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How to Test Gold

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How to Test Gold

Gold is a metal that has long be prized as a symbol of status, success, and longevity. Due to its precious and expensive nature, when buying or selling gold one must ensure that it is real gold and not fake. There are a number of tests that one can carry out to test the authenticity of a gold item, and this guide will provide information about the different tests and how to do them.
 

Introduction to Gold

Gold has been mined from as early as 2600 BC in Egypt, according to hieroglyphs found that originated from that era. Ever since, it has been regarded as a precious metal. This may be due in part to the fact that it is difficult to find gold, and only a small amount of gold is usually extracted from a large amount of gold ore. The total amount of gold extracted depends upon the grade of the ore. For example, only about 30 grams of pure gold is extracted from about 860 kilograms of high grade gold ore. For a lower grade ore, sometimes only 5 grams of gold is extracted from a ton of ore.

Gold has many qualities that make it an excellent metal to use for many purposes. It is the most malleable and ductile of all the metals, meaning it can be easily formed into different shapes. It also readily merges with many other metals to form alloys and is a good conductor of electricity and heat. Gold is also one of the few metals that isn’t affected by moisture, air, or most corrosive agents, making it long lasting in nature.

The uses of gold are plenty; it is used as a form of monetary exchange, and is popularly known as a material for jewelry. It is also used for industrial purposes (such as as solder, thread, heat shields, and so on), commercial chemistry, dentistry, electronics, and also sometimes as an ingredient in food and drink (gold flakes). Its large usability due to its many positive qualities.

It is important to know that gold objects are valued based on the amount of gold they contain. This is measured by the karat system (which measures the purity of gold on a scale of 1 to 24, with 24 being the purest) or the millesimal fineness system (which indicates the purity of the gold by parts per thousand of pure gold by mass in the alloy). The following table shows the difference between how values of the two scales are hallmarked on a gold item:
 

Percentage of Gold Content

Karat System

Millesimal Fineness System

41.7

10K

417

58.3

14K

585

75

18K

750

99.9

24K

999


There are other karat values/millesimal fineness values (such as 12K, 16K and so on), but the ones above are the most common. It is worth noting that any item that has a karat value of less than 10 is not recognized as being gold.

If one is interested in testing gold, then he or she should know how to distinguish the qualities of real gold and gold-plated items. The ways to do this are explained in the following sections.
 

Simple Tests to Identify the Authenticity of a Gold Object

Before moving on to more advanced tests, the person who wants to test the gold object can first try simple methods to see if the item is really gold. If there is still a doubt after performing the tests below, then the person can move on to tests in the next section which require more sophisticated tools.

Magnifying Glass Test

This is the first test any gold tester should carry out to determine the authenticity of a gold item. That’s because it’s really simple and requires only a magnifying glass to carry out.

In this test, the tester carefully inspects the item using the magnifying glass for a few visual clues about the item. First of all, the tester should look for the purity hallmark on the item, which may be presented in either the karat system or the millesimal fineness system. This means the tester may see, for example, the hallmark "14K" or "585" engraved on the item somewhere. This is the most important clue to what the value of the item is; however, do realize that the engraved value may be fake, so it is better to proceed with further testing before coming to a conclusion. Again, remember that anything that has a karat value less than 10K is not considered to be gold.

Besides the hallmark, the tester should also inspect the item for any discoloration. As mentioned in the introduction, gold doesn’t react to many environmental factors, so an item that is discolored may be gold-plated and not made of gold itself. This is especially true if another metal is seen under the gold at the discolored areas.

The magnifying glass test should be the first test carried out, but it doesn’t give any concrete proof as to whether an item is gold or not. However, it does help a little in giving the initial clues needed to further assess the item’s purity.

Porcelain Tile Test

This test is easy to carry out and can be used as a good preliminary test. All the tester needs is a piece of unglazed porcelain tile which can be purchased at hardware shops or other places that sell home maintenance items.

To carry out this test, the tester rubs the gold item across the porcelain tile and inspects the color of the streak produced. Real gold produces a golden yellow streak. If the tester sees a black streak instead, then the item is made of pyrite rather than gold. This test is useful for distinguishing a pyrite, or fake, gold item from a real gold item.

Liquid Foundation Test

Similar to the porcelain tile test, this test can be used to tell a fake gold item and a real gold item apart. For this test, the tester applies liquid foundation and some powder to his or her forehead. Following this, the tester rubs the gold item onto their forehead. If a black streak is left behind on the tester’s forehead after this is done, it is more likely than not that the item tested is made of gold. Note the difference between this test and the porcelain tile test; in this test, a black streak is an indication of authenticity, while in the previous test, it is a indication that the item is not gold.

