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How Do I Know My Gold is Real?

Image of gold bars spread across a surface.

Can I Test My Gold Products at Home?

Have you ever purchased a gold bar from a private seller and questioned its authenticity?

There are several ways to test your gold products, but the most accurate and trusted methods involve employing a local jeweler or assayer or a very expensive non-invasive machine using high-technology means.

How to Test Your Gold Using Hands, Eyes, and a Scale

Use the following recommendations as a starting point to get a feel of whether your gold products are authentic. If they do not pass these simple tests, it is worth the time and effort to have a professional test them. It is advisable to employ more than one test.

  1. Look at the color. Gold has a distinctive, warm yellow color. Its brightness can vary based on its purity. Counterfeit gold products may have a different color, with a uniform appearance that lacks variations. If possible, compare your specimen to known genuine examples. This is common for gold plated counterfeits.
  2. Look for hallmarks and mint stamps. There will probably be markings that display the manufacturer’s name or logo as well as the karat weight and purity of the gold.
  3. Look at the printing on the items. Are the letters even and uniform? If they aren’t, be wary!
  4. Weigh your gold product. Gold has a high density, and a small bar or round made of .999 fine gold will often feel heavier than a larger counterfeit bar. Beware that tungsten is often found in counterfeit gold products to replicate gold’s density and weight.
  5. If you are purchasing a well-known coin, compare the mint’s documented weight and dimensions with the coin you have. If there is a variance between your coin and known examples, you might have a counterfeit product.
  6. Tap on your gold. Because of its density, fine gold will produce a resounding ring like a small gong when you tap on it with another metal object. Counterfeit gold products will produce a tinny, hollow sound when you tap on them. This is also called the ping test.
  7. A good pair of calipers is worth its weight in gold! Measure the diameter and thickness of the coin or bar. If these measurements are off from what a genuine example should measure – your item might be counterfeit.

These methods are helpful, but none of these are foolproof. Your results can still be affected by the quality of a counterfeit product, your skills, and the condition of the product in question.

Other Ways to Test Your Gold at Home

If the above tests are inconclusive, you can try three more tests at home, but some are more involved and complicated than others.

  1. Test your gold with water. Seriously. One of the simplest tests you can perform on gold at home is to place it in a glass or bowl of water. If your gold round or bar floats, it is not pure gold. Since gold has a heavy density, pure gold will not float. 
  2. Test your gold with a magnet. This test requires a powerful magnet, so your children’s art can stay on the refrigerator.  
    • If the gold product is attracted to your magnet, you will feel a slight pull. If you feel this pull, your gold may be counterfeit or impure, as gold has no magnetic properties.
    • It is noteworthy that tungsten has an exceptionally low susceptibility to magnetic forces, although tungsten carbide, a tungsten-carbon alloy, has a stronger susceptibility to magnetic force. A counterfeit gold bar could have a tungsten core and still pass the magnet test.
  3. Test your gold with vinegar. This test is fast and only requires a glass container and vinegar.
    • Fill the glass bowl with white vinegar. Place your gold product in the bowl. Fifteen minutes later, remove the gold and rinse it.
    • If the gold is real, it will shine. If the gold is not real, it will change color or even smoke while submerged as a reaction to acetic acid in the vinegar.

None of these tests are foolproof, either. Counterfeiters will always try to stay one step ahead, which means their methods have and will become increasingly closer to genuine examples. If you are unsatisfied with the results of your at-home tests, it’s time to call a professional assayer or jeweler.

How Does an Assayer or Jeweler Verify My Gold’s Authenticity?

If the idea of conducting science experiments at home does not sound like your ideal Saturday night, take your gold to an assayer or jeweler. Assayers and jewelers will have one of two sophisticated machines to help authenticate your gold, whether it is jewelry, a bar, a round, or a coin.

There are Three Ways an Assayer can Test Your Gold

  1. X-Ray Fluorescence is less damaging to gold products than tests that require marring your gold with an unsightly scratch as some at-home methods work.
    • XRF tests use x-rays that result in the metal emitting a fluorescent light on a cellular level. X-rays are non-invasive. The machine then measures this light to evaluate gold products and identify any impurities.
    • The caveat of XRF tests is that they cannot test beyond a few micrometers of surface material. If your gold product has a tungsten core, this may not detect it. 
  2. Ultrasonic Testing is a second non-destructive test to use for authenticating old products. It employs ultrasound waves to detect changes in the consistency of the metal. This is the same technology used to get a glimpse of your infant in utero, including the gel! 
    • Assayers will hold a transducer that looks like a miniature stethoscope against the gold product as it emits an ultrasonic pulse.
    • The ultrasonic pulse waves travel through the metal until they encounter a different material, like the surface of a table- or a tungsten core.  
    • The machine then detects changes in the waves and identifies objects made of a different material. In addition to its ability to detect counterfeit tungsten cores, ultrasonic testing is ideal for antiques since it is one of the least invasive assay tests. 
  3. Fire assays have been the standard of gold testing for centuries. This process combines a high-heat flame with dry reagents in crucibles and cupels and can be used to test many kinds of precious metals in many forms, even soil. 
    • When conducting a fire assay, a sample is first collected. The sample is then mixed with a defined amount of silver, lead, or nickel before heat is introduced. 
    • The metal mixture is heated in a furnace around 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. This heat level is vital for impurities like base metals to evaporate and be absorbed into the cupel. The material that is left will be a mere drop of precious metal.
    • Once this has solidified, it is re-weighed on a micro-balance. Based on the difference between the initial and final samples, an assayer can calculate the purity of your gold. Fire assays reduce your item to a lump of melted metal so this test is not recommended for coins that may have a value beyond the base metal.  

These tests have limitations. If a gold deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Gold priced below spot for example, is a common tactic that scammers use. The best way to purchase gold products confidently is to buy from a dealer you trust. Look for companies that have been in business for a long time, stand behind their products and have favorable reviews.

Quick Guides to Investing

Step 1:

Why Buy Physical Gold and Silver?

If you are concerned about the volatility of the stock market, you’re not alone. The extreme highs and lows of the stock market often lead investors towards safe-haven assets, like bullion. Historically, the Precious Metals market has an inverse relationship with the stock market, meaning that when stocks are up, bullion is down and vice versa.

Step 2:

How Much Gold and Silver Should You Have?

This question is one of the most important for investors to answer. After all, experts suggest limits on how much of any types of investments should go into a portfolio. After deciding to purchase and own Precious Metals and considering how much money to allocate, one can then think about how much and what to buy at any point in time.

Step 3:

Which Precious Metals Should I Buy?

With the frequent changes in the market and countless Precious Metal products available, choosing investments can be difficult. Some want Gold or Silver coins, rounds or bars while others want products that are valuable because of their design, mintage or other collectible qualities. Also, collectors may shop for unique sets and individual pieces for their collections.

Step 4:

When to Buy Gold & Silver

After considering why, how much, and what Precious Metals products to buy, an investor’s next step is when to buy them. This decision requires an understanding of market trends and the impact of economic factors on precious metal prices.

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