How to Identify Gold Jewelry

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How to Identify Gold Jewelry

Gold jewelry is a big investment, so buyers should ensure they are purchasing authentic gold. Gold is one of the most frequently imitated valuables on the market, and it is easy to mistake fake gold for the real thing because they can look almost identical to the untrained eye. Authentic gold jewelry can be spotted easily when the buyer is equipped with a little basic information. Learning how to differentiate real gold from fake will keep shoppers from being deceived into buying imitation gold jewelry.

Understanding Karats

Since gold is a soft metal, it's often combined with other harder metals when it's used in jewelry to provide durability. Gold jewelry is measured in 24 parts, called karats (K), to indicate how much of the piece is pure gold. So, if gold is 24K, all 24 parts of the jewelry are gold. Jewelry marked 22K is 22 parts gold, two parts harder metals. Thus, the lower the number, the less gold. As such, 24K gold is the softest, while 10K is significantly the harder. In addition, jewelry with fewer karats will have a duller color.



24 Karat (99.9 percent gold)

Gold in its purest form. Most jewelers in the United States believe 24K gold is too soft to use in jewelry, as it will not withstand the rigors of everyday wear and tear. Twenty-four karat gold can be used in gold plating and leafing.

22 Karat (91.7 percent gold)

Jewelers in the United States still find the gold too soft for jewelry. Antique 22K jewelry is often seen in museums. It is also frequently used in gold plating and leafing. 

18 Karat (75 percent gold)

Excellent for use in fine jewelry. The gold has a rich, deep color. It is still soft, so it will wear slightly, giving it a soft tarnish.

14 Karat (58 percent gold)

Fourteen-karat gold is extremely popular for jewelry. It has a good balance of durability and value, and will hold its polish and color for many years.

12 Karat (50 percent gold)

Twelve-karat gold is typically not used for jewelry, as it has a dull color.

10 Karat (41.7 percent gold)

This is the minimum legal karatage allowed to be called gold in the United States.

In 1906, the United States passed the National Gold and Silver Stamping Act, which requires gold jewelry to always be marked by karats on the inside or back of the piece. The jewelry may also be stamped with numbers in the hundreds, which represent the percentage of golds. For example, an 18K piece may be marked with a "750," meaning it is 75 percent gold. Markings on older jewelry may not be visible, due to wear. If there are no markings, take the piece to a jeweler for inspection.

Check for Markings

In addition to its karat weight stamp, gold often features other markings on jewelry help identify the authenticity and quality of the gold. Use a magnifying glass to carefully inspect the markings on gold jewelry to ensure its authenticity.

Look for Stamps

Inspect the jewelry for stamps. Hallmarks or stamps may indicate that the gold is not solid. Look for stamps such as HGE (heavy gold electroplate), gold filled, plated, RGP (rolled gold plated), and EP (electroplated). These stamps represent metal jewelry that is rolled, filled, or plated with gold.

Know the Brand

There should be a stamp or symbol identifying the manufacturer's brand. Avoid buying jewelry without brand markings. Knowing the brand will help determine the authenticity of the gold jewelry. If it is an older or antique piece, take it to be evaluated by a jeweler who has the proper tools to determine its authenticity.

Identifying Fake Gold Jewelry

Shiny imposters can easily be confused with genuine gold, but smart shoppers can conduct a few tests to determine the gold jewelry's authenticity. Knowing a few simple tricks for identifying gold allows for a simple, enjoyable shopping experience.

Check for Discoloration

Check for discoloration on the piece of jewelry in places where there would be a lot of friction, such as the inside of a ring band. If it seems to be discolored or chipped in any area, the jewelry is not real gold, and instead may be gold plated or imitation gold. Also, real gold has an even color throughout, but gold-plated items will have poor or uneven tone. Another way to check for discoloration is to wear the jewelry for a full day. If there is discoloration on the skin, the gold is likely fake.

Magnet Test

The magnet test is an easy way to ensure that gold is genuine. Pure gold is not a magnetic metal, so it will not be attracted by a magnet. Use a magnet that is stronger than a refrigerator magnet and hold it up to the gold item. If the piece pulls toward the magnet, the item may not be real gold. However, this test is not fail safe. Gold jewelry that's more than 20 percent alloy will be slightly attracted to the magnet. In addition, some non-magnetic metals are used in counterfeit gold, so do not let this be the only test to check a supposed piece of jewelry.

Pin Test

Gold is a soft metal that is bendable and susceptible to dents. Gently stick a small pin in the jewelry. If the pin sticks and does not break, the gold jewelry is likely real. A pin will not stick into a piece of jewelry made of hard metals or alloys, and may break.

Density Test

Very few metals are denser than gold. Pure 24K gold has a density of 19.3 grams per milliliter. Measuring the density of an alleged gold piece will help in determining the gold's authenticity. The density test will not work if the gold jewelry has gemstones of any kind. Use the following steps to properly conduct the density test.

Weigh the Jewelry

Use a scale to weigh the piece of gold jewelry in grams. Jewelers will usually weigh the piece for free if a scale that measures in grams is not available.

Fill a Vial with Water

Find a liquid measuring cup or a vial preferably with millimeter markings; this will make it easier to read the measurement. It does not matter how much water is put in the vial, as long as it is not filled to the top. Once the gold is dropped in the water, the water level will rise. Make sure to note the exact amount of water before immersing the jewelry to get an accurate measurement.

Immerse the Gold

Place the gold jewelry in the vial and record the change in the water level.

