How to Tell if Gold Is Real

Six Methods:Visual InspectionBite TestMagnet TestDensity TestCeramic Plate TestNitric Acid Test

By American standards, fake gold is anything less than 10 Karats/Carats. If you're wondering whether your gold is real, the most reliable way to find out is to take it to a certified jeweler and have it tested. If you want to check for yourself, here's a list of tests you can conduct to tell if your gold is real.

Method 1
Visual Inspection

The first thing to do to check if you have real gold is to look at it. Look for particular signs that point to real gold.

  1. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 1
    Inspect the piece for official markings. A stamp will indicate either fineness (1-999 or .1-.999) or karat (10K, 14K, 18K, 22K or 24K). A magnifying glass will make this easier.
    • An older piece might not have a visible marking due to wear.
    • Counterfeit pieces can often have a marking that appears authentic; more testing may be needed either way.
  2. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 2
    Look for noticeable discoloration. It is important to check for discoloration in areas that face constant friction (typically around the edges).
    • If the gold seems to be wearing off and showing a different metal beneath it, you probably have a piece that is only gold plated.

Method 2
Bite Test

We have all seen a movie where a prospector bites down on a piece of gold to test it. We also see Olympic athletes bite on their “gold” medal when they receive it. Whether that is of any use is another story altogether.

  1. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 3
    Bite down on your gold with moderate pressure.
  2. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 4
    Examine your gold for any markings. In theory, real gold will show indents from your teeth; deeper markings indicate purer gold.
    • This is actually not a recommended test, as you can damage your teeth. Not to mention that lead is even softer than gold and gold-plated lead will appear to be gold when you bite it.

Method 3
Magnet Test

This is an easy test, but it’s not an all-encompassing or fool-proof way to determine whether your gold is real. Something as weak as a fridge magnet will not be useful, but stronger magnets that you can find in specialized hardware stores or in common objects such as women’s purse latches, children’s toys, or even in old unused hard drives will be strong enough to perform this test.

  1. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 5
    Hold a magnet up to the item. Gold is not a magnetic metal, so if it pulls towards, or sticks to the magnet, it’s fake. However, just because it doesn’t react to the magnet doesn’t mean it is real, as non-magnetic metals are used in counterfeit pieces as well.

Method 4
Density Test

There are very few metals denser than gold. The density of pure 24K gold is about 19.3 g/ml, which is much higher than most other metals. Measuring the density of your items can help you determine if your gold is real. As a rule of thumb, the higher the density, the purer the gold. Make sure to perform the density test on gold that has no gemstones of any kind attached. See the warnings below for important information about the density test.

  1. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 6
    Weigh your piece of gold. A jeweler can normally do this for you for free if you don’t have your own scale. You will need the weight in grams.
  2. 2
    Fill a vial with water.
    • It’s helpful if the vial has millimeter markings on the side, since that will make it easier for you to read the measurements for this test.
    • It doesn’t matter how much water you use as long as you don’t fill the vial to the top, since the water level will rise once you immerse the gold in it.
    • It’s also important to note the exact amount of the water level before and after immersion.
  3. 3
    Place your gold in the vial. Take note of the new water level and calculate the difference between those two numbers in milliliters.
  4. 4
    Use the following formula to calculate density: Density = mass/volume displacement. A result close to 19 g/ml indicates either real gold, or a material with a density similar to gold. Here is an example calculation:
    • Your gold item weighs 38 g and it displaces 2 milliliters of water. Using the formula of [mass (38 g)]/[volume displacement (2 ml)], your result would be 19 g/ml, which is very close to the density of gold.
    • Bear in mind that different gold purity will have a different g/ml ratio:
    • 14K – 12.9 to 14.6 g/ml
    • 18K yellow – 15.2 to 15.9 g/ml
    • 18K white – 14.7 to 16.9 g/ml
    • 22K – 17.7 to 17.8 g/ml

Method 5
Ceramic Plate Test

This is an easy way to tell if your gold is fool’s gold. Bear in mind that your item may end up scratched.

  1. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 10
    Find an unglazed ceramic plate to use. If you don’t have this, you can purchase a random piece of unglazed ceramic from a home improvement store.
  2. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 11
    Drag your item across the surface. A black streak means your gold is not real, whereas a gold streak indicates your item is genuine.

