Buying jewelry always comes with a risk, especially if you decide to buy pieces secondhand or from places other than respected jewelry stores. The biggest risk involves whether or not the precious metals like gold and silver are actually real. Fortunately, there are several ways to determine if the metals are real or fake and many of these tests can be done without the need of a loupe or any chemicals.
Before learning how to tell whether gold is real, it is important to know what is “real” gold. In the US, the magic number for gold is 10 karats. If the gold wears that monicker, it is not consider “real” gold because it contains too many other types of metals.
If you are shopping for gold jewelry at an auction or another second-hand shop, you should bring a magnet with you. Gold is not magnetic, so if the piece you are considering is attracted to your magnet, then you immediately know that the piece is not real. Unfortunately, using a magnet will not guarantee that the piece is gold because there are other metals that are not attracted to magnets.
If you are considering a gold chain of any type, there are a few industry standards to consider. Real gold chains will have stamps on both clasp tabs. The stamps will say 14K or another number larger than that. Also on the clasp, the O-ring that attaches will be soldered to the chain. Pieces that are not gold will not be soldered simply because the soldering process is too hot and will actually melt the chain. Fake chains will look more like brass and you might even be able to scrape off paint or a plastic coating.
Fake gold rings are also easy to spot - especially in the secondhand market. Real gold rings will have clear markings on the inside. You will be able to see 14K and other markings that show the manufacturer. Fake rings will look worn and they will have markings like GF, which stands for gold filled, or marking that start with H, like HGP and HGE - heavy gold plate or electroplate. These are not real gold.
Fake gold bracelets, especially if they are chains, will have the same issues that the necklaces have. But, bangles will have the same issues that fake gold rings have. Often, used pieces will have signs of wear that show a base metal coming through. Real gold will be consistent in color and sheen. Many fake gold bangles will have the same markings as rings, like HGP or HGE. They will also have fractions to show how much gold fill they contain. So you might see something like ¼ GF.
Finally, the easiest fake gold jewelry to spot is earrings. These are easy because the post will not be made of gold. The colors of the gold earring and post will not match on fake pieces. Real gold earrings will be gold from the post to the decorative piece.