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How to tell if gold is real without damaging your jewelry

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While solid gold jewelry is worth the current spot price of the gold it contains, gold-plated items are largely worthless when it comes to resale value. 

However, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two. 

If you’re wondering whether your gold-colored jewelry is real gold, keep reading to learn: 

If you’re looking to sell gold jewelry, a local pawnshop, jewelry store or an online gold buyer can do a free evaluation and quote you a price based on the gold and other precious metal content in your jewelry.

How to tell if gold is real vs fake

If you have gold-colored chains, rings, or other types of jewelry, there are a few ways to determine if they’re made up of real gold: 

How to tell if something is gold plated

Gold plating is a method of depositing a thin layer of gold on top of another metal to give it the appearance of a solid gold piece. The inside of the jewelry is made of a different, less-expensive metal, such as nickel or titanium. Gold-plated items aren’t considered real gold.

Here are some at-home tests to tell if your jewelry is real gold or gold-plated, as well as our advice on some tests that may damage your item. 

Check the stamp or mark

One quick way to tell if jewelry is gold plated or solid gold is to look for an engraved mark or symbol, usually placed in a discreet place — like the inside of a bracelet or engagement ring, back of an earring, or on the clasp of a chain or necklace. If it’s gold plated, it may read “GF” or “GP.”

If your item is pure gold, however, it will likely be stamped with one of the following symbols, depending on the percentage of pure gold it contains. Gold used in jewelry is typically combined with another stronger metal like copper, zinc, silver, nickel, or palladium, depending on whether it’s yellow or white gold

24k, 24ct, 999.9, or 99999.9% pure gold
22k, 22ct, 916 or 91791.6-91.7% pure gold, 8.3-8.4% other metals
18k, 18ct, or 75075% pure gold, 25% other metals
14k, 14ct, 583 or 58558.3-58.5% pure gold, 41.5-41.7% other metals
10k, 10ct, 416 or 41741.6-41.7% pure gold, 58.3-58.4% other metals

Learn more about different symbols stamped on jewelry.

Look for worn areas on the piece

If you can see visible signs of wear, ​​your jewelry is likely gold plated. You may be able to see the base metal color on the inside of a ring band or the back of a necklace that has had its plating worn off over time.

Gold plated jewelry may also develop scratches or chips over time that show the primary metal underneath. 

See if the jewelry floats 

If your item is gold plated, it may float in a glass of water, depending on the metal it’s covering. Real gold is dense and will sink to the bottom.

See if the jewelry reacts to a magnet

Gold should not react to a magnet, but a piece of jewelry that’s gold-plated or composed of just a small percentage of gold may move toward a magnet.

Try to find the strongest magnet you have at home, and see whether it attracts the jewelry you’re testing.

If you’re testing a chain or bracelet, be aware that the clasp may be composed of a different metal even on solid gold pieces. Place the magnet near the chain itself for this test.

If your jewelry is magnetic, it’s not real gold. However, if your piece isn’t magnetic, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s pure gold, since some gold-plated items are made of metals like silver that also aren’t magnetic.1

Here’s a video where several gold-colored bracelets are tested with a magnet:

See if the jewelry turns your skin green

High-quality pure gold shouldn’t turn green. It also should not turn your skin green if you wear the piece of jewelry frequently. 

That said, gold jewelry is often mixed with another metal to make it stronger, since pure gold is fairly soft. In this vein, higher karat gold pieces likely won’t turn your skin green, but pieces with less gold might.

Rhiannon Evans, founder of Rhiannon Jewelry in Wales, says gold with a low percentage of pure gold might also cause allergies and discoloring, especially if mixed with a poor-quality metal. Copper is typically responsible for turning skin green. 

Be careful about tests that could damage your jewelry

The two tests above won’t damage your jewelry. However, there are other common tests that may deface your item, especially if it is not solid gold. These include the lighter test, the biting test, and the scratch test:

Lighter test

The lighter test involves holding a butane lighter under your item for about 60 seconds. Fake gold will get darker, while pure gold should maintain its color. However, this test can damage both pure gold and gold-plated jewelry.

Biting test

Real gold is a relatively soft metal, especially at higher karat weights, so biting into it may leave a visible bite mark. However, this test isn’t foolproof, since some gold-plated items are made with less durable metals, aside from the fact that you’d damage your real gold jewelry.

