How to Tell if a Necklace is Real Gold

how to tell if a necklace is real gold

Gold, a precious metal known for its luster and durability, has been treasured by civilizations across the world for thousands of years. It holds significant value, both monetarily and symbolically, and is often used to create beautiful pieces of jewelry that can be passed down through generations. The allure of gold is undeniably timeless.

However, due to its high value, there are many imitations on the market. These can range from gold-plated items to outright fakes made from cheaper metals. This makes it crucial for any buyer or collector to be able to distinguish real gold from the fakes.

The purpose of this article is to provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to tell if a necklace is real gold. With step-by-step instructions for various testing methods, from simple visual inspection to professional appraisal, this article aims to equip you with the knowledge to ensure the authenticity of your gold jewelry. By the end, you’ll have the confidence to determine whether a gold necklace is truly as valuable as it appears.

Understanding Gold Purity

Gold purity refers to the amount of actual gold content in a piece of jewelry relative to other metals that may be present. It’s usually measured in karats (K), with 24 karats representing pure, 100% gold. However, because pure gold is extremely soft and malleable, it’s rarely used in jewelry as it can easily bend, scratch, or warp. For this reason, gold is often mixed with other metals like copper, silver, or nickel to enhance its durability – these pieces are known as alloyed gold.

Pure Gold vs. Gold-Plated Jewelry

There’s a big difference between pure (or alloyed) gold and gold-plated jewelry. Gold-plated items consist of a base metal, such as brass or copper, which is then coated with a thin layer of gold. This process gives the item the appearance of gold, but at a fraction of the cost. However, the gold layer can wear off over time, revealing the base metal underneath.

On the other hand, pure or alloyed gold jewelry contains a specific amount of gold throughout the entire piece. For example, a 14K gold necklace consists of 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals.

Common Gold Purity Marks

To help identify the gold content, pieces of jewelry often have purity marks stamped on them. Here are some common ones:

  • 10K: Contains 41.7% gold. This is the minimum karat that can still be considered gold in the United States.
  • 14K: Contains 58.3% gold. It’s the most commonly used gold for jewelry due to its balance between gold content, durability, and affordability.
  • 18K: Contains 75% gold. It’s often used in high-quality jewelry.
  • 24K: Contains 100% gold. This is pure gold, and is more commonly found in bars or coins rather than jewelry.

Visual Inspection

Visual inspection is the first and simplest method you can use to determine if a necklace is made of real gold. It’s a non-invasive technique that doesn’t risk damaging your jewelry.

Importance of Visual Inspection

By knowing what to look for, visual inspection can quickly help you identify obvious fakes and plated items. Although it won’t provide a definitive answer about the gold content in your necklace, it can give you some initial clues about its authenticity.


A hallmark, also known as a purity mark, is a stamp on a piece of jewelry that indicates the amount of pure gold it contains. These hallmarks are usually found in inconspicuous places to avoid disrupting the design of the jewelry. On necklaces, they can often be found on the clasp or on a small tag near the clasp.

Common hallmarks include “10K”, “14K”, “18K”, or “24K” in the United States, or numbers like “375”, “585”, “750”, or “999” in other parts of the world, which represent the percentage of gold purity.

However, keep in mind that hallmarks can be faked, so finding one doesn’t necessarily guarantee the piece is real gold.

Other Visual Indicators of Real Gold

Apart from hallmarks, there are other visual cues that can hint at whether or not a necklace is made of real gold:

  • Color: Real gold has a warm and rich color, while many fake gold items may have brighter, shinier appearances.
  • Discoloration: If a piece of jewelry leaves a green or black mark on your skin, it’s likely not real gold. This is caused by a reaction between your skin and the metals mixed with the gold.
  • Wear and Tear: Over time, gold-plated items may show signs of wear, where the gold layer has rubbed off and revealed the base metal underneath.

The Magnet Test

The magnet test is another simple, non-invasive method you can use to determine the authenticity of a gold necklace. It’s based on the fact that real gold is not magnetic.

How to Perform the Magnet Test

  1. Obtain a strong magnet. You can often find one in a hardware store or even in some common household items like speakers. Note: regular refrigerator magnets are usually too weak for this test.
  2. Hold the magnet close to the necklace.
  3. Observe if the necklace is attracted to the magnet.

Interpretation of the Results

  • If the necklace is attracted to the magnet, it’s not made of real gold. Gold is a non-magnetic metal, so any genuine gold jewelry will not be attracted to a magnet.
  • If the necklace is not attracted to the magnet, it could be made of real gold. However, keep in mind that non-magnetic metals other than gold are used in jewelry making, so this test alone cannot conclusively prove that an item is real gold.

The magnet test is a quick and easy way to weed out many fake gold items, but for a definitive answer, consider seeking professional testing or using additional methods to verify the necklace’s gold content.

The Float Test

The float test is a popular method used to determine whether gold is real due to the unique density of gold. Gold is a heavy metal and has a high density, so it will sink in water, while most fake gold materials will float.

How to Perform the Float Test

  1. Fill a container (that’s large enough to hold the item) with water.
  2. Carefully drop the gold item into the water.
  3. Observe what happens to the item.

Interpretation of the Results

  • If the gold item sinks to the bottom of the container, it could be real. Gold is denser than most other metals and will typically sink.
  • If the item floats or hovers underneath the surface of the water, then it’s likely not real gold. Most counterfeit gold items will float because they’re made of lighter metals.

