(Updated May 1, 2020. Originally Published Dec. 4, 2015)
"Please tell me how I can tell whether a ring is 14k white gold. I inherited a bunch of jewelry from my grandmother, I’m pretty sure that the majority of it is real because my grandfather loved her very much and liked to spoil her. The problem is that some of the jewelry looks real, and some of the jewelry looks fake, some of it is stamped, and some of is not, and some of it stamped with things like 14k but followed with other letters that I don’t know the meaning of.
I’m not interested in selling any of it, the jewelry holds sentimental value to me, but I also need to figure out the value for estate purposes. What advice can you give me?”
What stamps on gold jewelry represent:
Fine gold jewelry which is stamped with marks such as 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, and 24k, represent the gold content of the jewelry item. Jewelry which was manufactured in Europe, might be marked with numbers that represent the gold content, such as 585 for 14k gold, and 750 for 18k gold. If the ring is stamped with one of these alloy marks and is white in color, then it is probably white gold, and if it’s yellow in color it is yellow gold. That seems simple and straightforward enough, right?
However, there are a lot of other letters and marks which can appear on the inside of the ring shank along with the alloy stamp, and those markings can be confusing and misleading. Here are some of the more popular stamps on the inside of rings that you are likely to encounter:
10K, 14K, 18K, 22K, and 24K Gold Jewelry Markings:
14K P (The “P” stands for plumb gold)
18K with a company logo after such as Brian Gavin 18K
417 (10K = 41.7% gold, mixed with other alloys.
585 (14k = 58.5% gold, mixed with other alloys.
750 (18K = 75% gold, mixed with other alloys.
917 (22K = 91.7% gold, mixed with other alloys.
999 (24K = 99.9% gold, as pure as it gets.
If the jewelry which you’ve inherited features any of the gold karat markings listed above, whether accompanied by a hallmark indicating the manufacturer or not, it is most likely real. However it if is stamped with any of the following marks, it is not real gold:
14K 1/20 (1/20 gold is basically gold-filled)
14K G.F. = Gold Filled
14K G.P. = Gold Plated
14K H.G.E. = Hydrostatic Gold Electroplate
14K G.E.P. = Gold Electroplate
.925 = Sterling Silver
With exception of the items marked .925, the jewelry stamped with these markings is made out of another type of alloy, and coated with a very thin layer of gold which should show signs of wear given the fact that these are items which your grandmother has worn over the years.
An alloy stamp or marking doesn’t guarantee authenticity:
Just because a piece of jewelry is stamped with an alloy mark such as 14k, 18k, or 22k, does not necessarily mean that it is actually real gold. There is a lot of fake, counterfeit jewelry floating around out there, it drives a friend of mine who runs a cash for gold store crazy… He spends the majority of his day using electronic testing devices, and different types of nitric acid to gold test jewelry, and a lot of what is marked, is not real.
On the flip side, there is always the chance that jewelry which is not stamped, is made of real silver, gold, or platinum. Not all jewelry manufacturers bother to stamp the alloy content of the jewelry that they produce.
For this reason, I recommend consulting with a qualified jeweler in your local area. Ask friends and family members for a referral to a trusted jeweler. The combination of experience handling and evaluating jewelry, combined with common methods of testing gold jewelry for alloy content, should provide you with the answers that you seek in short order.
How to test gold to determine whether it is real:
Many people want to know how to test goal to see whether it is real. Perhaps they have a piece of gold jewelry that is not marked with the alloy type or gold content, or something about the appearance of the piece leads them to wonder about its authenticity.
Experienced jewelers use a variety of methods to test 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, and 24k gold jewelry to see if it is real. One of the more popular methods is an electronic gold tester, like the KEE GOLD ANALYZER machine pictured to the right.
Electronic testers like this one don’t require dangerous or messy chemicals, or cleaning. Devices like this one are nice because the testing process is non-corrosive, chemical free, and non-destructive.
The downside to these devices is that they are expensive, this particular one retails for about $325.00 and they’re not 100% fool proof. Then again, what is?
Using Acids & Chemicals to Test Whether Gold is Real:
In order to reduce the margin of error, many jewelers will use an electronic tester like the one above to quickly sort jewelry into likely groups of alloy type or fakes. And then use a set of chemical acid tests to verify the alloy content of gold jewelry.
The process for using chemicals such as acid to test gold jewelry is pretty straightforward. Start out by rubbing the surface of the jewelry with a standard eraser and/or scratch the surface of the metal deep enough to bypass any coating that might be present.
Then place a drop or two of the acid for the suspected alloy type on the jewelry item to see whether the alloy reacts to the acid. The upside to using this method to test jewelry to determine whether the gold is real is that it is relatively inexpensive, the test kid pictured above sells for less than one hundred dollars. The downside to using acids and chemicals to test jewelry is that the process can discolor and damage jewelry, especially if it turns out not to be real gold.
High-volume gold buyers such as cash-for-gold and pawn shops are likely to invest in state-of-the-art gold testers that are more reliable than smaller, less expensive electronic units and which do not require harsh chemicals. The downside to these units is that a starter set costs almost 20K. (The upside is Brian Gavin Diamonds has one of these units – so you can be guaranteed that the jewelry that you are buying is what we say it is!)
The Best Way to Tell Whether Gold Jewelry is Real:
By now you know that is can be very challenging to know whether gold jewelry is real. Especially, if you did not buy it from a reputable source. Gold jewelry marked 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, or 24k, which also features the hallmark (stamp) of the manufacturer is more likely to be real gold.
However, the people who counterfeit gold jewelry are not above stamping it with well-known names of prominent jewelry stores. Thus, you’ll want to have your jewelry evaluated and appraised by a qualified professional appraiser.
Of course, if the jewelry has been worn for many years, as I’m certain that some of your grandmother’s favorite pieces have been, it might be easier to determine which pieces are real gold and which are not, simply by looking for signs of wear.
Jewelry that is real 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, and 24k gold, will maintain a consistent look and feel, while jewelry which is gold filled and plated will show obvious signs of wear and you might see the color of the base metal (which is usually silver in color) peeking out from underneath.