How to know if gold is real?

The interesting thing about gold is that this metal has been used for thousands of years to create popular items such as jewellery, ornamental objects and for trade with the likes of coins or bullion. 

Gold’s value comes from its many physical and chemical characteristics, but how do you know if it is real?

What makes this a common question is that because gold has been such a desirable and valuable asset it has been broken down into different purities to make it more affordable. Gold is commonly replicated by other metals, this usually means that it is “plated” gold, it has the appearance of gold, but it is not the real thing. Gold is also known to be very susceptible to counterfeiting. These points all together show that it can be hard to know what is real or what is pure.

If we want to know if what looks like gold on the surface is real gold, then we need to understand purity. In the precious metals industry this is called Millesimal Fineness; something that is more commonly heard in the jewellery industry as “Karats”. This is the way that the purity of gold is measured. The purity of gold changes as other metals are added to it during the melt down process which makes the gold become less fine.

Gold Fineness Chart:

Usually gold products have a hallmark stamp with any of these codes or numbers; this is to help verify if it is real and what purity of the gold is.

If your items do not clearly state this there are 5 alternative steps you can take to find out whether it is real or not.

  1. Take your gold item to a certified jeweller or a bullion merchant who have the correct testing equipment such as a Karatmeter also known as an XRF (x-ray fluorescent spectrometers) which uses high energy x-rays to determine the purity and fineness of precious metals.
  1. Visual audit – Look for obvious discolorations or marks where the gold has rubbed or scratched off, this could indicate that it is not real gold. Most gold objects have visible markings to determine its authenticity. As mentioned before, you can look for hallmarks but also know to check for branding or official numbers and letters. If you see a GP, GF or GEP these are known as plated or filled gold which means they are not pure gold pieces.
  1. Magnet Test - Gold is not magnetic but most other metals are. If you have a reasonably strong magnet or even better a rare-earth magnet, try to pick up your gold item with it – if it sticks or even moves towards the magnet then there is a chance your gold is not pure or at least contains other metals. Please note that the magnetic test is not completely fool proof as counterfeit gold items can be made with a non-magnetic metal. For example, stainless steel has been known to have the non-magnetic properties.
  1. The Ping Test – this is best done for coins or rings - by listening to the sound that gold makes when it is struck we are able to get a better understanding if it is real or fake. Precious metals will make a long, high-pitched ringing sound when struck as opposed to base metals, whose respective sounds will be duller and shorter. Balance the gold coin on your finger; tapping it with another coin should make a ringing sound. The difference between a coin made from pure gold and one made from a non-precious metal should be obvious.
  1. Test Size and Weight – Gold is one of the densest metals which makes it easier to see the difference between gold and other metals. What we find is that bullion coins in particular are made to specific weight and size standards. To determine if it is counterfeit you can do a quick check. Fake gold materials are different, counterfeiters will need more of the material to replicate the weight of gold. You should have been told what your gold coin or bar Is supposed to weigh, as well as it’s diameter and thickness. Now weigh and measure your piece. This will help you spot real versus fake.

  2. One regular ounce is 28.35 grams, while a troy ounce is 31.1 grams. Keep in mind that precious metals are measured in troy ounces opposed to regular ounces so ensure that you measure accordingly. One regular ounce is 28.35 grams, while a troy ounce is 31.1 grams.

Having a good understanding of purity and correct measurements along with visually sighting the item for hallmarking can help you identify gold as real or fake when at home without metal testing equipment. However, the most accurate testing to determine you have real or fake gold would be to take it to a certified precious metals consultant.

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