Gold increases in value. Currently, its price is at an all-time high and is forecast to go up in the years to come. According to BCC Research, the global gold market is expected to make up $189.6 billion by 2022 from $163.9 billion in 2017.
So, it’s no wonder that interest in this precious metal is growing. And people want to be sure the gold they’re purchasing is real. This article will help you know how to tell if gold is real and explore ways to test gold at home.
Properties of Gold
Gold is a precious metal. It’s one of the most valuable metals and was first used as early as 5000 BC. As a “noble metal,” it resists corrosion and oxidation from moisture in the air.
Gold comes in various colors and styles. Warm yellow is its natural color. Rose gold stems from the mixture of gold and copper and, sometimes, some silver. Similarly, white gold is a mixture of white metals, usually palladium, silver, and nickel.
Pure gold boasts malleability and is easy to work with. As a result, it is a favorite for jewelry makers, metalsmiths, and other craftsmen, thanks to such flexibility. Also, this precious metal is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity.
What about fake gold? It’s also called gold plated, heavy gold electroplate, and gold-filled. The below-listed tests can help you purchase or invest only in real gold.
How to Test Gold
Gold is very often a target for forgery. As a result, you can come across fake gold jewelry in the marketplace. “How to tell if a necklace is real gold?” or “how to tell if a ring is real gold?” are common questions that people ask.
The good news is that there is more than one test you can use. So, let’s see how to test gold and how to tell if gold is real.
Look for the Hallmark and Letter Mark
Looking for hallmarks and letter marks on gold pieces is one of the gold testing methods. Here’s how these marks can help you make the right choice:
A hallmark stamp identifies gold’s content and manufacturer. This stamp features mandatory numbers engraved on the gold item based on the Karat system or the Millesimal Fineness system.
What does the Karat system denote? One karat (symbol K or kt, and U.K. spelling “carat,” symbol C or ct) represents the amount of genuine gold in the piece. For instance, 24K is the purest gold. Conversely, in an 18K gold item, only 18 parts are pure gold, and the other six are other metals.
For example, 24K is composed of 99.9% gold. Notably, most international standards don’t consider anything less than 41.7% or 10 karats of commercial gold products.
What about the Millesimal Fineness system? In this case, the purity of the metal is shown by parts per thousand of real gold by mass in the alloy. For instance, if an alloy contains 75% gold, the marking will be 750. For example, 999.999, which is less common, denotes the purest gold ever produced, and 999.99 indicates the purest type of gold. 999.9 or four nines fine is the most popular.
Here are the valid purity numbers under the Karat and Millesimal Fineness systems:
- 24K (999)
- 23K (958.3)
- 22K (916)
- 20K (834)
- 18K (750)
- 15K (625)
- 14K (583.3)
- 10K (417): the lowest legal solid gold karat produced in the U.S.
- 9K (375)
- 8K (333)
However, the hallmark stamp method isn’t 100% foolproof, as many manufacturers make fake markings for their counterfeit jewelry. When the jewelry isn’t made of pure gold, the base is typically another material, such as silver, copper, or nickel.
How to know if gold is real using the letter mark method? Remember that the jewelry is fake gold if it features the following letter marks:
- GEP (gold electroplated)
- GF (gold filled)
- GP (gold plated)
- HEG (heavy gold electroplated)
- HGP (heavy gold plated)
The Acid Test
Now, let’s see how to check if gold is real with the help of the acid test. This noble metal is resistant to oxidation and corrosion from acids. So, when it encounters skin, vinegar, or nitric acid, it shouldn’t change its color.
To test, rub a gold item on a black stone to leave a visible mark. Next, apply the nitric acid to the mark. If it’s real gold, the mark will remain. Also, you can use Aqua Regia (Latin) or “royal water” to confirm the gold’s authenticity. “Royal Water” is an acidic, corrosive, and oxidative mixture.
The Magnet Test
You may ask, “Is real gold magnetic?” No, it isn’t magnetic. So, when you hold a magnet to a gold piece and see attraction, the piece isn’t authentic. The same is also true for silver. Moreover, aluminum, copper, lead, tin, titanium, zinc, and alloys such as brass and bronze aren’t magnetic either. That’s why it’s a good idea to apply this test together with another more accurate testing method.
