How to Tell if Gold is Real

Last Updated on January 7, 2022

As avid jewelry collectors, I’m sure we’ve all been here at one point or another: We invest a good chunk of change on a piece of gold jewelry only to find out that it is not, in fact, real gold.

Ouch.

Lucky for you, I’ve discovered some tricks — tricks involving common household items such as magnets, vinegar, water, and a lighter — that may help you determine whether that questionable piece of gold jewelry in your collection is actually gold or if you’ve been fooled.

Of course, I only managed to discover these tricks because I’ve been fooled once or twice myself when it comes to distinguishing real from fake gold. So, if you’re interested in learning about a few faithful methods for how to tell if gold is real, then continue reading this article!

How to Tell if Gold is Real

There are a number of ways to tell if gold is real.

If you are in store purchasing a piece of gold jewelry, then the easiest way to determine whether that jewelry is real gold is to look for a hallmark, which is a stamping on the jewelry that indicates purity. For instance, if you see 24K stamped into a piece of jewelry, then this means that it is pure gold (though this rarely happens since gold is so soft and malleable).

It’s also quite common to see gold jewelry marked as Gold Plated (GP), Gold Filled (GF), Gold Electro Plated (GEP), Heavy Gold Plated (HGP), or Heavy Gold Electro Plated (HEG). These letter markings often suggest that the gold is not real or that there is only a tiny amount of real gold in the jewelry.

In addition to the above methods that can be used in store, there are also several methods involving magnets, vinegar, water, and a lighter that you can use at home to check if your gold is real.

How to Tell if Gold is Real with a Magnet

Gold is not magnetic, so a simple way to tell if a piece of jewelry is composed of real gold is to take a high-strength magnet—regular fridge magnets may not be able to get the job done since they are oftentimes weak—and hold it above the gold jewelry of your choice.

If the jewelry does not magnetize—it does not react or move toward the magnet in any way—then there is a high chance that it is real gold. However, if the jewelry does magnetize, then this is an indication that the jewelry is either completely fake or that it is composed of gold mixed with other magnetic metals such as iron.

How to Tell if Gold is Real with Vinegar

To use the vinegar method, you can place a few droplets of vinegar onto your gold jewelry—preferably in an area that is not visible to others such as the inside of a ring or the back of a necklace pendant—and observe whether or not the jewelry reacts and changes color.

If the jewelry has absolutely no reaction, then you likely have a piece of real gold on your hands. Alternatively, if the jewelry reacts and changes color, then it is probably not gold and is instead comprised of cheaper metal such as brass, copper, or iron.

How to Tell if Gold is Real with Water

Although gold is quite soft, it is also very heavy. To test your gold jewelry using the water method, fill up a small container with water and drop in the piece of jewelry.

If the jewelry sinks, this suggests that it is real gold. If the jewelry floats, then it is not real gold.

It is also wise to keep in mind that, if you do choose to use the water method, this works best when the piece of jewelry does not have any studs, jewels, or charms made of other materials that could potentially cause the jewelry to float.

How to Tell if Gold is Real with a Lighter

Last is the lighter method. I must warn you, though, that this method could potentially damage any piece of jewelry upon which you use it. So, be cautious. To use the lighter method, you must hold the flame of a lighter under a piece of gold jewelry for approximately one minute.

If the jewelry darkens in any way, shape, or form, then it is not made of gold since gold actually tends to brighten and lighten with heat rather than darken.