Buying Tips

How to Tell if Gold is Real? Spot Fake Gold with Our Simple Tests!

Briana Briana 26 Sep 2019 209

The last few years gold has made a comeback as a preferred metal type for jewelry (and home decor as well!). Timeless and elegant, it makes perfect sense to us why everyone remembers how awesome gold jewelry is.

It is the perfect addition to every outfit and looks great in both minimalist pieces as well as more bold ones.

There is nothing worse than deciding to invest in some real gold jewelry only to find out that what you purchased is fake.

It’s one thing if you know something is fake and you are okay with it to save money, but it’s an entirely different situation if what you think you are getting isn’t actually what you are getting!

Gold is expensive, and while it is a worthy investment, you want to make sure what you are buying is, in fact real. We think that gold jewelry is a trend that is here to stay, so if there is anything to invest money in, gold would be it!

If you are in the process of updating your jewelry collection and want to be sure what you are buying is legit, thankfully there are some simple tests you can do to find out if what you have is real or fake!

Keep reading for our tests, some helpful definitions and distinctions (what does it mean to be gold-filled anyway?) as well as some gorgeous real gold options you can shop right now.

How to Tell if Gold is Real? Our 101 Guide!

Understanding the Differences: Solid Gold vs Gold Filled vs Gold Plated 

Before we get to our tests that will help you decide what is real and what is fake, it helps to go over some basic definitions. If you have shopped for gold jewelry lately, you have probably seen a few different terms describing the jewelry itself.

The three main terms you will hear are Solid gold, gold-filled, and gold plated. So, what do those all mean? Do all of those types include real gold? Let’s discuss!

Solid gold

This should make the most sense and is pretty self-explanatory. If you are buying something that is listed as being solid gold- the entire piece of jewelry should be gold. No other metals should be used at all.

This is, as you can imagine, the highest quality jewelry you can buy and will, therefore, also be the most expensive. However, just because it is the most expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best.

If something is truly solid gold, it has to be 24k gold. While that may sound impressive (and it is) and it will look beautiful-  the metal itself will be very soft and not be durable at all. 

Gold karatages, source: Ben Garelick Jewelers

Instead, if you go with something like 14k gold, you will get something that is both incredibly high quality, and that has much higher durability.

With 14k gold, the solid gold is mixed (or alloyed) with other metals so that it can be more durable. 14k gold typically has around 60% gold and 40% other metals. 

✓ Gold-filled

If you don’t want to spend the money to get something that is solid gold, the next best option you can choose is gold filled. Gold-filled is not solid gold, meaning the price will be much lower.

Instead, gold filled jewelry is comprised of (typically) two layers that are bonded together with heat. The base layer is your base metal, which is typically something like brass.

The second layer is the actual gold which is bonded to the base metal. In this case, you will typically see 14k gold-filled, meaning that the 14k gold alloy (like we discussed earlier) will be bonded to a brass core.

The result? The jewelry will look very similar to solid gold and will also last as long.

Source: My Diamond Guide

If you have sensitive skin or are allergic to brass, you can still wear gold filled jewelry. It is highly durable and can be worn every day and will not tarnish.

The gold will not wear off or fall off. For most people, gold filled jewelry is their desired choice because it combines durability with appearance and value. That’s a great combo! 

Gold plated

Finally, the ‘lowest’ level of gold jewelry that you can get is gold plated jewelry. This type of jewelry does contain actual gold, but it will be a much smaller percentage of gold than solid gold or gold filled jewelry.

In this case, a base metal like brass is simply dipped in gold. For this reason, there is far less gold present, and it will tarnish and wear off over time. 

Because there is such a small amount of gold in gold plated jewelry, it will clearly be the most economical option. This is great if you want to purchase a very trendy piece of jewelry that you know you won’t wear a lot.

This allows you to try out the trend without having to break the bank. 

You definitely don’t want to wear gold plated jewelry every day – it’ll pretty quickly tarnish and the gold will wear off, revealing the brass.

For that reason it also doesn’t make it a great option for anyone with sensitive skin or skin allergies – gold plated jewelry can cause an allergic reaction, unlike gold filled jewelry which will not.  