Method 6
Nitric Acid Test

This is where the term “acid test” comes from, and is a great way to test your gold. However, due to the difficulty is acquiring the acid, and the inherent safety risks of doing this in your home, it may be best to leave this test to a jeweler.

  1. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 12
    Place your piece of gold in a small stainless steel container.
  2. Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 13
    Put a drop of nitric acid on your gold and watch for any resulting reaction to the acid.
    • A green reaction indicates your item is either a base metal or gold plated. A gold reaction indicates your item is gold-plated brass.
      Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 13Bullet1
    • A milk-colored reaction would indicate gold-plated sterling silver.
      Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 13Bullet2
    • If there is no reaction, you mostly likely are dealing with real gold.
      Image titled Tell if Gold Is Real Step 13Bullet3


  • When we say 24kt or 24K gold jewelry, we mean that all the 24 parts in the gold are pure gold without traces of any other metals. This is considered 99.9 percent pure. 22K gold means that 22 parts of the jewelry are gold and the remaining 2 parts are some other metal. This is considered 91.3 percent pure. 18K gold means that 18 parts of the jewelry are gold and the remaining 6 parts are some other metal. This is equal to 75 percent pure. The purity goes down from there, with each karat equaling approximately 4.1625 percent.
  • In gold that is less than 24K, the other alloys in the item give it hardness and color. We can state that 24K is the softest and 10K the hardest, because 10K would have 41.6 percent gold and the balance would be other metals, which are harder than gold. The color from the other metals enhances the beauty of the jewelry, such as you see with white gold, yellow gold, red gold, etc.
  • Anything marked with GF means gold filled, which is actually filled gold. Divide by the number before the karat mark. Example... 1/20 14k GF is 1 part 14K gold on the outside of 19 parts of some other metal. So it is 5 o/o 14K gold and 95 o/o other metal.
  • 24K is pure gold[1] but generally too soft for use in jewelry or coins. Because of this, other metals are added for consistency and this makes for different densities.
  • The markings are a bit different on gold jewelry made in Europe and indicate an item’s purity. The markings are typically three digits and are as follows:
    • 10K 417 marking: gold purity is 41.7 percent
    • 14K 585 marking: gold purity is 58.5 percent
    • 18K 750 marking: gold purity is 75 percent
    • 22K 917 marking: gold purity is 91.7 percent
    • 24K 999 marking: gold purity is 99.9 percent
  • In Portugal, gold is typically 80% pure, or about 19.2K, and comes in three colors:
    • Yellow - Comprised of 80% pure gold, 13% silver and 7% copper.
    • Red - Comprised of 80% pure gold, 3% silver and 17% copper.
    • Grey or white - Comprised of 80% pure gold alloyed with palladium and other metals; mostly nickel.


  • These tests may not be able to differentiate solid gold from a tungsten plug covered by real gold.
  • Density Test Warning: The density test isn’t the most precise way to test whether gold is real, unless you know exactly what else is in your gold, and its associated density characteristics.
  • Density Test Warning: Due to the precise calculations needed to correctly perform the density test, unless you have a graduated vial that measures in milliliters and a precise scale, then the density test is very inexact.
  • Nitric Acid Test Warning: Nitric acid is highly corrosive. Precautions should be taken if it will be used for testing. The gold itself is safe, as it is insoluble in nitric acid however items that are not gold and are tested with this acid may be damaged in the process.
  • Density Test Warning: Many chunky looking pieces of jewelry are in fact hollow. If air is trapped in the piece, this WILL invalidate the density test, due to the fact that the gold will be lighter, while the volume remains, causing a smaller density. The density test is only valid for solid items, or for items from which all the air can be expelled by allowing water to fill the entire internal cavity. A small bubble of air left inside will result in an inaccurate result.

Things You'll Need

  • Magnifying glass (for Visual Inspection)
  • Magnet (for Magnet Test)
  • Scale (for Density Test)
  • Vial (for Density Test)
  • Calculator (for Density Test)
  • Unglazed ceramic plate (a Ceramic Plate Test)
  • Nitric acid (for Nitric Acid Test)
  • Stainless Steel Container (for Nitric Acid Test)
  • Safety equipment (Nitric Acid test)

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Jewelry and Watches