Magnet Test

This test is most suitable for finding out if an item is pure gold or has a high percentage of gold. To carry out this test, the tester will have to use a high strength magnet and hold it close to the gold item. If the item does not get attracted to the magnet at all, then it is likely pure gold. If there is a slight attraction but not enough for the item to stick to the magnet, then the item is still gold but has a lower percentage of gold content than a pure gold item. If the item readily attaches to the magnet, that means it is not made of gold or only has a very low percentage of gold content. Do note that this isn’t a foolproof test to determine if an item is made of gold; some counterfeit pieces are made from metals that are not magnetic in nature.

The Density Test

Gold has a higher density than a lot of other metals. Because of this, it is possible for the tester to carry out a density test on a gold item. This can be done by placing the gold item in a jug of water. Real gold should sink right to the bottom. If the item floats then it is most likely fake. However, just as with the magnet test, this isn’t a very good confirmation test for a gold item as there are other metals which sink as well.

The tests above are just some easy preliminary tests one can carry out to gauge whether a gold item is genuine. While they are simple and can be carried out quickly, most of the tests still leave room for doubt as to whether an item is really made of gold. For better results, the tester should further investigate the item by carrying out the tests in the next section, which use more reliable methods to determine the item’s authenticity.
 

Advanced Tests to Determine Whether an Item is Gold

The following tests require more complex tools, but the tester will be able to get more accurate results by using these methods in addition to the preliminary tests mentioned in the previous section.

Acid Test

The acid test is best carried out on pieces of gold that the tester won’t keep or sell for aesthetic value (so it’s best to avoid using this to test gold jewelry). To carry out an acid test, the tester will need nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, or sulphuric acid, and a dropper. Nitric acid is the strongest and the most common acid used to test gold. Before doing this test, the tester should also buy and put on some protective rubber gloves and eyewear, as a safety measure.

Doing the test is quite simple; the tester just needs to drop one or two drops of acid onto the gold item, preferably in a hidden spot. If there is no reaction to the acid at all, it is highly likely that the tester is dealing with real pure gold. If there is a reaction, then the item is probably gold-plated or only contains a small quantity of gold.

If the tester wants to know the exact percentage of gold an item contains, then he or she can purchase a acid test kit that is specifically meant for gold. These test kits contain a testing stone and different concentrations and combinations of acid for different karat values of gold. The tester will need to scrape a bit of the gold item by rubbing the item on the testing stone, and afterwards use the different acids to figure out the gold content amount. For example, when tested using the acid for 14K gold, the item should not react if it is a 14K or higher gold piece. These test kits usually come with instructions, which the tester should read and carry out accordingly.

Electronic Gold Tester

If the tester is going to be testing gold objects on a frequent basis, then it may be worth it for him or her to invest in an electronic gold tester. An electronic gold tester is a device that is battery-powered and is simple to handle, making it a safer option compared to the acid test method above. However, it’s important to make sure that the device is always in working condition or else it may give a false reading. To use a electronic gold tester, just follow the manufacturer’s instructions provided with the device, which usually involves clipping the gold item to an area moistened with a conductive gel and sending the reading to the tester by touching the gold item with a pen-like component.

Appraisal

In general, the best way to test whether an item is gold or not would be to send it to an experienced jeweler for appraisal. Ideally, this should be the chosen method; but if the tester wants to save money or cannot take the item to a jeweler, then he or she can try the other methods mentioned above.
 

Buying Items to Use for Gold Testing

Most of the testing methods above use regular tools that can be easily bought in hardware or department stores, and it’s also highly likely that the tester has the items in his or her home already. The acid test kit and electronic gold tester, however, may be harder to come by, but can be bought from jewelry supply companies or online platforms like eBay.

Buying Items for Testing Gold on eBay

For those who want a one-stop location to get any kind of item for the purpose of testing gold, eBay is certainly a good shopping solution. Not only can you buy new items on eBay, but also used ones as well.

Since the items used for testing golds are varied in nature, the best way to look for these items is to type in the name of the item you want into the search box on eBay such as "magnifying glass"or "gold acid test kit." Or for items that are more rare, like electronic gold testers, you can create a listing in the "Want It Now" page on eBay if the exact item you want does not show up in search results.

As for purchasing items on eBay, the process is quite simple. Just review a listing you are interested in and if you decide that you want the item, place a bid on it or buy it directly. eBay offers many payment options, and it is important that you only use these methods to send payment to the seller. If you send payments using one of these methods, you are automatically qualified for the eBay Buyer Protection Program, which aims to protect your rights as a buyer.
 

Bottom Line

Since gold is a very precious material, it is important to figure out the authenticity of a gold item before buying or selling it. There are many ways to test gold, but each method has its strengths and weaknesses. For preliminary testing, using the methods provided in the "Simple Tests" section of this guide should do the trick. To be really sure though, it’s advisable to carry out an acid test, use an electronic gold tester, or send the item for a professional appraisal.

 
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