Last updated on June 14, 2021
The desire for gold jewellery is one of the most deeply rooted instincts for people around the world. However, one of the common concerns is whether the piece is solid or plated. This guide will help you find out how to tell if gold is real using simple at-home tests.
Look For Gold Hallmarks
One of the fastest and easiest ways to identify if the gold jewellery is solid or plated is to check its hallmarks.
Gold purity is measured using the karat system, marked as “k”, “K” or “Kt”, on a scale from 0 to 24, the latter being the purest form with no other metals mixed. The higher the karatage, the purer the gold.
It is worth mentioning, despite what the name implies, solid gold jewellery is rarely made of pure gold. It usually consists of pure gold and alternative metals such as silver, zinc, nickel and other alloys.
The minimum gold purity for an item to be called gold varies by country. For example, in the US, the legal minimum standard gold purity is 10k. In the UK, France and Portugal, the lowest permitted gold purity is 9k, while in Greece and Denmark, the minimum standard is 8k.
Keep in mind that hallmarks on older heirloom pieces may not be visible due to wear and previous repairs, meaning you should investigate further than just visual inspection. Moreover, in some cases, the jewellery never got a stamp because hallmarking became common in the 1950s.
The most common stamps used to mark gold plated jewellery are GP standing for “gold plated” and GEP meaning “gold electroplated”. Heavily gold plated items are marked as HGP, while heavily gold electroplated jewellery is marked as HGE.
It is important to mention that not having one of these markings does not imply that your jewellery is made of solid gold. It may simply not be hallmarked as some manufacturers do not stamp their plated jewellery.
Another method to tell if gold is real is to use a magnet; however, it is not 100% accurate. To perform this test, you will need a stronger magnet from a hardware store as a refrigerator magnet is not strong enough.
Pure gold is not magnetic, while imitation gold and other alloys are. This means if the piece of jewellery in question attracts a magnet it contains (!) some other metals.
It is important to understand that the reaction of your jewellery to the magnet indicates the presence of other alloys in the gold piece. However, this does not necessarily mean that the piece is plated. It can still be a low purity solid gold alloy that contains magnetic metals. On the other hand, a piece may be gold plated, but it will not attach to a magnet because its core metal is non-magnetic.
The acid test for gold is probably the most reliable at-home method to tell if the jewellery is made of solid gold. It is usually used for finding out gold purity level but can also indicate if the jewellery is gold plated.
You can buy a gold testing kit and do this test at home, but for the high accuracy of the results, it is recommended to have such a test done by a professional jeweller.
During the test, you will need to make a tiny scratch in the metal, apply a drop of acid onto it and look for a reaction. Real gold does not react when it comes in contact with nitric acid.
If the jewellery is gold plated, the acid produces a green reaction. A milky colour indicates a gold plating over a sterling silver base.
The scratch test, also known as the porcelain test, is risky as there is a high chance of damaging your jewellery. If you do not want to damage your piece, consider using other harmless methods.
As the name suggests, you will need to scratch or rub your jewellery across a porcelain tile or an unglazed ceramic plate and look at the colour of the streak. A real gold leaves a golden or yellow streak, while a fake item leaves a black streak.
The float test is a harmless at-home method to tell if gold is real, but it is not conclusive.
For the float test, you will need to fill a glass with clean water and gently drop your item into it. If your jewellery immediately sinks, it is likely solid gold. If it floats, it is not real gold because solid gold is denser than water.
Keep in mind that gold plated jewellery can contain heavy base metals that also sink, meaning this test works only to spot fake gold that floats.