November 28, 2019 10 min read

“Gold jewelry” can be a misnomer. After all, gold in this context literally just describes the color of the piece, rather than what it’s actually made up of. Of course, fake gold jewelry can be a great addition to youraccessory wardrobe, if you’re looking to save a few dollars or you’re looking for costume jewelry that gives an illusion that will impress, but probably won’t stand the test of time.

However, if you’re looking for jewelry that you can pass down the generations, and is worth the investment, it’s a good idea to really know how to identify fake gold pieces, so you don’t get tricked. Especially for something as simple as agold chain: quality really is king. So to help you make sure you’re not being tricked, and that your chain is as luxurious as you are through and through, we’ve put together some tricks and tips on how to identify a fake gold chain. 

But, before we go into how to identify a fake gold chain, let’s take a further look at the types of gold chains. Gold jewelry can be solid gold jewelry, hollow gold jewelry, gold-filled or gold-plated jewelry. Obviously, depending on the amount of the precious metal used, the difference in price between these products can be massive. If the jewelry is just gold-colored, this means that the pieces are usually made mainly from brass or silver, and then plated with gold over the top. These pieces are often far cheaper, but they could end up scratching or wearing more easily.  

Gold plated sterling silver

Sterling silver is obviously a precious metal too, just like gold. However, the price point is much lower. Where gold costs about $1,300 per ounce, sterling silver only costs around $20. Gold plated sterling silver is made from sterling silver and plated with gold on top. Although the gold plating can wear off over time, just like with gold-colored jewelry, the difference between these two products comes in quality and longevity.

Because sterling silver is also a precious metal, there’s no chance that the jewelry will cause a skin reaction or discoloration. This also means that the jewelry will retain its value over time, even if the plating comes off a little, as the silver has its own value. To identify a piece of gold plated sterling silver, look out for the silver stamp, which will read 925 or ‘sterling silver’. But if you’re looking for something with a silver color, but all the quality of solid gold, we would recommend investing in awhite gold chain

Gold plated

As we mentioned previously, gold plated jewelry is usually made from copper or brass, or another cheap metal, with a yellow gold plating on top. Although gold plated jewelry may sound fancy, don’t be fooled. Gold plated jewelry usually has a very low proportion of gold actually in it. When manufacturing gold plated jewelry, it’s common for a whole pint of plating solution to contain only one gram of gold. With this, thousands of pieces can be plated easily, giving the illusion of a quality piece of jewelry, but it's just that: an illusion.

Once wearing these pieces for a while, you’ll start to notice this, as the plating wears off eventually, and you start to see the color of the other cheaper metal peeping it’s unsightly head from below the plating. This can even end up discoloring your skin or causing even more extreme skin reactions. 

Gold-filled jewelry

Gold-filled jewelry is similar to gold plated jewelry, but you’re unlikely to get any of the unsightly side effects. This is because, unlike gold plated jewelry that has just a thin wash or plating of gold, gold-filled jewelry has a much thicker layer. Although the base material of the jewelry is often the same, brass or copper, it’s very unlikely that the gold will wear away and display this cheaper metal over time. This is because of the thicker layer of gold on these pieces, which is usually about a 20th of the weight of the piece of jewelry. This jewelry will offer you a lot more in terms of longevity: generations can wear this jewelry before it starts to display signs of wear. 

Gold-filled jewelry is a great option for you if you want the appearance and behavior of solid gold jewelry, but not the high price tag. It’s very easy to see whether a piece of jewelry is gold-filled too, just by looking at the quality mark. This will usually show you how much of the total weight of the piece is made from real gold, for example, 1/20 14k, meaning that one-twentieth of the total weight of the pice of jewelry is made from 14k gold. However, don’t consider this kind of jewelry as an investment piece, as if you’re reselling or scrapping gold filled jewelry, you’re probably not going to see much back from your investment. This is because the layer of gold around the jewelry is very difficult to separate from the base metal. 

 

A person wearing a gold necklace.

 


Solid gold jewelry

It goes without saying that if you’re looking for an investment for your future,solid gold jewelry is the way to go. Not only can these pieces be passed down through the generations, but the value of gold also continues to rise, so even if you’re forced to resell, you’re still going to see a good return on your investment eventually. Even if the mechanisms or some parts of the piece end up breaking or altering in shape, you always have the option of getting the money back for just the gold itself. 

If you’re looking to identify solid gold pieces of jewelry, they will be stamped in the following variety of ways: 10k or alternately 417; 14k or alternately 585; 18k or alternately 750. If you want to find out if what you’re looking at is a solid gold piece of jewelry, then a great place to start is the stamp. All authentic gold jewelry should have a stamp to identify the purity of the gold used in the piece. Often these pieces are stamped using an indication of karats, for example, 14kt or 14K. If they’re marked using a 3 digit number, as is often more popular in European gold markings, they are also indicating the purity of the gold in the piece, but by percentage. For example, if you see the marking of 750, then this means the gold is 75% pure gold (otherwise referred to as 18 karats). 

If you’re looking for another reason to invest in solid gold jewelry, why not think about the environmental implications? With our trend in fast fashion, the fashion industry is often producing more and more pieces that will eventually be left in the trash, resigned to sparkle in a landfill or become a choking hazard for animals. However, gold can easily be melted down and remade into a whole range of different things. In fact, there’s not as much need anymore to mine for new gold, considering all of it that’s being used and reused above the earth’s crust already. Most of the gold you’re considering buying probably will have already seen multiple different lives as jewelry, wires, sheets or bars, and then reimagined. 

