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5 Easy Tests That You Can Do At Home To Tell If Your Gold Jewellery Is Fake - With Pictures

Updated on December 09, 2016
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Guilherme Radaeli is a brazillian lawyer, writer and blogger born in state of São Paulo, Brazil.

This is part of an ongoing series of article on jewelry. If you're interested in knowning more, check out these hubs:

Gold has been a crucial part of humanity's history for thousands of years. It attracted Kings, Religious Authorities and wise men of all types due to its almost unique collection of qualities: its beautiful metallic yellow hue, its undying resistance to corrosion, its eternal luster and strange malleability. While it initially served economical and aesthetic purposes only, as civilization developed, gold gained many different applications in chemistry, electronics and industry.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold: The Dangers of Gold Chains And Gold Rings

Lots of elements exhibit gold-like qualities
Lots of elements exhibit gold-like qualities | Source

Gold has always been economically relevant, not only due to its special qualities, but also because of its rarity. Having an atomic number of 79, its one of the rarest elements that occur naturally in the universe. As such, its not surprising that, throughout the ages, many less than reputable people have attempted, with varying success, to replicate its qualities using other, less rare elements, in order to trick prospecting gold traders and gain an unfair economical advantage.

One of the trades in which this practice has been mostly developed is, unfortunately jewelcrafting, since most people that are interested in buying jewelry are usually the people that know the least about gold's qualities and chemistry.

However, there are many easy ways to test if your dear jewelry is made from actual gold, and this hub will show you one of the most practical ones that can be used by any layman.

Warning: Keep in mind that these tests are in no way capable of substituting the opinion of a professional, and are not designed to test the kind of gold quality or content of a certain piece of jewelry. It is also recommended that you test your gold piece using several of the methods presented here, as fake gold pieces can sometimes replicate several aspects and qualities of real gold.

Read on.

The Smell Test: Ideal For Small Gold Pieces

Gold chains such as this one are one of the most commonly available type of gold jewelry... And easy to fake
Gold chains such as this one are one of the most commonly available type of gold jewelry... And easy to fake | Source

While this test is far from being the most reliable way to tell real gold from fake gold, its one of the easiest and quickest to do, and will not damage your jewelry. Even if your gold jewelry passes this test, it can still be fake gold.

You know that awful smell your hands get after you hold some coins in it for some time? We're looking for that smell in this test.

This test can be done in 3 easy steps:

  1. First, make sure your hands are sweaty (not dripping with sweat, but slightly sweaty), then place your gold jewelry of choice in the palm of your hand;
  2. Secondly, place your other hand over it, and vigorously rub your hands together with your jewelry between them;
  3. Finally, place your nose close to your palms and smell them. If it does not smell like anything in special, then your jewelry has passed the test. If it happens to smell like coins, then its quite likely you're dealing with fake gold.

You see, one cheap metal used in the making of coinage (and fake gold jewelry) is brass, along with other materials. Brass can also look kind of like gold, specially if made into an alloy with other metals, which usually happens with fake gold jewelry, to try to approximate its weight and color. However, brass is much more reactive then gold, and produces that characteristic acidic smell when in contact with air, the same smell most coins have, due to an electrolytic reaction with your sweat.

As such, if your "gold" jewelry exhibits the same smell, it very likely is not real gold, or at least not pure gold.

The Magnet Test: Use A Powerful Neoymium Magnet

A neodymium magnet (depicted) is one of the strongest and more affordable rare earth magnet types in the world
A neodymium magnet (depicted) is one of the strongest and more affordable rare earth magnet types in the world

For this test, you'll need a rare earth magnet.

Rare earth magnets aren't the common type of magnets you can find on your fridge, for example. They are made of special alloys which give them incredible power. For this test, a neodymium magnet is recommended, as they are readily available online, are very affordable and are amongst the most powerful rare earth magnets.

CAUTION: Neodymium magnets that are larger then just a few centimeters are quite powerful, and if a body part gets pinched between a magnet and a highly magnetic metal part or another magnet, serious injury can occur. Handle the magnet with care.

Now, to test your jewelry, simply touch the magnet on it, If said jewelry gets attracted to the magnet (even if just a little), then it most certainly is not gold. However, keep in mind this test is for pure gold pieces, so if only part of your jewelry is made of gold, it may still get attracted due to the parts that are not made of gold. Its also common for jewelry such as gold chains and collars to have a "clasp" mechanism of sort, and you may find that only the clasp bit sticks to the magnet. This is because there is a spring inside the clasp mechanism, and gold doesn't make good springs.

Remember, however, that even if your jewelry piece does not get attracted to the magnet, there's still a chance it may not be gold. This is because there are other non magnetic elements that can be used in making fake gold. Most commonly, though, fake gold is composed to metals that are at least somewhat magnetic, and a strong rare earth magnet should be able to exert some attraction over these.

The Fire Test: Burning To Test Jewellery

Warning: this test was conduced on an 18 karat piece. If your piece has a purity value lower than 18k, then the results may not be consistent. Remember, if you want to be certain about this, consult a professional.

