Real Gold vs Fake Gold: How To Tell if Gold is Real


Gold has been treasured as far back as 4000 BC, when Eastern Europeans used it to honour their idols and adorn places of worship.  By 1500 BC, the metal was being used for money in Egypt and the shekel (a coin that weighed about 11.3 grams or 0.39 oz) was utilised as a standard unit of measurement and would go on to become currency. (1)

The brilliant metal is a chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number of 79, which makes it among the higher atomic number elements to occur naturally (an atomic number calculates the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom and the higher the number, the heavier—and further down the periodic table—the element is). 

Gold is not only beautiful, but it’s also a great conductor of electricity and doesn’t tarnish or oxidise, which makes its lustre long lasting – a perfect metal for jewellery. It’s also very easy to work with as it’s so soft and malleable. 

Nowadays, everything about gold exudes power and luxury, and during a monetary crisis, many investors turn to the precious metal to help them through the financial dips (2); however, it’s important to know what’s real gold and when you’ve been hoodwinked into buying fool’s gold. 

Cast your mind back to the 1840s, during the gold rush, when prospectors would chew on the gold to check if it was real. The reason for doing this was because gold is a soft metal and should retain teeth marks.

Olympians have continued the tradition by munching on their gold medals during photo opportunities; however, the ‘bite test’ is not always reliable and may not give you a guaranteed result.  We discuss the different ways experts can ascertain what’s real and what’s fake. 

Real gold versus fake gold 

It might surprise you to find out a variety of types of gold exist, all of which may look very similar to the eye of a layperson, but each with varying degrees of value. If you want to get into buying gold, you need to make sure you’re working with a reputable trader like Gold Survival Guide. Failing that, it’s vitally important to ensure that you’ve checked your gold for credibility before you buy it. 

Genuine gold is measured by the karat. A karat is calculated by the proportion of gold in an alloy out of 24 parts, for example; 18k gold is 18/24 gold.  Therefore, the most pure gold you can purchase is 24k gold, which is 99.9 percent sterling [replace sterling with pure, as sterling just refers to silver not gold]. Meanwhile, a 14k product will only contain 58.3 percent gold. The remainder of the metal is usually made up of a metal alloy that contains either silver, copper, nickel or zinc. 

For the beginner, the karat percentage can be hard to decipher, which is why any item under 10k is not listed as gold in the United States and many other countries (3)

Gold has always been a great investment during financial crises and its price can dip and grow depending on how the market performs. You can keep an eye on the fluctuating price of gold here

Valuing your gold

If you have a few nice pieces of jewellery that have already been purchased or were handed down to you, it’s worth checking just how unique they are. Many costume pieces are cheaper than real gold because they’re gold plated, which means the item will look like the real thing but only be made up of silver or copper, with a thin layer of gold over the other metal, thanks to chemical bonding. 

Lesser-known and more valuable gold-filled jewellery is made by bonding a layer of solid gold onto silver or brass. It’s a pricier alternative to gold-plated jewellery because it’s both tarnish-resistant and has 100 times more gold alloy than plated gold, making it stronger and more durable. 

If you want to avoid counterfeits, you need to check the gold you’re buying isn’t made up of copper alloys (copper, bronze or brass), which can retain a gold-like lustre. 

The name fool’s gold comes from the assumption that you have to be a bit gullible to fall for a deal involving fake gold. It can relate to any financial agreement that fails because of the low value of an item, but usually relates to gold or another material that isn’t as valuable as  it seems (4). The material known as fool’s gold is often made up of pyrite (an iron sulphide) and has a yellow, metallic sheen to it. Fool’s gold is a lot more brittle than normal gold and can be easily scratched or damaged. 

Many inexperienced prospectors were known for claiming that they had struck gold, back in the 1840s, when really they had come across pyrite pieces. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s, that researchers found tiny particles of gold can be obtained from the mineral. (5) 

In fact, while the crystal is forming, under extreme pressure, it can develop tiny imperfections and therefore contain small gold atoms. Researchers have even suggested that so-called fool’s gold could be the solution to more sustainable mining in the future. (6)

That doesn’t help investors now, though, and it’s important that every piece of gold you want to invest in is triple checked.

