: a kitchen scale and a marker to mark the jug.

For the density test:

  1. Measure your gold items in grams using the kitchen scale
  2. Mark your jug with either cm or mm marks and fill it halfway up with water, making sure to mark your starting point
  3. Gently drop your gold item into the water, then note the new water level
  4. Subtract the first reading from the second one then divide the item’s weight by this number

If the final number is close to 19.3 g/mL then congrats! You’ve got real gold. Similarly, 14K gold will have a final number around 14.0 g/mL and 18K gold will be around 15.5 g/mL.

Magnifying Glass Test and Stamp Test

This is one of the easiest ways to tell if your gold is real. All you need for it is a magnifying glass. Both tests allow you to realize that you may be dealing with imitation gold instead of real gold jewelry by simply looking at the gold item.

To determine if your gold is real, hold the magnifying glass up to the metal piece and look at its surface. If it has a uniform color with a metallic luster, then it’s probably real—but if the piece of gold seems darker than usual or dull then it may be fake.

Similarly, the stamp test has you simply looking at your gold item. You will be looking to see if there is a small stamped number on it. That number indicates the gold percentage in your gold item. This number is the Hallmark stamp, and it is the international standard in demonstrating gold purity.

The following is what you may see stamped on the inside of your jewelry:

  • 24K (999)
  • 23K (958.3)
  • 22K (916)
  • 20K (834)
  • 18K (750)
  • 15K (625)
  • 14K (583.3)
  • 10K (417)
  • 9K (375)
  • 8K (333)

Again, as we discussed above, the United States considers anything to be real gold if it is 10K gold or higher. However, because other countries have different determinations of what is real gold, you may see a Hallmark as low as 8K or 333.

Both of these tests aren’t always accurate. The stamp can easily be faked and you have to be quite familiar with what gold looks like to ensure you are accurately determining what is gold or not. However, it is a simple and effective way to eliminate poor imitation gold.

Scratch Tests: The Ceramic Scratch Test and Skin Test

The ceramic scratch test is another simple way to test gold. For this test, scratch your gold items with an unglazed ceramic tile. If there is a gold streak then your gold is real. But if the streak is a dark color or brown, then it’s most likely fake.

Finally, the skin test is an effective way to determine if you own real gold. To perform this test lightly scratch your skin with your item. Because real gold is nonreactive, your item should not change colors or show wear and tear when rubbed against your skin. And likewise, your skin shouldn’t react to the gold. If there is any reaction, it’s fake gold.

Clean Origin Has the Best Gold Jewelry Around

Diamond and Gold Wedding Sets

If you’ve ever wondered how to tell if gold is real, you now have a variety of quick and easy methods to check your precious metal.

Clean Origin is committed to providing you with the highest quality jewelry. And if you’re looking for a stunning piece of gold jewelry for yourself or as a gift for someone special, consider Clean Origin.

We make all of our amazing rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces with real gold and beautiful lab created diamonds. With us, you can always shop for the perfect gift with the confidence that you’re getting the best gold jewelry at an attractive price.