This is an easy test to do test commonly known by pawn shop owners, who are mostly exposed to possibly fake gold jewelry. Its quite easy to do in these easy steps:

  1. First, make sure you have a lighter that produces a constant flame that's not very small. A common disposable lighter is not ideal, but can be used. Also, make sure your lighter is properly fueled with lighter fluid, and not other kind of fuel;
  2. Now, hang your jewelry on a piece of metal or some other tool that won't melt or burn with some heat. You can also carefuly hold it using pliers. You might want to cover the ends your pliers with tape, to minimize any risk of damaging your jewelry;
  3. Finally, proceed to apply the lighter's flame on your gold piece. Keep the flame on it for about a minute. If the metal starts to get darker and darker, chances are its not actual gold.

Real, pure gold, when exposed to the flame, will actually get bright hot after a while, but will not darken. Fake gold pieces, such as fool's gold (actually pyrite, an iron sulfide) and pieces made of brass, iron or copper alloys will darken or otherwise change color when exposed to fire. Additionally, if the jewelry piece is only gold plated (only covered with gold, but made of other metals inside) then the thin gold plating should start to melt, revealing the inner metal.

Caution: DO NOT expose your jewelry to strong flames such as that of a blowtorch. Gold melts rather easily in comparison to other metals and you can damage your piece using anything stronger than a lighter.

The Density Test: Use Water To Test Density

A 250ml measuring vial
A 250ml measuring vial

This is a decent way to tell if your gold jewelry is real without any risk of damaging it, but requires a few tools and some knowledge of math.

Warning: This test only works for jewelry thats composed of gold only. Any attached jewels or parts that aren't made of gold can make the results of the test become inconsistent.

Follow these steps:

  1. First, you need to find out the weight of your piece in grams. This requires a small, sensitive scale. but you can ask a jeweler to do it for you;
  2. Secondly, you'll need to fill a vial with water. Make sure the vial is big enough to hold your gold piece in it. Make sure its not filled to the top, but only enough so that you can completely submerge your gold piece in the water. It also helps if said vial also comes with measuring lines on it. Measuring vials can be bought in any lab supplies store;
  3. Now you want to place your gold piece in the vial with water. Take note of the difference in water level from before and after you put the gold piece in and calculate the difference between the two measurements (just subtract the smaller measure from the greater measure);
  4. Now, here comes the math part. Use the following formula to calculate the density of your gold piece: Density = mass/volume displacement. A value close to 19 g/ml indicates that your jewelry piece is either gold or a material with a density that is close to gold's.

Gold pieces of different purity have different density ratios, use these values as guidelines to find out:

  • 14K gold – 12.9 to 14.6 g/ml
  • 18K yellow gold – 15.2 to 15.9 g/ml
  • 18K white gold – 14.7 to 16.9 g/ml
  • 22K gold – 17.7 to 17.8 g/ml

Even so, expert craftsmen may be able to create material that looks like gold and haves similar density, so make sure to test your gold using other methods as well.

The Ceramic Test: Unglazed Ceramic Tile

A mineral creating a streak on an unglazed ceramic tile
A mineral creating a streak on an unglazed ceramic tile | Source

WARNING: It is advisable that you use this method after you've tried all others and are still unsure of whether or not your gold jewelry is made of actual gold. This test, when done improperly, can scratch or otherwise damage your gold piece. When in doubt, seek the opinion of a professional jeweler.

This test is actually quite simple and takes only a second to do. To do it, you'll need an unglazed piece of ceramic, such as a plate. If it is glazed, this method will not work.

To do this, simply pick your gold piece and carefully drag it across the unglazed ceramic surface, so that it creates a streak on it. A black or otherwise dark colored streak means your piece is not made of gold, while a gold streak indicates that it is genuine.

Again, be careful when doing this, and bear in mind that your item may end up scratched. Usually, a little polish is enough to do away with the marks, but if done improperly, the piece may require repair. Always use common sense when conducting these tests.

Disclaimer

As said before, a skilled craftsman may be able to replicate most qualities of real gold using other elements, so even if you piece passes a few of these tests, its always good to conduct others, just to make sure. The more tests it passes, the more likely it is to be genuine gold.

There are other ways to test your gold, but these usually require special materials (such as nitric acid) or special tools. This hub only lists five of the easiest methods to test your gold.

And finally, remember, however, that it is always better to have a professional test your gold piece.

Good luck!

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© 2015 Guilherme Radaeli

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    • profile image

      Nikki 20 months ago

      I love your post, great idea's, although i knew 4 out of 5 of the tests, if you have any more knowledge i would love to read and learn all i can about the subject. Me and my husband always go to thrift stores and places of such and have gotten pretty lucky only due to others not knowing much about the different stamps it carries. Most people only look for the type of stamps of purity in the kind it is, (10k,14k etc.) Thank you for sharing and again if you know of other ways of testing while someone is looking in such stores and short quick tests can be done, i would love to read them. Thank you and good luck to you.

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      Dr Vinod Saksena 11 months ago

      Thanks a lot for this very informative post. I have learnt something about checking the purity of gold jewellery my wife, Renu, has in her possession and for the items she might like to buy in future. Although I do not claim to suddenly have become an expert , but, may be perhaps a bit wiser ! Thanks again.

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      Guilherme Radaeli 9 months ago from São Paulo - Brazil

      Thanks a lot guys! There are other methods of testing gold, but I didn't include them on this hub because they require special materials and are not the kind of thing you can usualy do at home.

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      lonnie gollaher 5 months ago

      When you test 9k gold does it fizz and leave a blueish green mark

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      Sarah 4 months ago

      great idea ! it's very usefull to check if the gold jewelry is fake or not.

      www.modeonly.com

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