However, this test can potentially damage delicate jewelry items and it’s not 100% accurate. Some metals that are not gold have similar densities and can also sink. As with the other methods, additional verification would be necessary for a conclusive determination.

The Scratch Test

The scratch test is a more invasive method to test if your gold necklace is real. It involves scratching the item against a touchstone and applying acid to see how the streak reacts.

How to Perform the Scratch Test

  1. Purchase a scratch test kit, which includes a touchstone and various strengths of acid. These can typically be found at jewelry supply stores or online.
  2. Rub your gold necklace against the touchstone to create a noticeable streak on the stone.
  3. Apply a drop of the lowest karat acid to the streak. For example, if you suspect your necklace might be 14K gold, start with the 10K acid.
  4. Observe the reaction.

Interpretation of the Results

  • If the streak disappears, the gold is less than the karat value of the acid. This means that if you used 10K acid and the streak vanished, your necklace is not even 10K gold.
  • If the streak stays the same without dissolving, then the gold is of equal or higher karat than the acid. So, if you used 10K acid and the streak didn’t dissolve, your necklace is at least 10K gold.
  • If the gold is higher than the karat value of the acid, you can continue testing with higher-karat acids to determine the exact karat of the gold.

Gold Testing Kit

A gold testing kit is a collection of tools and solutions that allow you to determine if a piece of jewelry or any item is real gold, and if so, what its karat purity is. These kits typically include a set of testing acids (ranging from 10K to 24K), a touchstone for scratching the item on, and instructions on how to perform the test.

How to Use a Gold Testing Kit

  1. Prepare your workspace: Make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area away from pets and children. Wear protective gloves and eyewear.
  2. Scratch the item on the touchstone: Rub the gold piece against the touchstone to leave a noticeable streak.
  3. Apply the testing acid: Start with the lowest karat acid. Apply a drop onto the gold streak on the touchstone.
  4. Observe the reaction: If the streak dissolves, the item is less than the karat value of the acid used. If the streak remains unchanged, the item is equal to or greater than the karat value of the acid. You can repeat this process with higher karat acids to determine the exact karat of the gold.

Remember to always rinse the touchstone and gold item after each test to remove any residual acid.

Where to Buy a Reliable Gold Testing Kit

You can buy a reliable gold testing kit from various online marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay, or from specialized stores that sell jewelry supplies. Make sure to check the reviews and ratings before purchasing to ensure you’re getting a quality kit. Here are some reputable brands:

  • JSP Gold Testing Solutions
  • PuriTEST Purity Pack
  • RS Mizar M24 Gold Tester

Always remember that while a gold testing kit can be useful, it might not be 100% accurate, and there is a risk of damaging the item being tested. For valuable or antique items, consider seeking professional appraisal.

Professional Appraisal

Professional appraisal is an unbiased evaluation of an item’s value, often conducted by a certified professional. This service is typically employed when buying, selling, or refinancing valuable items, such as real estate, antiques, and jewelry, including gold.

When to Consider a Professional Appraisal

  1. High Value Items: If the gold item is of significant value, either monetarily or sentimentally, it’s wise to get it professionally appraised. A professional appraiser has the skills and tools to accurately assess the item without causing any damage.
  2. Insurance Purposes: If you’re planning to insure your gold item, insurance companies will often require a professional appraisal to determine the item’s worth.
  3. Selling or Buying: When buying or selling gold, especially in large quantities or antique pieces, a professional appraisal can provide peace of mind and ensure a fair transaction.
  4. Estate Planning: When distributing assets for estate planning, a professional appraisal can help ensure equitable distribution.
  5. Uncertainty: If you’ve used home testing kits and are still unsure about the authenticity or value of your gold, a professional appraisal is advisable.

How to Find a Reputable Appraiser

  1. Check Credentials: Look for appraisers who are certified by recognized organizations such as the American Society of Appraisers or the Appraisal Foundation.
  2. Experience: Find an appraiser who specializes in gold or jewelry appraisal. Their experience will ensure accurate results.
  3. Recommendations: Seek recommendations from trusted sources such as friends, family, or reputable jewelers.
  4. Reviews and Ratings: Use online platforms to check reviews and ratings of potential appraisers.

The Process of Professional Gold Testing

  1. Visual Inspection: The appraiser will first inspect the item visually, looking for any hallmarks or stamps indicating the gold’s purity.
  2. Weight Measurement: The appraiser will weigh the gold item using a precise scale.
  3. Acid Test: Using a small sample scraped off from an inconspicuous area, the appraiser may conduct an acid test.
  4. X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Testing: In some cases, the appraiser may use XRF testing, a non-invasive method that uses x-rays to determine the gold’s purity.


Ensuring the authenticity of gold, whether it’s a necklace or any other piece of jewelry, is of utmost importance. From the comfort of your home, you can use a gold testing kit to get an initial understanding of the gold’s purity. The process involves scratching the item on a touchstone and applying acid to observe the reaction. However, these kits have their limitations and there is a risk of potentially damaging the gold item.

If you’re dealing with high-value items, for insurance purposes, or if you’re planning to buy or sell gold, a professional appraisal is highly recommended. Reputable appraisers utilize a variety of methods, including visual inspection, weight measurement, acid tests, and advanced techniques like X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) testing, to accurately determine the gold’s purity.

Purchasing gold is an investment, and it’s vital to take the time to verify its authenticity. Knowing for sure that a necklace is real gold not only ensures its value but also offers peace of mind. Whether you choose to test your gold at home or opt for a professional appraisal, remember that knowledge is power when it comes to protecting your investments.

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