The old saying goes, "If it's too good to be true, it probably is." The same can be said for gold. If you're looking at a piece of gold and it seems too good to be true, there's a chance that it might not be real. Here are a few ways to test gold at home and know if what you're looking at is the real deal:

The Stamp Test: Look for Jewelry Hallmarks

A jewelry hallmark is a stamp on a piece of jewelry that identifies the content and manufacturer. Jewelry hallmarks show the gold's level of purity and manufacturer to lend greater credibility to a piece's authenticity and make it easier to identify and verify.

Be aware that some unscrupulous dealers forge gold jewelry hallmark symbols. For example, a stamp that reads "18K" on a piece of jewelry could actually mean that the gold item is only 14 karats. Although this is illegal, any dealer can engrave any piece of jewelry with any jewelry hallmark they choose, so this level of testing is not 100% foolproof.

Plus, not all jewelry pieces contain gold jewelry hallmark symbols since older pieces may have had prior jewelry stamps that have faded with time. This is common in older jewelry pieces since the more a piece is polished, the more likely a jewelry engraving will fade over time due to the thinning of the metal.

Antique jewelry is more likely to not have hallmarks since there was no real standard for stamping gold jewelry with purity levels and manufacturers' marks prior to the 1900s. To ensure that your antique jewelry is genuine gold, have it appraised by a reputable jeweler or other professional.

Look for Letter Markings

When you buy gold jewelry, you may wonder how to tell if it is real gold. There are a few ways to do this. One way is to look at the karat mark. Depending on the karat weight, gold jewelry contains different karat marks, such as 10K, 14K, or 18K. The higher the karat number, the higher the percentage of pure gold in the jewelry. Gold that is 24K is 100% pure gold.

If the number marked on your solid gold jewelry is not one of these karat numbers, you need to do more research. European jewelry markings are different and may contain a mark with a three-digit number followed by the letter "G" (ex. 750G, 585G). These numbers tell you how many parts per thousand of gold are in the alloy. For example, 750G jewelry contains 750 parts per thousand gold, or 75% gold.

If someone tries to sell you solid gold jewelry pieces without a legitimate stamp or mark, it is most likely not real gold, although some older gold pieces may not have a karat stamp because the date of creation precedes the regular usage of karat stamps.


Check the Weight & Thickness

When buying gold jewelry, you should also consider the weight and thickness of the gold piece. All real gold metal is heavy weighing more than fake gold. Genuine gold pieces have the same thickness all the way through because real gold doesn't have any weak spots or hollow areas. So the jewelry should feel consistent regardless of where you're holding it.

On the other hand, most imitation gold jewelry consists of a thin layer of pure gold over a base metal like brass (gold plated brass). This thin layer of pure gold makes gold-plated jewelry lighter than genuine gold and can cause it to feel flimsy or bendable compared to authentic gold.

Look for Flaws

Gold occurs naturally in nature, so all real gold jewelry will naturally contain flaws. These can include scratch marks or air bubbles visible to the naked eye. The value of a piece of gold jewelry depends on its karat weight, so if you see a flaw, it does not necessarily mean that a piece is cheap or fake gold.

If you are looking at a piece of gold jewelry with no visible flaws, that does not necessarily mean it is fake. However, if the piece is very shiny and new-looking, with no signs of wear, it could be gold plated, which is a cheaper alternative to solid gold.

Be careful, though! Fake gold jewelry often contains genuine gold, so gold jewelry with flaws isn't always 100% real. So have it tested by a professional for confirmation.

The Skin Test

It is easy to figure out if gold is real: You need to hold the piece of jewelry in your hands for a couple of minutes. The perspiration from your hands will either react with the metal and change the color of your skin or leave it unaffected. There is no discoloration when authentic gold is in direct contact with your skin. If the gold is fool's gold, then it will cause your skin to turn black, blue, or green at the contact points.

The Magnet Test

Examine the piece of gold to see if it is magnetic. Gold is not a magnet; hence there is no magnetic attraction from a magnet. If the piece of jewelry is attracted to a magnet, it is not gold.

To do the magnet test, you will need a strong magnet. Place the magnet on top of the gold piece and see if it is attracted by the magnet. If the item is slightly magnetic, but doesn't stick to the magnet, then it's gold-plated.

However, some base metals mixed with gold do not react in a magnetic field, so this test isn't a foolproof method of determining whether an object is real gold or not.