Do you have a pretty good understanding of the three different types at this point? We hope you do. To help really understand the differences, here’s a handy visual reference displaying the three different types of gold:

Source: Sit and Wonder

Putting it to the Test

Okay, now that you know what it means if something is solid gold, gold-filled, or gold plated, it’s time to learn the various tests you can run to see if the gold you do have is real or fake! 

Test 1: The Stamp Test

This is the easiest and quickest test to check if gold is real. This is also a test that you can do anywhere, making it a great option if you are out shopping and want to know if the gold chain you are considering is real or fake.

The majority of gold that is real will be stamped with what karat level it is – 18k, 14k, 10k, etc. 

If you are inspecting a piece of jewelry, the first thing to do is check for the stamp! It will be small, so don’t assume right away something is fake if you can’t find it.

Clearly, the stamp will be on the inside or a relatively ‘hidden’ part of the jewelry, say the inner part of a ring, or on the clasp of a necklace. 

Gold karat stamping chart, source: Northern Refineries

You can’t beat the convenience of this test, but keep in mind that if you don’t find any stamp, that doesn’t guarantee that the gold is fake.

If you are shopping for a new piece of jewelry and don’t see a stamp, we suggest leaving it.

However, if you are looking through old pieces of jewelry that you have, or if you are shopping at say a vintage shop, you might have a more difficult time. Not all older jewelry will be stamped

Also, keep in mind that if you do find a stamp, there’s always the chance that the gold is still fake. Because people know to look for this stamp, forgers have gotten good at adding this ‘trust signal’ to fake pieces.   

Test 2: The Magnet Test

This is another relatively easy test to carry out. However, it will be more difficult to do say at a jewelry shop or place where you are considering buying a new piece of jewelry. Gold is not magnetic!

True solid, 24k gold will not be attracted to a magnet at all. If you hold a magnet up to a piece of gold and it is strongly attracted to it, more than likely the gold is fake.

However, keep in mind that nearly all jewelry will not be solid 24k gold. Because it is alloyed with other metals, you need to be careful with this test.

Source: Wiki How

We recommend getting a very strong magnet to use for your test. Also, keep in mind when dealing with necklaces or bracelets that the clasp on the gold may not be real gold, and that is okay. If that is the only part attracted to the magnet, you know that the rest of the gold is real. 

If the jewelry you test is attracted to the magnet, there are clearly other metals present. In these cases, there is probably a small amount of real gold and more of other metals.

If the gold is supposed to be a higher karat solid gold, you are probably dealing with a fake. 

Test 3: The Float Test

For jewelry you’ve got at home you can always do a quick float test to see if it is real or fake! All you need is a cup of water. 

Drop the jewelry in the water and see what happens. Real gold will sink, as it is a heavy metal. If the jewelry floats, more than likely, it is not real gold.

If it doesn’t immediately sink or does not sink all the way, you may have jewelry that simply has less real gold than you thought it did. 

Bonus Test: Head to the Jeweler

If you are really unsure if a piece of jewelry you have is real or fake and these tests haven’t given you a solid answer, you can always go to a trained jeweler, and they can use more professional equipment to inspect the jewelry and give you an answer.

They will likely charge you a fee to do this, so make sure it’s an item that you really want or need to know the status of.  

A Question of Tarnishing: Does Real Gold Tarnish? 

We all know that sterling silver tarnishes. Is the same true of real gold? If we are talking solid, 24k gold, the answer is no. Gold itself does not tarnish. However, keep in mind that the majority of gold jewelry is not solid gold because of durability issues. 

If you want gold jewelry that is not going to tarnish, you need to stick with solid gold that is a higher karat quality. 18k gold and 14k gold is not likely to tarnish. If you go below that level, say 10k gold, you might notice some tarnishing. 

If you have a piece of gold jewelry that has tarnished, keep in mind that that doesn’t mean the gold is fake. Follow some of those above tests to see if it is real.

If you’ve got real gold that has tarnished, you can clean it using some mild soap and water. Dry the jewelry with a soft cloth- don’t use anything abrasive! Similar to when you clean sterling silver, you have to be careful to not scratch the metal. 

Shop Gold: Our Top Picks 

Have we inspired you to go shopping? Great! Here are some awesome gold jewelry finds that we are absolutely loving right now. Happy shopping!

