How Do I Know My Jewelry Is Real?

With the sudden popularity of “cash for gold” operations offering fast cash for scrap gold jewelry, everyone is anxiously digging through their jewelry boxes, hoping to discover a gold mine among their broken chains, mismatched earrings, and unwanted jewelry.

To the untrained eye, costume jewelry and solid gold jewelry may seem identical. Unfortunately, however, all that glitters isn’t gold, and many sellers are disappointed to learn that their jewelry is not worth what they had hoped. On the other hand, there are times when things that appear to be worthless are actually quite valuable, and could be cashed in for surprising amounts.

This brief guide is meant to help readers perform simple inspections of their jewelry to identify if it is potentially gold, and can be traded in for some much needed cash.

There are two types of jewelry: solid gold, and gold plated. “Solid gold” jewelry is not usually pure gold, however it is made by alloying varying percentages of gold with other metals. “Gold plated” jewelry is made by taking a piece of base metal, such as copper, and coating it with a thin layer of gold.

Gold plated jewelry is generally worthless in terms of precious metal value. Modern methods of plating apply an almost microscopic layer of high-karat gold to give jewelry a very shiny gold look, while they actually contain pennies worth of the precious metal. Plated jewelry will usually have a marking containing the letters “GF”, “GE”, “HGE”, “GP”, or “RGP.” An example of a typical gold plated stamp might be “18K HGE.”

You can also examine the item for discolorations or areas where plating has worn off to reveal the base metal underneath. These areas can usually be found on well worn pieces. Plated pieces that have not seen much wear are sometimes “too shiny”, and have a different tone than 10K and 14K jewelry seen in jewelry stores.

Solid gold pieces will usually contain stamps as well. European jewelry manufacturers will often stamp pieces with the numbers “417”, “585”, or “750”, indicating 10K gold, 14K gold, and 18K gold, respectively. US jewelry makers will generally use “10K”, “14K”, and “18K” to indicate the same thing.

Authentic gold jewelry will be non-magnetic in almost all cases. If you have a strong magnet, try picking up your jewelry with it. The only time you should get a response is with chains, which often contain steel in the clasp, or a slim line of steel running through the body of the chain to stabilize it. Generally however, magnetic jewelry is not real gold.

Disreputable jewelers may sometimes stamp plated items and try to pass them off as real gold. These pieces, if well worn, will show discolorations where plating has rubbed off. They may also seem extremely light compared to other similarly sized gold pieces.

Some jewelry contains no marking at all. This is common with custom made pieces, foreign jewelry, and re-sized rings. Just because an item isn’t stamped, don’t throw it away – a gold buyer can determine its content with simple, non-destructive tests.

Without the benefit of chemical tests, jeweler’s loupes, and experience, it is sometimes difficult for the average person to determine if their jewelry is real. However, these simple guidelines will help you determine if you are sitting on a gold mine in your jewelry box.