Not Sure if Your Gold Jewelry is Real or Fake? Here's How You Can Find Out

Jewelry Metals

Not Sure if Your Gold Jewelry is Real or Fake? Here's How You Can Find Out

Gold is a precious metal that commands high prices on the commodities market. People buy solid gold in bars and bullion because it's a reliable store of value and tends to resist economic pressures. It's also turned into jewelry because people can literally wear their wealth, but gold jewelry is also faked for affordability and to imitate the real thing. It can be difficult to tell if something's real gold or fake. 

Items made from gold are supposed to bear a mark that states the gold purity. Solid gold is marked 24K with the number going down as the amount of alloy increases. The marking of a piece of gold with a karat stamp is usually a sign that the piece is made from real gold, but it's not always reliable.

That's due to the fact that there are plenty of fake gold pieces circulating on the market with a karat stamp because it's been plated with gold. Some manufacturers will use a mark to inform the viewer that the piece isn't made from real gold, but there are no laws that require a maker to take this step.

You can easily detect fake gold through a visual inspection and knowing what to look for. If you're unsure, there are further tests you can perform on a piece to determine if it's real gold or not. Read on to learn more about how to tell if gold is real, and identify real gold vs. fake gold pieces. 

How to Read Stamps and Hallmarks

The first thing you should do when looking at a gold piece is to turn it over and look for stamps. At the very least, the piece should be marked with its gold content, or karat weight. In order to make gold pieces more affordable, jewelry makers alloy pure gold with another metal to make it a certain amount of parts per 24k. For example, 14k means the piece is 14 parts gold to 10 parts alloy by weight. A piece that's marked 24k is pure gold and has no other alloy present. 

It's worth noting that countries around the world have different standards for karat weight along with how the weight is marked. The U.S. standard is to use the parts to gold, while other countries use a scale that tops out at .999 and steps down from there. Another difference in marking is the use of C instead of K, or carat instead of karat. That means when you see a decimal number or the letter C on a piece, it's most likely from a different country and alloyed to international standards.

Common karat weights

Gold pieces, no matter if it's an object or piece of jewelry, is stamped with a karat weight or decimal point number. The World Gold Council is an organization that helps maintain gold purity standards and provides further explanation of karat weights and how to read them. The most common weights seen on modern pieces include:

  • 24k/.999
  • 22k/.916
  • 18k/.750
  • 14k/.583
  • 10k/.417
  • 9k/.375

Gold can be alloyed down to as little as 6k or .250/25% gold. It can also be alloyed to different percentages other than the ones listed above, which means don't discount a piece as not being real gold simply because it's not alloyed to a common percentage. 

Common markings for non-gold jewelry

Jewelry that's gold-plated, filled, or rolled has their own set of markings to denote the gold content. It's not a guarantee that non-gold jewelry will bear these marks, but if you see them, you know that the piece isn't made from real gold.

  • GP/gold-plated
  • GF/gold-filled
  • RGP/rolled gold plate
  • HGP/heavy gold-plated
  • GEP or GE/gold electroplated
  • HEG/heavy gold electroplated


Gold-filled means the piece has been made from two or three layers of metal. The outer layers are real gold with a layer of jewelers brass or silver as the lower or middle layer. It comes in sheet and wire form, and finished pieces look like real gold, but has a number mark on the back that states the gold percentage used in the metal. 

By law, gold-filled pieces are required to be at least 5% gold, or 1/20 karat by weight. For example, a piece of jewelry that uses 14k gold for its construction is required to use a 14/20 GF stamp on the back. The most common karat weights used for gold-filled include 14k and 12k, which means the piece is stamped with 12/20 or 14/20 GF. 

Sometimes the manufacturer leaves off the GF letters, but still stamps the numbers. Stamps are commonly found on the back or bottom of a piece, and by the catch on chains. 


Gold-plated pieces consist of a thin layer of gold that's electroplated to a base metal such as brass or copper, but it can use any kind of base metal. These pieces usually don't bear any type of mark due to the minimal amount of gold used for plating. The color of the gold plating changes with the karat weight of gold that was used. A piece plated with 22k gold has a color that's rich and deep, while a piece plated in 14k has a color that leans more towards a champagne. 


Vermeil is similar to gold-plated, but the underlying metal is sterling silver as opposed to a base metal. A vermeil piece is marked with a .925 stamp instead of a K stamp due to the fact a small amount of gold is used for plating. By law in the US, a piece of vermeil has to have a layer of gold that's at least 2.5 microns thick. 

The color of vermeil is different from gold-plated because the silver contributes its color to the gold. The thinner the layer of gold, the more noticeable the color of the silver becomes.

How to Check for Real Gold

Gold's position as a valuable metal means it's rare for a piece to go unmarked, but it happens. Manufacturers want to maximize the value of their pieces, and stamping/hallmarking the finished piece ensures that they'll get the best return on investment. What that means for buyers is that the piece they're looking at is what it is. In other words, a piece that's not marked is most likely gold-plated or colored base metal. 