The Float Test

The float test is another simple method of checking gold jewelry at home, and it requires only a cup of water. Due to gold's high density (19.32 g/ml), pure gold will immediately sink to the cup's bottom. Gold alloys will tilt up halfway, while gold-plated or painted metal will float or hover above.
However, keep in mind that phony gold might include other heavy metals that will also sink. As a result, this test is not foolproof.

The Ceramic Scratch Test

For the scratch test for gold, you will need an unglazed ceramic tile. Examine the color of the streak after scratching or rubbing your gold across the unglazed ceramic tile.

A gold streak denotes genuine gold, but a black streak implies pyrite or imitation gold. If you don't want to risk damaging your piece with the scratch test for gold, explore other non-destructive testing options.

The Vinegar Test

You can use vinegar to test gold, and it is one of the best at-home techniques for doing so. Simply place the gold in a cup of vinegar and observe whether it retains its luster or changes color. Real gold does not change color or lose its luster when exposed to vinegar.

The Nitric Acid Test

Most gold jewelry has a karat mark stamp (10K, 14K, 18K, 585, 750, etc.). However, some authentic gold jewelry is not stamped, although rare. If the gold item contains no stamp and appears to be gold, test the "core" of the jewelry rather than just the surface. Make a deep incision into the item's center or file the object's surface beyond any gold plating. In gold buying, what matters is the core of the item, not the surface, because the core is the majority of the mass. The plating is only a paint job. Apply a few drops of nitric acid to the exposed core material.

1. What Does Nitric Acid React With?

Although a few drops of nitric acid will react with many different materials, its strongest reaction is with copper-based alloys: the greater the copper concentration, the more powerful the reaction. Most fake gold jewelry is copper-based, meaning a form of copper alloy, mainly brass (copper and tin). It also reacts with low-karat gold, which means 10k and under.

A. Nitric Acid Reaction with Copper

1. Cupric reaction results.

2. Acid instantly becomes green, fizzing, and green vapors develop, a phenomenon called hard cupric reaction.

B. Nitric Acid Reaction with Low Karat Gold

1. Hardly noticeable cupric reaction.

2. There will only be a small amount of fumes produced.

3. At contact points with gold, nitric acid will leave a black mark that looks like smoke deposits. This phenomenon is called mild cupric reaction.

Only 41.6 percent of 10K gold is pure. The darker the mark, the lower the grade on the karat system. A mark will begin displaying starting at 12 karats. It will be apparent in 10K gold, but it will appear as a blur below 8K. The mark is slightly visible below six karats but not as strong as it is with copper. Gold with a karat value of 6 karats or below is considered fake gold.

2. What Does Nitric Acid Not React With

For the purpose of gold buying, jewelry buyers must distinguish gold alloys from other metals; nitric acid does not react with the following metals.

  • Aluminum (standard in inauthentic gold jewelry)

  • Stainless steel (standard in faux gold jewelry)

  • Zinc (standard in inauthentic gold jewelry)

  • Tungsten (standard in faux gold jewelry)

  • Gold 12 karats and above gold

  • Platinum

  • Palladium

How to Interpret Nitric Acid Gold Testing

Here's how to read gold nitric acid test results.

  • The hard cupric reaction indicates that the surface in question is copper-based.

  • No cupric reaction means the core is not copper-based. Its base is another metal.

  • No cupric reaction does not mean that the jewelry in question is gold.

  • If the gold jewelry features a karat stamp and its core does not react with nitric acid, the item is likely a gold alloy with content as per the stamp. However, it might also be something else. There are some fantastic fakes available.

Tricky Materials:

There is high-quality fake gold out there! Pay attention to the following when testing with nitric acid:

  • Gold plated silver – exposing the core metal helps, but it may be less evident when testing white gold. It is harder to differentiate between white gold and rhodium plating than yellow gold plated over a silver base.

  • Gold/zinc alloys. This is a light material with some actual real gold content. It features the appearance of authentic gold but blackens in a similar way to low carat gold. The actual real gold content is very minute.

  • Test chains with nitric acid in multiple locations; this ensures a valid result.

The Fail-Safe Test

If you want to know how much gold is really in your gold, the tried-and-true method is to take it to a reputable jeweler and have it tested there. Jewelers have a wide range of tools available to test the authenticity of gold. Experience is always the most important factor, but some fake gold is so sophisticated that jewelers will also rely on advanced equipment for confirmation.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, you can test gold at home by looking at the karat mark, weight, and thickness, looking for flaws, using the skin test, using the magnet test, trying the float test, or using nitric acid. But the fail-safe test is to take it to a professional for evaluation. No matter which test you decide to use, always use caution when buying gold jewelry, or else you may end up with fake gold.