Hollow gold jewelry

Hollow gold jewelry is just like solid gold jewelry, except it’s hollow! The reason for using this technique is to reduce the final amount of gold used, and thus the overall price of the piece. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between solid and hollow gold jewelry, as the same stamping system is used. This is evidently because the hollow gold jewelry pieces still only use gold. It’s easier really to tell if gold jewelry is hollow due to it’s lighter weight. However, it’s probably quite unlikely that gold chains will be hollow, due to howdelicate the designs can often be. A word of warning though: hollow gold jewelry can often bend or break, as it’s a lot less strong and stable than solid gold pieces. Proceed with caution. 

Now that we’ve taken a closer look at the different types of fake gold, or imitation gold jewelry, how can we tell whether a gold chain is a fake? 

Hallmarks or gold markings

As we’ve already outlined, solid gold jewelry or hollow gold jewelry should show you an indication of its authenticity. This comes in the form of a hallmark or a gold marking, which indicates the karat of the gold. You will either find numbers followed by the letters K, KT, or KP, all of which indicate the karat of the material, or you will find a three-digit number which indicates the purity of the gold, in the European style, as previously explained. If you have a hallmark or a gold marking on your gold chain then it’s most likely pure gold, or if it’s a lot lighter than you expect then it may well be hollow gold. 

This is how we can identify asolid gold, or a hollow gold, piece. But what about identifying a fake gold necklace? Although not entirely fake gold, as some proportion of gold is used when making these pieces of jewelry, there are also some hallmarks you can look out for to identify if the piece is gold plated or gold filled. Gold-filled and gold plated chains usually are marked with another stamp, such as GP, GEP, RGP, HGE, HGP, or GF. For example, if you see a hallmark which reads “18K GP”, this means that the chain is gold-plated, and the gold used to plate the chain is 18 karats. 

If you’re trying to find out whether a gold chain is fake or not, then we would recommend starting out by looking at the hallmarks or gold markings. However, if you really wont to know the answer, don’t let your inquiry stop here. There is a whole plethora of gold vendors around the globe, all of whom can use different stamps, and you can’t always rely on them having used them responsibly or accurately. If you want to double-check that you’re not being fooled, and your gold chain is pure gold or hollow gold, then there are a couple more reliable tests we would recommend you try. 

 

Colour and discoloration

We’ve all seen in films a jewelry expert holding up a piece of gold jewelry to the light to check it’s color, and appearance, to identify whether it’s made from actual or solid gold. And unsurprisingly this is one of the age-old tests for the identification of gold jewelry. As we all know, gold can have a range of colors, but we usually associate it with a bright yellow appearance. Counterintuitively, this is the first way to check whether your gold chain is made from solid gold. 

The more yellow the appearance of gold, the higher the karat, or purity of that gold mixed with other metals. 24 karat gold, therefore, often appears the most yellow. However, it’s rare for 24 karat gold to be used to make an entire piece, because gold of this purity is actually a very soft metal. Therefore, if your gold chain has the appearance of brightly colored, yellow 24 karat gold, then it’s most likely it’s actually gold plated or gold filled. The high price of 24 karat gold, and it’s undeniable gold appearance, means that it’s often used in gold plated or gold-filled chains. 

In this consideration process, another element you should keep in mind is the price. If the piece has a hallmark for 24 karats, or has the appearance of 24 karat gold, but is being sold at a cheap price, then we obviously know something is up, and it’s likely that the majority of the structure of the piece is actually made from some cheaper metal like copper or brass. This indicator, obviously, applies to the karat of all chains you are looking at. When it comes to the price of gold jewelry, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. 

If you’re looking at a second-hand chain, or one that’s been manufactured cheaply, there are some other visual signs you can recognize for the chain actually being gold plated or filled. With gold plated or gold filled jewelry, if the piece is scratched or rubbed a lot, the gold plating or cover will erode, revealing the cheaper metal below. If you can see any signs of wear on the piece you’re looking at, and a different colored metal, you’ve definitely found a fake. 

The acid test

The decision to use this subheading isn’t just meant to be a play on words. The proverb an “acid test” literally comes from the original acid test, which was developed in the late 18th century by gold prospectors and dealers to decipher whether the metal at hand was, in fact, gold. Although the test itself has changed slightly, the phrase remains. So for the ultimate acid test as to whether your gold jewelry is real or fake, look no further. 

For the most reliable way to decipher how much gold an item contains, we must test it with nitric acid. If you want to do this for yourself, then you can purchase a gold testing kit and carry out this test at home. Or, why not let the experts do it, if you’re worried about damaging a piece of jewelry, and take your piece to a jeweler. The test is conducted as follows: the jeweler will take a small sample from the chain by scratching it on a testing stone. Then, nitric acid will be applied, and the jeweler will be able to tell how much gold is in the material by observing the chemical reaction. 

 

A man wearing a gold chain.

Magnet test 

There’s one last test to do, which although it is not the most reliable, is one of the easiest tests to do at home. And this is the magnet test. Pure gold is actually not magnetic, so if you use a really strong magnet, and the jewelry is attracted to it, then it’s quite likely you have a counterfeit piece. This means that there are either magnetic metals used as the core of this piece, or the gold is mixed with other metals. However, don’t take this test as decisive. Some manufacturers can mix gold with other non-magnetic metals, like stainless steel, and some genuine gold pieces are mixed with magnetic metals like iron. 

Gold has fascinated humans throughout history. This mind-bogglingly beautiful precious metal has attracted a variety of uses, and myths and wonderment worldwide, from its first recorded use in 40,000 BCE. And seeing as it still catches people’s imaginations worldwide, and is an expensive commodity, we all want to get our hands on some. But, as we’ve mentioned, the long term value of gold varies hugely depending on the type of gold piece you’re investing in. So to ensure that your chain is one you can pass down the generations, don’t just trust your jeweler or the hallmark on the piece: take matters into your own hands and use our suggestions on how to identify a fake gold chain. 




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