How to Tell If Gold Is Real | Spotting Real vs. Fake Gold

by | Sep 12, 2020

Gold is highly lucrative and widely coveted. So it’s no wonder we all have a vested interest in figuring out how to tell if gold is real.

For as long as humans have had gold, there have been expert counterfeiters who disguised fakes as the real thing. So, how do you tell if gold is real? If you were a pirate in a movie, you might bite into the gold to see if your teeth leave marks, but we know some more straightforward tests that are less likely to damage your teeth.

We’ve collected a few of the best ways to figure out if the gold in your hand is the real deal or not. Read on for some advice about how to tell if gold is real or fake.

What Are the Properties of Gold You Should Know?

Remember that gold has been a precious, highly-coveted metal for thousands of years, not just because it is beautiful, but because it has distinctive properties, including:

  • Oxidation resistance: It won’t tarnish or rust like other metals do, including silver, aluminum, brass, and more.
  • Malleable and ductile: It’s a soft metal (hence the teeth marks) and can be molded into thin wires for circuits, alloys, fillings, and more. It’s also a great conductor of electricity since it isn’t as susceptible to rust or corrosion.
  • Not magnetic: Unlike other metals, gold is not even slightly magnetic.
  • Low dissolvability: Gold can only be dissolved with a concentrated acid mixture called nitro-hydrochloric acid.

How to Tell If Gold Is Real Using These Tests

As we mentioned above, there are several tests you can do to see if your gold is the real thing.

Test Size and Weight

If your gold is a simple item sold by the weight—like a gold bar, bullion, or coin—then you can straightforwardly check the size and weight of your gold to tell if it’s real. Just make sure you know what the weight, diameter, circumference, or other measurements should be beforehand.

Although gold can be blended with other types of metal to cut down on the amount of pure gold in an item, gold has specific physical properties that are hard to replicate. Namely, gold is incredibly dense, so any metal combined with gold will affect the weight or size of the item in question.

Certain gold items sell with specific dimensions—a Krugerrand coin, for instance, is  32.77 millimeters in diameter, weighing 32 grams, minted from 22-karat gold alloy. Any Krugerrand coin that doesn’t fit those specifications is a fake. Similarly, other bullion or Britannia would need to increase the width or height to weigh the right amount.

Magnet Test

As mentioned earlier, a simple test for how blended your gold is and how to tell if gold is real is to check it with a magnet.

Real gold, in any form, should not stick to a magnet. Even against a reasonably strong magnet, a genuine gold bullion coin, bar, cord, jewelry, or anything else should not move at all. If you’re able to pick it up or move the metal with a magnet, then you know your gold has at least one other metal within it.

But remember—not all metals are magnetic, and not all gold items are intended to be considered pure gold. Jewelry items might have clasps or jump rings that are not pure gold and will react to a magnet. So this test is best done as a check against other tests since a fake gold coin or item of jewelry could still pass even if it’s not all gold.

Use Sound

Although this sounds like something that only a gold aficionado could spot, it should be easy even for a layperson to attempt. It also works best for things like gold coins, which can be struck quickly enough to create a sound.

Strike the coin with another coin, and listen to the ringing sound it makes. Precious metals like gold hold a ringing note longer and sound more high-pitched. Base metals will sound much duller and shorter.

Test It With Your Skin

Perhaps the easiest method on this list, the skin test measures the level of impurity in a gold item by merely holding the object in your hand. Just make sure the area of skin you’re testing against is clean of anything that might interfere with the reaction, such as lotion. Because of real gold’s properties, it shouldn’t result in any discoloration or staining of your skin the way brass might leave a greenish tint.

To run the test, hold the item in your hand for a few minutes. Base metals will react to the sweat on your skin and create a chemical reaction. As a result, your skin should turn green or black depending on the metal or alloy it’s reacting to. If there are no marks on your hand, then you can trust that the item in question is real gold.

Liquid foundation presents an alternative way to test whether something is gold. After applying a thin layer to your skin and letting it dry, gently rub the gold against it. If that results in a line or black streak, then the gold is likely genuine.

Try the Ceramic Test

ceramic plate for testing gold
Take an unglazed ceramic product or unglazed porcelain tile and drag your gold item against it (slight pressure should do; there’s no need to damage the ceramic). If the gold item left a black mark, then it is not real. If there’s a thin gold line where you dragged it, then the gold is legit.

Although this test may seem uncomplicated, it’s important to proceed carefully. It’s possible to damage your gold by scratching it, which depending on the item, is hard to repair. If you’re concerned about how your gold looks, it may be best to proceed with a different test.

Use Nitric Acid

Nitric acid is highly corrosive, commercially available, and reacts to many materials—most notably copper alloys used with fake gold jewelry. So, only attempt this test if you’re willing to risk the item, which will be damaged by acid unless it is pure gold.

Nitric acid testing also determines a few variables, so it’s not the most straightforward avenue for how to tell if gold is real or not. Gold testing with nitric acid can give a few different results:

  • A hard cupric reaction indicates that it’s come into contact with mostly copper-based materials. When you get a hard cupric reaction, you can’t miss it, thanks to the acid turning green and bubbly. It will also emit green fumes as the reaction goes on.
  • A mild cupric reaction means that the gold the nitric acid is coming into contact with is of lower quality, typically ten karats or below. In this case, some fumes will come out, but there will be no drastic color change or bubbles. The gold itself will get a black mark anywhere the acid came into contact with it (the darkness of the mark will be dependent on the karat level in the gold).
  • If there’s no reaction at all, then it’s come into contact with a metal that it does not react to, like gold, aluminum, and others. Many of these—including zinc, stainless steel, and tungsten—are also common in fake jewelry, so beware.

Essentially, the nitric acid test is suitable for a lot of things, but may not confirm whether your jewelry or coin is gold. So there might be better procedures for how to tell if gold is real, depending on the item and common substitutes that go along with it.

Let a Few Drops of Vinegar Reveal If It’s Gold

Another straightforward test—for this one, all you’ll need is your gold item, some white vinegar, and either an eyedropper or glass container.

For the eyedropper: Place the gold on a flat surface and use the dropper to drip a little bit of vinegar onto the gold. If the vinegar changes color, then the gold is fake. If it stays clear, then the gold is real.

For a glass container: This method will take slightly longer than just waiting for the drops to sit. Fill the glass container with the white vinegar. Leave your gold to sit in the cup or bowl for 15 minutes. After that, come back and rinse the gold off with tap water. If the gold is real, it will be clean and shiny. If it is not real gold, then the “gold” will change color a bit.

Contact the Experts

As you might have gathered from this list, there are a lot of ways to test gold, but not all of them will confirm whether your gold is the real deal. If you want assistance or reassurance about your gold items in question, contact us today. We can help you sort out whether your product is gold and determine the quality of the type of gold you have.

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