Check out this YouTube video that shows how the biting test can leave bite marks in a gold coin:

Scratch test

If you take a sharp metal tool, or even something as soft as an emery board nail file, you can try to wear away some of the gold on an inconspicuous part of your jewelry.

If the outer gold wears away, you may be able to see another metal underneath, indicating that it’s gold plated. 

However, this test can damage your jewelry, so it’s best to take it to a professional jeweler for evaluation if you can’t figure out whether it’s real gold or not.

You can also exacerbate this test using lemon juice or vinegar:

Baking soda test

If you mix baking soda with water to form a paste, you can rub it on the surface of your gold-colored jewelry and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. When you rinse the paste away with water, any signs of discoloration indicate the gold is fake or plated.

Here's a video showing how to do this test:

FAQs about real gold vs fake

These are some common questions about the qualities of real gold and what distinguishes it from gold-plated pieces or costume jewelry:

Does gold turn green?

No, pure gold shouldn’t turn green, nor should it turn your skin green. If your gold-colored jewelry is turning green, it is likely a copper alloy plated in gold or copper mixed with a low percentage of pure gold.

Is gold magnetic? 

No, gold is not magnetic. If your jewelry moves towards a magnet, it is not real gold. If you’re testing jewelry at home, use a strong magnet to see whether the jewelry moves toward it or not.

Note that even if your jewelry is real gold, the clasp may still be made out of a magnetic material, so make sure to hold the magnet away from the clasp.

However, if your item is not magnetic, this doesn’t guarantee it is real gold. It may be gold plated with a base metal like silver, which also isn’t magnetic. 

How can you tell if a gold chain is real?

The first step to determining whether a gold chain is real is to look for a stamp or mark that indicates the percentage of pure gold it contains. This symbol will likely be found on the chain’s clasp. GF or GP symbols means the chain is gold-plated. 

If the chain doesn’t appear to have a stamp or mark, you can try some non-invasive tests, like testing whether it’s magnetic (gold is not) or if it floats (gold does not). 

Likewise, if another color or metal seems to be showing through on parts of your chain, it is probably gold plated, not real gold.

How can you tell if a ring is real gold?

The best way to determine whether a ring is real gold is to check whether it has a stamp or mark on the inside of the band. This will tell you how much of the item is made of gold versus other metals, or if it’s just gold-plated. 

While there are some at-home tests you can do, the most foolproof way to determine if your ring is gold is to bring it to a professional jeweler for evaluation.

How can you tell if unmarked gold is real?

If your jewelry is unmarked, that means it does not have a stamp, hallmark or symbol anywhere on the piece to indicate whether or not it’s real gold. 

While there are some tests you can do at home to determine if your gold is real, you can also bring it into a professional jeweler for testing.

How do you check if gold is real using a lighter?

If you hold a butane lighter under the metal for about 60 seconds, non-gold metals will turn darker, while gold metals should maintain their color. 

However, we don’t recommend the lighter test, since it could damage your jewelry, whether it is real gold or plated. We recommend trying other tests first, such as the magnet test or float test. 

Evans says if the heat damages your gold jewelry, it may need to be refinished.

Here’s a YouTube video that shows what happens when you try this test: 

Best way to know if gold is real or fake

At the end of the day, the best way to check if your jewelry is real gold is to have it evaluated by a professional. 

If you are looking to sell, it is a very good time now.

After hitting a record high of $2,150 in December 2023, gold prices have remained above $2,000 per ounce, with retail investors predicting prices will rise again in the next few weeks.2

As of , the spot gold value in the United States was trading at $ per ounce, or $ per gram. 

That means now is a great time to look through your jewelry box to see if you have anything worth selling. 

Our number one recommendation is family-owned CashforGoldUSA, which has an A+ Better Business Bureau rating, pays within 24 hours of an accepted offer, and provides free return shipping if you choose not to sell.

Get an instant offer on your gold from CashforGoldUSA >>


  1. “Are Silver Coins Magnetic?” APMEX.
  2. “Wall Street bets on lower gold prices, Main Street sees gains next week,” Feb 02, 2024. Kitco.

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