There are exceptions to the rules, and real gold pieces can fly under the radar for various reasons. Gold wears away over time, which means the marks can wear off if they weren't made deep enough. Other reasons include a piece may not have been marked at all, or it was made in the US before 1905. In 1900, the US government passed a law known as the Gold Standard Act, and further shored up the laws regarding the marking of gold in 1905.

Prior to the standardizing of gold, manufacturers didn't always mark their pieces, or didn't mark them accurately. After standardization, it became illegal for manufacturers to not mark their gold accurately, and buyers were able to rely on the marks as a standard of purity. This is important knowledge to have for the buying of antique gold as it can affect the value of the piece. Here are some tests you can use to check if gold is real or not.

Using a lighter

A lighter can quickly tell you if the piece you're testing is gold or not, but you also have to be willing to damage the piece if it's not real gold. Apply the flame to the piece and hold there until the piece reacts by getting bright or smoking/darkening. Real gold reacts to heat by getting brighter, while a gold-plated piece darkens, burns, or smokes as the plating burns. 

It's an effective way to test for real gold, but if you like the piece enough to want to keep it in good condition, avoid the lighter test and try one of the following tests.

Float test

Fill a glass or bowl with water, then drop your piece into the container. If it sinks quickly, it's most likely gold due to its density and weight. Fake gold is sometimes made from lighter materials that float or sink slowly. Again, this is not a foolproof method, but it can help push the piece towards being real gold instead of fake. 

Rubbing the piece against your skin

Your skin can tell you if the piece is real or not because your skin and body chemicals react with base metals, but not real gold. Taking a ring and rubbing it against your skin can leave behind a blue or green streak that tells you the piece isn't real. 

Begin by holding the piece in your hands for a couple of minutes and let your perspiration come into contact with it. Rub the piece of jewelry against your skin and look for colored streaks to appear. If you see a green or blue streak on your skin, the piece is plated and not real gold. 

Using a magnet

Pure gold has no magnetic properties, which means a magnet won't stick to it. Take a small magnet and place it against the item in question. If it doesn't stick, the metal is gold. However, this isn't a definitive test as gold alloys sometimes use ferrous metals that attract magnets. If you find that the magnet has a weak adhesion to the item, it may be alloyed gold. You'll need to perform further tests to get a definitive result. 

Scratch testing with a ceramic tile

This test requires the use of a piece of unglazed tile for the best results, preferably one that's dark gray or black in color for visibility. Gently scrape the edge of the piece against the tile and look for a yellow streak. If you see a yellow streak or mark, the piece is gold. All other metals leave a black streak.  

Visual inspection

Give the piece a close visual look to inspect for flaking in the metal, chips, or other signs of wear that reveal it's gold-plated or gold-filled. Real gold pieces won't flake or chip due to the fact that it's made from solid gold or alloyed with another metal. It's possible for a gold piece to show signs of wear, but the color of the metal won't change no matter how much has worn away.

Testing with distilled white vinegar

Vinegar is a weak acid that corrodes metal in a matter of seconds. Gold doesn't react to vinegar, but fake gold does, which makes the vinegar test a definitive one. Make sure to use distilled white vinegar as other types of vinegar aren't as strong. 

Make sure to test the piece on the back and in as small of an area as possible. Use a dropper and place a couple of drops of vinegar on the area you've selected, and wait for a reaction. Real gold does not react to acid, but plated pieces will, and the vinegar will cause the plating to tarnish. 

Keep a clean cloth handy to clean the vinegar away in case the metal reacts. This will prevent the vinegar from doing further damage to the piece. 

Use a jeweler's gold testing kit

Jeweler's testing kits come with a testing stone and bottles of acid that react in the presence of gold. Always follow the instructions in the kit for safety and to get the best results. These kits are commercially available and no license or certification is needed to buy one. 

The kit works similarly to the ceramic tile method, but goes a step further with the use of acids that react according to the karat weight of the piece. A jeweler's testing kit tells you if your piece is real gold or fake, and the karat weight. The results are definitive and repeatable, and eliminates any uncertainty as to the metal content of the piece. 

Visit a jeweler

The safest way of testing your piece for gold content is to visit a jeweler who has the testing materials and equipment to determine if a piece is gold-plated, gold-filled, or real gold. Look for a jeweler that has a tool specifically designed to scan the piece for metal content. The tool, known as an XRF x-ray analyzer gun, uses x-ray waves to determine the presence of gold, its karat weight, and reveal any other metals used in the making of the piece. The x-ray gun won't damage your item, but does give you a definitive answer about the gold content in your piece that can't be disputed. 

1 comment

  • Riley Young

    Very informative !!! I’ll keep taking my buys to my favorite jewler. Let the professional do his job.

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