Calculate the Difference

To find the density, divide the mass with the volume displacement. For example, if the piece weighs 34 grams and displaces 2 milliliters of water, the result would be 17 grams per milliliter. The closer the result is to 19 grams per milliliter, the more likely the item is real gold. Different gold purity will have different gram-to-milliliter ratios.

Acid Test

The acid test is a highly effective way to check for genuine gold. However, due to the corrosive acid, this test comes with inherent safety risks, so it is important to closely follow instructions. If any acid contacts the skin, flush the skin with cold water. At-home acid test kits include a test stone and a nitric acid bottle. Rub the gold jewelry piece on the stone about four times until there is a noticeable streak on the stone. Apply a drop of the acid onto the marking and observe the results. If the streak appears green, the jewelry is either a base metal or gold plated. If the streak has a milk-colored reaction, the item is gold-plated sterling silver. If there is no reaction, it is likely that the piece is real gold.

Imitation Gold Jewelry

While imitation gold jewelry is popular for its low price, sellers often try to pass fake off as real gold jewelry. Look for irregularities in gold jewelry to distinguish between real gold and imitation. Knowing the difference between authentic gold and fake gold jewelry will ensure that the buyer avoids being swindled.

Gold-Filled Jewelry

Gold-filled jewelry is also known as "rolled gold" or "rolled gold plate." Gold is mechanically bonded to the yellow base metal. The jewelry is often stated as 1/20 14K which means that 1/20 of the piece is 14K gold, while the rest is made up of a different metal. 

Gold-Plated Jewelry

Gold-plated jewelry consists of a metal that is coated with a thin layer of gold. When the item is new, the color of the gold plate is similar with real gold jewelry. However, the color will likely change after a period of time. The jewelry is also lighter in weight and hard in texture. It has a smaller percentage of gold than gold-filled jewelry. 

Gold Leaf Jewelry

Gold leaf is gold, usually 24K or 22K, that has been hammered into very thin sheets. The thin sheets are gilded, or wrapped, around metal jewelry. The color is very similar to real gold jewelry, and it does not fade. Gold leaf jewelry can be spotted by the irregularities of the foil throughout the item. There may be depressions or broken connectors (the outer layer of the piece is yellow while the inner is white).

Find Gold Jewelry on eBay

Once you know what type of gold jewelry you want, go to the Jewelry & Watches portal and start searching for item listings on eBay.

Category Filters

The categories list on the left side of each page will narrow down listings by item type. Categories to search for gold jewelry include Fashion Jewelry,, Fine Jewelry,, Watches,, Engagement & Wedding,, and others. After you select the broad category, narrow your search by choosing which type of jewelry you want (ring, necklace, watch, etc). While you continue your search, the categories list will help you refine search results by type of gold (yellow, white, rose, etc.), karats, style, condition, and price.

Keyword Search

When looking for a particular piece of gold jewelry, search eBay title listings with specific words. For example, you can type "14 K gold mens watch&" (without quotation marks) into the search box to view all listings related to your keyword phrase. To expand your results, click the Advanced Search link and choose options that are conducive to your search. If you cannot find the exact item you are looking for, try shopping at eBay Stores,, or telling the eBay community what you want by creating a posting on Want It Now.. You can also save a search on My eBay and eBay will send you an e-mail alert when a match becomes available.

Buy Gold Jewelry with Confidence

To ensure a safe and enjoyable buying experience, research the product and the seller, and learn how eBay and PayPal protect you.

Know Your Purchase

While eBay has a strict policy& about the misrepresentation of gold, you should still read the item description carefully. Do not make assumptions about details that are not explicitly included in the listing. Gold jewelry sellers usually describe the markings and stamps on the piece, and they often include pictures. If there are not any pictures posted, contact the seller and request some photos. If the markings are not described or shown in photos, ask the seller to provide specific information verifying the gold's authenticity. Ask the seller questions before placing a bid by clicking "Ask a question," located toward the bottom of a listing. Remember to add shipping and delivery costs into the final price, and since gold jewelry is a valuable purchase, ask the seller if he/she will insure the item when it ships.

Complete Transactions on eBay

Make sure you complete all transactions on eBay (with a bid,, Buy It Now,, or Best Offer)). If a seller contacts you to complete a transaction outside of eBay, never accept the offer. Sales that take place outside of eBay are not covered by eBay buyer protection programs.. Offers to buy or sell outside of eBay are a potential fraud risk.

Research the Seller

Always evaluate the seller before placing a bid. Look at the seller's feedback rating by clicking the number in parentheses next to the seller's user ID. This will show the percentage of positive feedback the seller received and what buyers are saying about the seller. Take a look at how many transactions the seller has completed and what items he or she typically offers. Make sure the terms and conditions of the sale are agreeable to you. Find out if the seller offers a return policy. Taking these steps can help you feel positive and secure about the transaction.

Buyer Protection

eBay buyer protection covers items purchased on eBay via PayPal or another authorized payment method. eBay can provide a refund if items are not received or are not as they are described in the listing. The refund also covers the cost of original shipping.


Gold jewelry can be a romantic gift for a loved one, or a special treat to reward oneself. Buyers should understand what to look for when selecting gold jewelry to ensure they are getting the quality they want. Genuine gold jewelry can be purchased on eBay at bargain prices when the buyer is equipped with some basic information. Before making a purchase, always make sure the gold has been tested for authenticity. This will ensure that the gold is worth the price.

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