How To Tell if Jewelry Is Real
You’ve found, inherited, or purchased a beautiful piece of jewelry, but you’re not sure what you’re dealing with. Is it a valuable piece of real gold, or is it simply a gold-plated look-alike with little value? If you’re interested in selling or insuring the item, it’s essential that you know what it’s really made of and what it’s worth. You can gather clues about the authenticity of your jewelry in many ways. The following steps will help you spot fake jewelry and determine when you’re dealing with a valuable piece of real gold or silver.
What Do the Markings on My Jewelry Mean?
Jewelry pieces often have markings on the inside, back, or clasp that indicate what they’re made of. Carefully inspect your jewelry and look for any small letters or numbers that may provide clues as to whether you have real precious metal or a look-alike.
Real gold jewelry will typically have a marking indicating the karat (a unit of measurement expressing the purity of gold; pure gold is 24 karats) with a K or KT value, such as 10K, 14K, 18K, 21K, or 22K. The item may also have a numerical indicator of .417, .585, .750, .833, or .917, which expresses the purity. For example, 14K gold is 58.5% pure.
In contrast, costume jewelry or gold-plated jewelry will contain a smaller quantity of gold, and will be indicated as 1/10 14K or 1/20 18K. This lets you know what percentage of the piece is actually gold. If an item is marked 1/10 14K, just 10% of it is 14K gold. You may also find costume jewelry that’s marked in one of the following ways:
- GP (Gold Plate).
- GB (Gold Bond).
- GF (Gold Filled).
- HGE (Heavy Gold Electroplate).
- RGP (Rolled Gold Plate).
Real silver jewelry will typically say “Sterling,” “Fine Sterling,” or “925.” Silver-plated or costume jewelry may have descriptors such as:
- Mexican Silver.
- German Silver.
- English Silver.
- Sterling Inlaid.
- Silver Plate.
Can I Tell if Jewelry Is Real Just by Looking at It?
Gold-plated jewelry is often easy to identify because you can see areas where the plating has worn off and the darker metal beneath shows through. This is one of the quickest and simplest ways to spot a fake. Fake jewelry may also turn your skin green, which real gold or silver will not do.
If your jewelry has gemstones, you can examine these to get a better idea of whether your piece is real or fake. It’s very unlikely that you’ll have real stones with fake metal or vice versa. Fake stones often look too good to be true. They’re flawless and clear with no impurities. This is especially true of fake diamonds. A real diamond will usually have at least minor impurities unless it is extremely rare and expensive.
Unfortunately, as more people learned to identify synthetic gems by their seemingly perfect appearance, the creators of these stones began to add flaws. You can further investigate a stone by holding it up to the sun. A glass stone will reflect the light, allowing you to see through it, while a gem will refract the light, sending it in different directions. You may also try holding the piece to your skin. Plastic will warm quickly, glass will warm slowly, and a rock will stay cold.
While these tests can give you some clues as to the authenticity of your item, the only foolproof method is to consult a qualified gemologist.
Can I Use a Magnet To Tell if My Jewelry Is Real?
A powerful rare-earth magnet can help you identify jewelry that’s only plated in gold or silver and contains another metal at its core. You must use a strong magnet for this test to work. Hold the magnet next to the jewelry and see if the piece moves. This is easiest with a bracelet or necklace that you can suspend in the air in front of the magnet.
Be mindful of clasps that may contain other metals. Place the magnet next to the center of the chain so you can test the right area. If the jewelry does not respond to the magnet, there’s a greater chance that it’s real.
Does Biting Gold Really Determine if It’s Real?
One common method of testing whether gold is real is to see how soft it is. Unfortunately, you risk marring the jewelry with this test, so you should carefully consider whether you want to make the attempt. If you gently bite a piece of gold jewelry, you will make an indentation. You might not leave a mark on fake jewelry. However, gold-plated lead is even softer than gold, so an extremely deep mark may also indicate a fake.
Rather than damage the jewelry yourself, you may want to simply look for marks made previously. If the jewelry has existing dents that show its softness, this can provide an indicator that it’s likely real gold.
Are There Chemical Tests for Gold?
You can test the gold content of your jewelry chemically if you don’t mind investing in the supplies. Real gold is valuable, so it’s often worth it to test the gold in your items. Rub the piece against a stone gently so some of the gold will rub off, giving you a small, safe sample to test. Apply a drop of nitric acid matching the suspected karat of the jewelry.
If the strip of gold doesn’t react to the nitric acid, you’ve correctly identified that karat of your gold jewelry. If the test strip changes color, bubbles, or disappears, either the piece is not gold, or it’s a different karat. You can try again with a different acid to see if you have a different karat.
This may become a lengthy and complex process if you don’t have an idea of what karat your gold is. To simplify your testing and save on supplies, have a professional jeweler handle your chemical tests. This also helps to ensure that your jewelry doesn’t get damaged in the process.
While these tactics can give you some good clues about the authenticity of your jewelry, they’re not foolproof. Fortunately, there is a guaranteed way to find out whether you have real jewelry or not. Our experienced jewelers at Las Vegas Jewelry & Coin Buyers can give you a detailed appraisal of your item, telling you exactly what you have and what it’s worth. Contact our team now to learn more about the appraisal process.
Image via Unsplash by @lum3n