Have you ever wondered where the expression “All that glitters is not gold” comes from? It’s believed it dates all the way back to the great Aesop, the author of Aesop’s Fables.
While it’s most popularly used as an expression to tell you not to believe something is valuable just by the way it looks, we like to think it’s referring to the best way to tell whether or not something is actually made of real gold.
The truth is that there are other metals that look very similar to gold. Brass, for example, has a similar yellowish color that many people mistake for gold. Pyrite, or fool’s gold, has led many a miner astray.
So how can you tell if gold is real? Is there even an easy way how to tell if gold is real, or do you have to do fancy tests to ensure the gold jewelry you have is ACTUALLY gold?
The good news is that there are ways to tell if gold is real. You may not know how to tell real gold from fake gold just by looking at it, but you’ll find there are a number of ways to find out for sure just how much gold there is in that piece of jewelry or that heirloom.
How to Tell if Gold is Real
Sadly, real gold is almost indistinguishable from other metals. Thanks to modern metallurgic practices, a number of metals can be made to look identical to gold.
Metals are also gold-plated, covered in gold but not made of actual gold.
Thankfully, there are a few methods you can use to determine just how real your gold is:
All gold—REAL gold—has a hallmark (a mark etched into the metal) to tell you the quality of the gold.
Numbers like 18K, 9K, and 14K tell you the karat value of the jewelry.
Numbers like 417, 750, and 999 tell you the percentage of gold in the jewelry (41.7%, 75.0%, and 99.9%)
However, there are other numbers that will tell you the truth about items that are NOT real gold:
1/20 before the karat number tells you that it is a regular metal that has been gold-filled with 1 part gold to 20 parts metal
.925 tells you the metal is actual sterling silver, not gold
G.F. stands for gold-filled
H.G.E. stands for hydrostatic gold electroplating
G.P. stands for gold plated
G.E.P. stands for gold electroplating
All of these numbers make it clear that the jewelry is NOT gold, but is simple plated or filled with gold. The value of these pieces will be significantly lower than the value of real gold. The hallmark is the best and fastest way to determine if the gold is real or not.
Most jewelers will conduct an assay test, which uses an acid to determine the quality of the gold.
Essentially, the assay test will “scratch” the jewelry, and acids of different concentrations will be used to dissolve the mark. The speed at which the mark dissolves will tell the jeweler (or you, if you use a home gold test kit) what the quality of the gold is.
Of course, your best option is to take it to a professional appraiser—like Twery’s—to get it valued by an expert. This is especially true if you can’t find a hallmark on the jewelry, or you can’t understand how to do the acid test correctly. Working with an appraiser will help you get the most realistic value of the gold items you own.
Ways to Tell if Gold is Real
We’ve taught how the “official” methods for how to tell if gold is real, but there are other tests you can try.
They’re not as effective as assay tests or checking the hallmark, but they’re an option to consider:
1. Gold bite test
You’ve seen this in books and TV shows: essentially, you bite the jewelry to see if your teeth leave a mark.
Sadly, this test will rarely work. There are other metals soft enough to be marked by your teeth, and lower-karat gold (10 and 14K) are usually hard enough that they won’t be marked.
2. Density test for gold
Also known as the “displacement test” (created by Archimedes in his “Eureka” moment), this test involves dropping the gold item into a water-filled tank and determining how much water is displaced.
However, while this test should work in theory, it’s much harder to put into practice at home.
3. Gold magnet test
Place the gold ring next to a magnet. If the ring moves, it’s fake. If it doesn’t move, it’s real. The concept behind this is that gold is non- magnetic, so it shouldn’t move.
However, there are other non-magnetic metals that are used for jewelry and gold items, so it’s highly unlikely that this test will get you a truly accurate result.
4. Skin test
Wear the jewelry for a few days, and get it wet. If there is no odd discoloration (green or black) where the metal touches your skin, it’s the real deal. Fake gold and other metals will discolor your skin
5. Gold scratch test
Scratch away the top layer of metal. If it’s gold-plated, you’ll see the metal underneath. If it’s solid gold, you’ll see more gold beneath. A good concept, but how many people want to scratch up their jewelry?
6. Ceramic test
Place the gold ring on a white ceramic plate, and drag it across the surface. If it leaves black streaks, it means the gold is fake. If the streaks are gold, it’s the real deal.
7. Float and rust test
Fill a cup with water and drop the ring in. Real gold will sink straight to the bottom of the cup, but fake gold will float. Once you take it out of the water, leave it in open air for a day or two. Real gold won’t rust, but fake gold and other metals will oxidize.
These are a few of the more popular tests for how to tell real gold from fake gold, but remember that not all of them will be as effective. Some will prove useful to spot fake gold right away. However, even if the jewelry passes all these home tests, you can’t be 100% certain the gold is real until you’ve actually had it appraised.
This is why we at Twery’s always recommend contacting a specialist for a professional appraisal. We’re proud to offer this service, which is 100% accurate and provide you with a safe, efficient method for how to tell if gold is real.
We put the jewelry through a series of tests that will determine WITHOUT FAIL whether or not the gold is real. We’ll find out if the jewelry is solid gold, high-karat gold, gold-plated, gold-filled, or just made to look like gold. That way, you can be completely certain of just how valuable your jewelry is.
Have you tried any of the above-mentioned gold-testing methods? Did they work for you, or did you find them less than reliable? Drop a comment below and share your experiences with trying to determine the value of your gold. We’d love to hear from you, and many others can benefit from what you learned in the process…