Rest assured, the jewelry here is definitely real gold, not fake. However, now that you know the differences between solid gold, gold-filled, and gold plated, be sure to pay attention so that you can make the right decision based on what you are looking for!

Are you unsure of how to decide? Ask yourself this set of questions to make the right decision:

What is your budget?

If you have a very limited budget and want jewelry that you can wear once or twice, go with gold plated. If you want something that is durable, but that won’t break the bank, go with gold filled. Looking for a true investment piece? Go for solid gold. 

Do you have sensitive skin?

If the answer is yes, gold plated jewelry should pretty much be out right away unless you know you will only wear the jewelry for one occasion. 

Are you okay with maintenance?

If you know you don’t typically clean your jewelry, we recommend investing in either solid gold or gold filled jewelry that has 14k gold or higher.

The lower karat you go, the higher the likelihood you will have to clean your gold as it may tarnish. If you are fine with always replacing your jewelry instead of maintaining it, you could go with gold plated. 

Our Solid Gold Jewelry Shopping List!

1. Sisgem Real Gold Bead Chain Thin Bracelet

Get it here

We love this gold bracelet and think it’s the perfect accessory for every day. It is simple enough to wear during the day, yet beautiful enough to wear at night as well.

If you prefer having a few nice pieces instead of a larger collection of more costume jewelry, this is a great bracelet to invest in that you will be able to wear all the time. 

If you want something with the best durability and you know you will wear it every day, we recommend going with this piece since it’s 18k gold.

We love that the beads on this chain make the bracelet more unique than just a basic chain. However, it remains beautifully minimalistic and is great for anyone that prefers more simple or delicate jewelry pieces.

2. Vir Jewels 1/3 cttw Certified Diamond Stud Earrings/14K White or Yellow Gold

Get it here

We believe that every woman needs a real set of diamond stud earrings in her jewelry collection.

These simple studs are the perfect addition to every outfit and will always be a classic piece of jewelry. Diamond studs will never go out of style!

The earrings are beautiful, and best of all, you can get them in either 14k white or yellow gold. They are durable and feature real diamonds totaling .33 carat weight. 

Perfect studs that you can wear day or night, and are great to wear alone, or with other earrings if you have more than one piercing. Truly a must for every woman to have! 

3. Kooljewelry 14k Yellow, White or Rose Gold 0.8mm Rope Chain Necklace

Get it here

We recently discussed different chain types, and one of our favorites these days is the rope chain. This type of chain is slightly more intricate than a basic cable chain but can remain perfectly delicate if you get a smaller rope chain.

This is one such necklace, and we think it is the perfect gold chain that every woman should have in her jewelry collection. 

This chain is perfect to wear either by itself for a more minimalist look, or to pair with your favorite pendant for a statement look. We love how versatile basic gold chains are, and this is one that you will be able to wear with a wide variety of outfits.

This chain is made of 14k gold, and you can get it in different lengths. Whether you want a choker length, a longer matinee length, or something in between, you can get that with this gorgeous rope chain!

3. Amazon Collection 10K Gold Dainty Bow Ring

Get it here

Finally, we love this super feminine ring that features a gorgeous bow and is set with shimmering Swarovski zirconia crystals.

The ring itself is 10k gold, which is on the lower end of solid gold, but is still a great option if you want something durable that is also very affordable.

You may experience some tarnishing with 10k gold, but remember, you can easily clean it with soap and water!

We think this would look great as a right-hand ring, it makes a statement without being too bold, making it a great ring that you can easily wear every day, and during the day or at night!

We love the contrast of the white stones with the gold band; it is eye-catching and simply gorgeous!  

Wrapping Up

So there you have it! Now that you know all about gold, you can rest easy that you will make the right decisions moving forward.

From determining if gold is real or fake, to deciding what level of jewelry you want, you’ve got all the information now to make an informed decision. 

Gold jewelry is very popular these days, and unfortunately, that means that some people will try to take advantage by selling fake gold.

Whenever you’re wondering how to tell if gold is real, keep these tests handy so that you can try them out on any gold jewelry you have (or are thinking of purchasing)! Good luck!