The Float Test
Gold is a dense metal. That’s why it’s called a heavy metal. To apply the float test, you’ll need a cup of water. Place your gold piece in the cup of water and see whether it floats or sinks. Real gold won’t float due to its high density.
Pure gold shouldn’t leave any discoloration on your skin. So, a blue, green, or purple tint on your skin is a sign of oxidation and that the jewelry is made of fake gold. To test, hold a jewelry piece in your bare hands for a few minutes. You won’t notice any color on your skin if it’s real.
Test Its Size, Weight, and Density
This test is excellent for gold coins. Gold bullion coins feature a specific weight and size and are made to certain specifications. The weight of gold is too difficult to replicate because it’s one of the world’s densest materials.
If you’re interested in how to weigh gold, remember that a gold bar typically weighs in at 400 troy ounces (27.5 pounds) and features 7 inches x 3 and 5/8 inches x 1 and 3/4 inches. Specifically, the density of 14-karat yellow gold is between 12.9 and 13.6 grams per milliliter, and 18-karat yellow gold is between 15.2 and 15.9 grams per milliliter.
The density test is about the weight of a gold bar or coin compared to how much water it displaces when put in the liquid. If it’s real, it’ll be heavier than water.
To apply the test:
- Measure the weight of the gold item in grams.
- Take a cylinder or vial with a cubic centimeter or millimeter markings. Pour water into the cylinder until it’s approximately half full. Note the starting water level.
- Lower the gold piece into the cylinder and record the new water level.
- Subtract the first level reading from the second one and divide the weight of the piece by this number.
For example, if the result is close to 19.3 g/mL, you’ve got the standard density of gold. And if it’s 16.5 g/mL, your gold item is 18K.
Gold Testing Machines
You can also use an electronic tester and an X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) Spectrometry. The first one sends electromagnetic waves into the item to authenticate it. The electromagnetic waves pass through surface materials to read the resistance of the metal. Each metal has a different resistivity. For instance, gold’s electrical resistivity is 0.022 micro-ohm m at 20 °C.
The second one sends X-rays through the item and excites the atoms of the gold into a higher energy state. When the excited atoms return to their normal state, they fluoresce energy back to the machine’s detector. The machine determines the item’s material chemistry using the fluoresced X-rays.
These methods don’t cause chemical or mechanical damage to items being tested.
Check by Reputable Jeweler
Finally, you can turn to an experienced and reputable jeweler. Jewelers use different methods to authenticate gold content. Specifically, they have access to equipment and various chemicals that can determine whether the weight, shape, color, or purity of gold is right. Expect many jewelry stores to charge a small fee for testing services.
Things to Note Before Buying or Selling Gold
It would help if you considered several key points before purchasing or selling gold.
- Those who look for sustainable investment opt for gold. For example, many invest in gold coins. If you’re one of these people, know the best gold coins to buy for investment before purchasing these assets. Specifically, gold coins are valued based on the following primary factors: rarity, grade, quality, and popularity.
- Today, you can find lots of machine-made jewelry on the market. Such mass-produced ornaments are cheaper. So, know the origin of the item you’re buying.
- Make sure to receive a detailed bill from the seller of gold coins or jewelry. The bill should include several essential details mentioned in the formula below. It should also provide proof of the purity and legality of the gold item you’re purchasing.
Final jewelry price = price of (24K, 22K, or 18K) gold per gram X (weight of gold to be bought in grams) + jeweler’s charges + any other charges.
- If you’re purchasing gold jewelry studded with artificial diamonds or semi-precious stones, the value of the piece must be calculated based on the entire weight of the jewelry minus the weight of the stones. The jeweler must add the cost of diamonds and gemstones separately.
- It’d be best to sell gold during the seasons when gold prices are high and purchase gold when prices are low. Specifically, gold prices have been rising in the New Year and spring for many years, then falling during the summer months, and then seeing a further rise at the end of the year.
- Jewelry stores may also have a buyback policy and give you 100% of the gold’s worth.
Gold is among the most valuable metals out there, and it’s increasing in value. As a result, the issue of real gold vs. fake gold is more pertinent than ever. So, how to tell if gold is real or how to test gold at home? There are several methods and tests you can apply to find out whether gold is pure or not. For example, you can look for hallmarks and letter marks on gold pieces or rely on tests, such as the acid and float tests. Finally, you can use testing machines to authenticate gold.