Investing in a new piece of jewelry is thrilling; it’s part indulgence, part adventure, and all about your unique sense of style.
There’s nothing more exciting than knowing you made a smart purchase that will retain its value. On the other hand, realizing your piece is more costume than jewelry can be a real disappointment.
The best way to avoid this awkward moment is to procure your jewelry from a reputable source.
Ensuring that the company works with certified mines and utilizes the resources of GIA-certified gemologists for grading is always wise. However, what are you supposed to do if you’re looking to appraise a gold piece you inherited? Or, what if you don’t have the extra budget to pay for a third-party certifier?
That is where we come in. At Mark Henry Jewelry, we believe that the best buy is an educated one. With the following best practices for gold inspection, you'll know the difference between real 18K pieces and fake ones in no time!
Gold Terminology 101
Before we jump into our tips, we should break down the words that we’ll be using throughout this article.
The most common term will be “karat.” A karat is a term used to represent how much pure, uncombined gold is present in any given piece of “gold” metal. It is necessary to make this distinction since anything lower than 24K gold is not 100% gold. Such pieces consist of gold mixed with other metals: an alloy.
Alloys are utilized for a few reasons. One of these is that gold is in limited supply and is quite challenging to get in pure quality. They are also helpful because pure gold is quite soft; mixing it with other metals means the piece will be more durable. In other words, there’s a lower chance that rings and other pieces will bend out of shape if they’re made from alloys.
While shopping, try not to get confused between “karat” and “carat.” The terms look very similar and even are pronounced exactly the same, but they mean entirely different things concerning jewelry. A carat is a weight measurement used to describe the size and heaviness of a gemstone. Gold does not have a carat weight.
What Is the Composition of Gold?
Gold is a piece of history. It was the original metal of choice for both industrial needs and decoration.
This precious metal has been used as a currency since 550 B.C in present-day Turkey. In the present, gold is also a means of investment. It has caused wars and collapsed entire societies. However, gold has also spurred economic growth and great luxury for those lucky enough to possess it.
So, what is this famed substance made of? Well, it is actually quite simple. Gold is more than just a transition metal; it is actually an element all by itself — its atomic number is 79.
Gold is a truly special metal, and its versatility and natural stabilization as an element are what make it so unique.
Karats are used to state how much pure gold is included in any given piece, typically ranging from 24K to 10k. You can find 9K gold in some places, but this would generally be deemed to be fake.
24K gold has a very yellow hue due to its purity, which can be both desired and undesirable to different people. Color changes as the karats change because these golds are mixed with other metals.
This is how rose gold and white gold are created, by adding copper and nickel to the original metal. Both rose gold and white gold often come in 18K.
When a piece of gold is labeled as “gold plated,” be wary.
This means that a base metal, typically copper or brass, has been covered with a small piece of true gold. This layer is so thin that it is only about 0.005% pure. It is best to stay away from gold-plated items unless you are on a very strict budget, as they have no real rarity or value.
Why Choose 18K Gold?
18K gold is the perfect choice for most jewelry consumers.
24K gold, while 100% pure, comes in limited colors and is far more malleable than 18K. On the other hand, 18K is durable, has a variety of hues to choose from, and won’t scratch up as easily as its pricier counterpart.
18K is still an investment, and it is not a “cheap” option. However, it can be way more affordable to most buyers. The price of 24K gold is figured by multiplying .999 by its pennyweight. 18K gold’s price is found by multiplying .750 by its pennyweight.
Gold and Weight: Is It Real?
When it comes to gold, its heaviness is the best sign that you have a real piece in your hands. All true gold has a decent weight to it. While we don’t use carats to define this number, it can be felt just by touch. If you’ve ever felt a gold wedding band, you know what we are talking about.
Real gold makes a loud noise when it falls. It can weigh down your finger if it is sized improperly. When you tap the piece, does it feel full or hollow?
You can also use your hands to see if gold gives your skin any reaction. This method of testing is entirely free and simple. Just take the piece of gold and place it somewhere on your skin where you naturally sweat more.
For some people, this might mean wearing a ring for a while in the sun. If there is any green marking when you take it off, it’s fake! In addition, if you are allergic to gold, as some people are, you’ll be able to tell how real a piece is earlier than others.
What Is a Hallmark in Gold Jewelry?
This is probably your most straightforward option for checking whether your gold piece is real. Hallmarks are imprinted numbers on most authentic jewelry items to showcase their karat percentage.
You can expect to see a marking of 24K-10K written somewhere inside of a ring or on the side of a bracelet. These markings may also be written as “750” for 18K gold.
When you’re dealing with antique jewelry, it isn’t unheard of for hallmarks to fade. That is when you should rely on other testing methods. If you do see GP, GF, GE, or GEP that guarantees your piece is fake — it is either gold-filled or gold-plated. 925, 800, or “sterling” indicate you have a piece of silver.
Is It Costume Jewelry?
Costume jewelry likely has more sentimental value than economic value. Costume jewelry comprises non-fine metals like pewter and doesn’t contain over 10K gold. This category of jewelry can be a fun addition to your wardrobe, but it should never be misrepresented as fine jewelry.
If it looks heavier than it feels, fades with time to reveal pieces of silver, or has no hallmarks, it might be costume jewelry.
In 2021, 734 fake jewelry pieces were seized by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Ohio. These imposter items are masqueraded as real, and their dishonest price reflects that. Such items take advantage of consumers.
Can You Test Gold at Home?
You can use most of these simple tricks anywhere, but a few require outside resources. The good news is that they are fairly common household items!
Since gold does not have any magnetic properties, it will not catch on a magnet, but fake jewelry often will. Take one of those vacation magnets off of your refrigerator and get testing.
Fill up the sink with water and block the stopper. Place your gold piece in the sink and see if it floats. Since gold is so dense, it is not able to keep itself above water. If you have a floater, then your jewelry is more shine than substance.
Should You Test Gold With Chemicals?
While most of these ideas are easily found online in detailed steps, we advise you to avoid bleach tests. They are accurate when done correctly, but it is never a good idea to use such a potent chemical for anything but cleaning or intended use.
Fake gold can also be seriously tarnished if you soak it in bleach. If you are not ready to give it up, this is a bad idea.
The nitric acid test is a baking soda method that people also swear by, but we would advise you not to follow it. Nitric acid can be toxic when inhaled in a closed space, consumed, or splashed into your eyes. Testing for gold is not worth your health or safety.
Ask For Help
At Mark Henry Jewelry, we are big advocates of requesting information from jewelers and gemologists.
We have GIA certification and grade reports on all of our collections, and we are happy to share them with customers. None of the at-home gold testing methods can replace the authentication that comes from a lab. When in doubt, ask around!