How to Tell if Gold Is Real: The Ultimate Guide

How to Tell if Gold Is Real

Gold has captured human attention for millennia. Wars were fought over it, countries invaded over it, and even now, we prize it for our jewelry. Gold was even the standard backing for the United States’ currency until June 5, 1933.

Needless to say, we love gold. But if you’ve recently found some gold of your own, you might wonder if it’s legitimate.

If you don’t know how to tell if gold is real, don’t worry. Our guide will show you what you need to look for and tests you can conduct to determine your gold’s authenticity.

Under the Magnifying Glass

Whenever you buy gold online or off, your first order of business should be to put your new ‘gold’ item under a magnifying glass. If you bought your gold item in person and the vendor seemed hesitant to let you examine the piece that closely, you should be suspicious, as such scrutiny can reveal in a hurry whether your gold is fake or not.

Not sure what to look for? Here are some crucial visual signs that your ‘gold’ piece isn’t really gold at all.


Gold, that is to say, pure gold, does not interact with other chemicals or environmental elements. It is inert. If you see discolored areas anywhere on your item, it’s safe to assume it’s not real gold.

At best, the item you have is gold-plated, and has something else underneath the plating. Can you spot other metals beneath the discolored spots? That’s the likely culprit.

Hallmarks or Stamps

Most legitimate gold jewelry has a purity hallmark stamped into it that indicates its value. Whether it’s displayed in millesimals or karats, you should see 999 or 24K engraved somewhere on your ‘pure gold’ find.

If you don’t see this, don’t despair; it could be that the item in question wasn’t marked. You should also keep in mind that these hallmarks can be faked, so finding one isn’t a guarantee of authenticity.

Color and Luster

While the phrase “all that glitters is not gold” is common, the fact of the matter is that gold itself hardly glitters at all. It holds a soft, yellow luster that isn’t overly shiny. So, if your piece seems shinier or has another undertone, you’re not working with pure gold.

The “Ring” of True Gold

This test is easier with gold coins than with jewelry. Most precious metals make a high-pitched, lingering ringing sound when you strike them. Base metals have much duller sounds when struck.

If you want to ensure the veracity of your gold coins, you can use another coin to tap them. The difference in pitch and timbre between the two sounds should be obvious to even laymen.

Is It Up to Scratch?

Be warned: if you conduct this test improperly, it will damage your items. This is also not recommended for gold jewelry, which needs to hold its esthetic value.

Find an unglazed ceramic plate, unglazed porcelain tile, or a jeweler’s stone. Then, take your piece and rub it against the unglazed, rough surface. Press hard enough to leave a mark, but not so hard that you scratch the item.

If your item is real gold, the streak it leaves behind will be a soft, golden yellow color. If there’s black in the streak, or some other undertone, then the piece isn’t real gold.

Magnets: How Does Gold Work With Them?

You can tell if gold is real very quickly if you have a magnet on hand. While gold is a metal, it is not magnetic by any stretch of the word. If you hold a strong magnet over your ‘gold’ piece, and it adheres to it, then you’re not dealing with pure gold.

However, be careful, as there are other non-magnetic metals other than gold. Clever fraudsters could use this fact to craft a piece that passes this test.

Floating By

Wondering how to tell if gold is real when all you have on hand is a glass of water? Simple! Drop the supposed gold into it.

Real gold is dense and heavy, and should drop right to the bottom with a satisfying clink. If it stays afloat, or refuses to sink the whole way, then it’s either fake gold or a gold-plated piece.

The Acid Test

The most accurate test, short of bringing your piece into a jeweler for evaluation, is the acid test. Gold is inert and resists all forms of corrosion. Therefore, it shouldn’t respond when exposed to acid.

You can purchase a nitric acid gold testing kit online, but if you’re looking for something more DIY, we have a test you can conduct using vinegar. You can do this test either using a dropper or by letting the gold piece soak.

If using a dropper, take a small dropper full of white vinegar and place a few drops onto your gold piece. If the gold changes color, it’s not real. If it doesn’t, it’s likely the real deal.

Alternatively, you can let your gold piece soak in a bowl of white vinegar for 15 minutes or so. If it’s real, it will come out nice and shiny. If not, it will become discolored due to the vinegar.

Beware of Green Skin

This one is fairly common knowledge, but it bears a mention regardless. Real gold does not discolor your skin when you sweat. So, if you have a green or black mark beneath where your gold ring rested, sadly, it’s not the real thing.

How to Tell If Gold Is Real: A Review

If you’re still confused about how to tell if gold is real, take a moment to review:

Real gold doesn’t react negatively to its environment, and won’t cause discoloration when you wear it. It won’t respond to a magnet, and will sink as soon as it’s placed in water. If your gold piece passes all these tests, you can be fairly sure it’s the real deal.

Did you find this article on authenticating your gold pieces at home informative? If so, check out our blog each day for all the latest in gold and other financial news.