For more information on how to value your gold once you’ve checked its authenticity, see the Gold Survival Guide’s “How do you value gold, what price could it reach?

How to tell if it is real gold

You might think the inability to tell whether something is gold is a beginner’s mistake; however, many professionals have been hoodwinked in the past. In fact, in the five years leading up to 2019, more than a dozen Chinese financial institutions loaned 20 billion yuan ($(NZ)4.6 billion) to Wuhan Kingold Jewellery with pure gold as collateral. Instead, they received gold plated copper. (7)

To avoid being a part of the increasing wave of investors who get caught up with fake gold, you need to make sure your product is, in fact, real gold.

1. Colour test 

If you have your eye on pure gold, a good way to check if it’s real is to perform a colour test. Anything that’s over 99.9 percent gold, should be an orange yellow colour and won’t change in lustre, whatever the circumstances. 

Anything over 18k should remain a buttery yellow colour. As for 14k gold, it’s a slightly lighter straw yellow. Both 18k and 14k gold change colour over time, but 24k gold doesn’t. Gold should never show any signs of corrosion and should always look the same no matter how old it is (8)

2. Look for the hallmark or stamp

Another good way to tell if you have real gold is to hunt for the hallmark or stamp, which should identify the manufacturer and date the piece of jewellery was made. These hallmarks also include the karat number and how pure the gold is (for instance a 24k gold piece has a hallmark of 999, while an 18k item has a hallmark of 750). 

You can also work out who manufactured the piece by looking for the maker’s mark. If you see a purity number that’s slightly off like 950 or 732, you’ll know that this is fake gold. (9) 

This isn’t a fool-proof method, however, as anyone can make up a mark and pass fake gold off as real. Older gold often doesn’t have hallmarks because they may have been worn away over the centuries. If you see the marks GP, GF, GE, GEP, HGP, HEG, then steer clear as they indicate that the item is either gold plated, filled or electroplated. (10)

3. Hold the jewellery between your hands 

Another smart and quick test is to hold the piece of jewellery between your hands for a couple of minutes. The perspiration will either react with the non-gold metal and change the colour of your skin, or leave your skin unaffected if it’s real gold. 

This only works if you don’t have makeup on your skin. If gold touches foundation, it could turn the touchpoints on your skin black. With this in mind, you can perform a test by applying liquid foundation to your hand and then add powder over it. 

Once the makeup has dried, press the piece of jewellery against your skin and rub it over the makeup, if it leaves a black line, it’s probably real gold. 

4. Weigh it

When it comes to testing bullion, a good method is to pick up another piece of the same value, that you know is real gold and measure it with callipers or a jeweller’s scale to see if they are the same weight. If the new piece is too large or feels heavier, it may have other metals added. 

5. Use a magnet 

You can also hold a magnet against your gold piece to check if it attracts itself to the magnet. If it does, you have fake gold as real gold doesn’t have magnetic properties. This isn’t always a reliable test as gold isn’t the only non-magnetic metal. In fact copper, brass, titanium, lead and tungsten are also not attracted to magnetic fields.  

6. Drop it in water

Another simple test is to drop the gold into a container of water, if it doesn’t float or hover over the bottom, you may have real gold as true gold is dense and should drop to the bottom. You can also take a ceramic plate or tile (that hasn’t been glazed) and scrape the gold across the top. If it leaves a trail of gold behind, it’s real gold. Other metals will leave a black trail. 

7. Take some measurements 

You can also check the density with water by weighing the item before you put it in a container of water, then measuring how many millimetres the water rises to once you have dropped the jewellery into the container. 

Now subtract the measurement beforehand and after then divide the weight of the jewellery by the difference in the water levels. The standard density of real gold should be 19.3 grams per millimetre. In saying this, it depends on the purity of the gold. For 14k to 22k gold, it can be from 12.9 t0 17.7 g/ml for yellow gold or anywhere between 14 and 17.8 g/ml for white gold. 

8. Use vinegar or nitric acid 

If you have some vinegar sitting around, just add a few drops to the metal. If it’s fake gold, it’ll change colour.

