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by Jesús Zabala - 5 min read

How to Tell if Unmarked Gold Is Real?

Gold, a precious metal with long-established historical value, has held its allure throughout human history. Yet, in our modern age of technological advances, the possibility of encountering counterfeit gold has become more and more prevalent. Especially concerning are the pieces lacking the hallmark, leaving unassuming customers vulnerable to deception.  Fortunately, jewelry professionals know how to tell if unmarked gold is real because of its particular chemical and unique physical properties. 

Thankfully, we plan on delivering our knowledge to you on how to tell if a necklace is real gold at home. There are over five tests you can choose from.

How to Tell if Unmarked Gold Is Real
Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: saga photographer

Can Gold Be Real With No Markings?

If you have unmarked gold jewelry, it doesn't necessarily mean they are fake. Old, vintage gold pieces may be without a mark, as hallmarking precious metals weren't required at the time.

Also, some newer gold pieces may even have no visible purity mark. This is most often the case with gold jewelry that has been custom-made, resized, or repaired.

The process of resizing or repairing may obliterate the existing hallmarks. Still, even without marks, there are several ways to test if your gold is real. 

How to Tell if Unmarked Gold Is Real?

1. Color and shine

Pure gold has a soft yellow color and is not overly shiny, so checking its color is one way to confirm its purity. If your gold jewelry is too shiny and has a bright yellow color, it may be an indicator of fake gold

Also, real gold is a precious metal, meaning it does not tarnish or rust due to environmental factors. So, if there's any discoloration on the jewelry, it means the gold is fake.

2. Weight and density

Besides being a pure metal, gold is also an incredibly dense metal. This means pieces made from pure gold will be heavier than they look. You may perform a weight test to see if the gold is real.

For this, you will need another gold jewelry piece that you already own and know is real gold with more or less the same size to compare. It is best to use a jeweler's scale to determine the exact weight of the piece.

Weigh both pieces separately. First, weigh the gold piece you are sure is gold. Then, weigh the piece you are trying to determine if it's real gold. If the second piece weighs less, it is likely fake gold.

Due to its density, real gold will weigh more than jewelry made from other metals, even if it's smaller.

Another good weight test is to simply drop the jewelry piece in a jug of water. Because gold is a heavy metal, it should sink to the bottom if it's real. Fake gold will float on the surface. 

3. Acid testing

For this test, you should use nitric acid. But before you perform the test, you should ensure you have the necessary safety equipment first. This includes safety goggles and gloves.

As the acid test requires you to make a light scratch, if you are testing a jewelry piece that you intend on wearing, you'll need to be extra careful not to damage the piece. Try to make a light scratch with a nail file on the inside where it won't be noticeable.

Once you make the scratch, use an eyedropper to apply one drop of the acid to it. If the liquid becomes greenish or milky, it is a clear sign that the piece is some other metal plated with gold

If you feel nervous about using nitric acid, try conducting the test with vinegar. You just need to cover the gold piece with a few drops of vinegar to conduct this test. Gold is real if its hue doesn't change. It is fake gold if its color changes. 

Acid testing
Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: chemical industry

4. Magnetic test

The magnet test is another way to check if your piece is real gold. But you should use a powerful magnet, not just any you may have lying around in a drawer. Place the powerful magnet near your gold piece and observe what happens. 

Since gold is a non-magnetic metal, it is authentic if there is no reaction. However, if the jewelry is attracted to the magnet and you can pick it up with it, then it is fake gold.

5. Professional assessment

But if you want a sure way how to tell if gold is real with no markings, then take your jewelry to a professional. A reputable jeweler will be able to assess the piece and determine if it's real gold, even without any marks. 

Professional jewelers have special testing kits that they use to tell if something is gold or not. 

Common Misconceptions Regarding Letter Markings on Gold Jewelry

You can look for letter markings after stamps or hallmarks. The letter designations stand for crucial characteristics of the gold jewelry, like its manufacturer, country or location, and gold plate.

The purest type of gold is 24k, which has a purity of 99.9%; even the normal baseline 10k gold, which has a purity of 41.7%, is still pure gold

But marks aren't always reliable. Many gold sellers may stamp their fake gold with a mark indicating higher quality than it actually is.

Another common misconception regarding real gold among buyers is that real means no other metals at all. Real gold is also considered jewelry pieces stamped 18k or 14k, the purest of which is 24k gold. 

This is because pure gold, without the presence of any other metals, is soft and malleable, meaning it is easily damaged.  

Buying Tips

Letter mark

When you purchase gold jewelry, you should pay close attention to the letter marks on the piece. The following are a few of the most typical letter markings:

  • GP stands for gold plating
  • GF stands for gold filled
  • Gold Electroplated, or GE
  • Gold Electroplated, or GEP
  • Rolling Gold Plate, or RGP
  • Heavy Gold Plated, or HGP
  • Heavy Gold Electroplated, or HEG

This indicates that some of the gold in your jewelry is not pure gold. For example, if you wonder how to tell if a chain is solid gold or gold plated, look if it has any of the mentioned letter marks.

Reliable seller 

Make sure to purchase your gold jewelry from reliable sellers with credible reputations. If you purchase from an unreliable source, you risk paying for a fake piece.

Reliable seller
Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: PradeepGaurs

Conclusion

These are some of the best ways to try out if you want to know how to tell if unmarked gold is real. The tests are easy and quick to do at home. However, as we mentioned, the best way is to take the piece for a professional appraisal, as jewelers have the experience and tools to determine the exact purity of gold.

Jesús  is the founder and designer of JewelryLab. He is the Head of Design and also oversees production, quality control, and precious metal sourcing.

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