You can also test with nitric acid. Just rub the item against a black stone until it leaves a mark. Then apply the nitric acid to the mark. If the item isn’t gold, the mark should dissolve. If the mark remains, it can be tested again by applying aqua regia (nitric acid and hydrochloric acid). If the aqua regia removes the mark, then the item is genuine gold. 

Disadvantages of gold tests

  • Thanks to many variabilities, no test is 100 percent reliable. 
  • Some tests could damage your gold item, reducing its value. 
  • Professionals suggest that you try a few tests to be completely sure. If you remain uncertain afterwards, get a professional test from a reputable jeweller. 

Professional gold tests

In 1881, Alexander Graham Bell invented the first metal detector to assist President James Garfield, who was lying in his bed dying from a bullet wound. The detector was meant to find the bullet; however, it was confused by the springs in the bed and didn’t perform the job. 

The product was an electromagnetic device that Bell referred to as the induction balance. Throughout the years, more machines were produced, which gradually were able to work out to the nth degree just how pure a metal was. (11)

If you’ve tried all the do-it-yourself tests above and you’re still unsure, or you want a fail-safe way of proving your piece of gold is the real deal, you can get a professional machine test done. Unlike Bell’s induction balance, professional tests are available now that can be conducted on a piece of jewellery or bullion and can work out the veracity within a second. 

The Sigma Metalytics Precious Metal Verifier is calibrated for accuracy on a minute scale. Using electromagnetic waves that penetrate into the coin or bar, the machine can assess the main body of a metal and ensure that the metal matches its correct electrical characteristics. If ‘pure gold’ is selected and another metal is scanned by the machine, an arrow will show up on the bar display.  

This is a great test for bullion and coins but the Kee Gold tester is better for jewellery. That machine sends electromagnetic waves through the item to read the resistance of the metal inside. 

The XRF Spectrometer is another professional test that sends X-rays through the gold, exciting the metal’s atoms into a higher energy state. Once the atoms have returned to their normal state, they give off radiation, which the machine monitors. Gold gives off a certain radiation that the machine will recognise. (12)

Nothing is fail-safe and home tests can have their pitfalls, so it’s worth checking with a reputable jeweller to ensure that you’re not being hoodwinked into buying fake gold or gold that isn’t as pure as it’s purported to be. Most jewellers will have an industry-standard machine that can help you authenticate your jewellery, bullion or coins. 


Gold forgeries have been taking place for centuries. In fact, the first ever gold forgery that has been detected was around the year 600 BC. In the Greek city of Lydia, fakes were found that had been created by either shaving off the edges of real coins or combining gold with base metals. 

In fact, experts have argued that the downfall of the Roman Empire may have begun thanks to the greed of its government. Fake gold coins were exchanged throughout the empire, yet the government still charged the coins at the same price as pure gold. The debasement of the currency and continuous propaganda that surrounded it may have caused the people to slow down their trading, pushing the kingdom into ruin. (13)

When you’re investing in platinum, gold or silver, it’s important to tread carefully and not jump in, all guns blazing. Take the investment slowly and be very careful about who you can trust and what information you have at hand. 

It’s very important to get the most up to date information and news surrounding the modern gold rush from the experts who know what they’re doing.

A purchaser of bullion is more likely to be caught out with fake gold bullion when buying directly from a member of the public. While long standing reputable dealers sell gold and silver bullion that comes directly from refiners, mints and wholesale distributors. So a chain of integrity is maintained to ensure authenticity. Also dealers and refiners will test and assay gold they purchase back from the public to ensure its authenticity. Therefore buying from a respected dealer will be safer than buying privately.

For more information on how to begin investing in gold and what traps to look out for, contact your local experts at Gold Survival Guide today.

One thought on “Real Gold vs Fake Gold: How To Tell if Gold is Real

  1. ASE says:

    There’s an app for that. Two apps that I know of. (free) (not free)

    A few years ago I would’ve recommended the Bullion Test app, but now I think the (free) Pingcoin app is better.

    Those apps are only good for testing coins (not bars) and in my experience they work perfectly. Still, it’s good to have a scale for measuring weight/mass, and a calipers for measuring size. If a coin passes all three of those tests (weight/mass, size, and “ping”) then it’s most certainly real.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *