Have you ever found something that looked like gold and you wanted to know if it was real or not? Do you have any family heirlooms hidden away that you need to know the value of so that you can insure them? There are a few different ways that you can test an ordinary piece of gold to find out its purity level. It’s also possible that what you have is no ordinary piece of gold!
Standard Types of Gold
Gold is ranked according to its purity. Common gold pieces are often labeled as 9k, 14k, 18k, or 24k, with 24k being the purest, 9k being the least pure. Anything labeled as 24k gold is 100 percent pure gold. 24k gold is too soft to be used in jewelry, so other metals are added in order to strengthen the alloy that is being used.
Gold comes in various colors including white, rose, yellow, and even blue and black. Yellow gold has copper or zinc in its alloy, while rose gold consists of a copper additive which gives it its reddish tint. Silver, palladium, and rhodium can all be used to make white gold. In determining the value of gold, the purity is most important. Color can play a role as well, but this is only due to the market desirability of each color. The main value is derived from the purity.
Rare Types of Gold
Rare types of gold are worth more and there are a few types of gold that are considered to be more desirable than any standard type of gold.
Welsh Gold – Welsh gold is mined from Wales and it is prized because of its rarity as well as its use by the Royal Family. Welsh gold has been used to create the wedding rings of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, Prince Charles, as well as other members of the Royal Family.
Shipwreck Gold – Gold that has been harvested from a shipwreck is also more valuable than any normal type of gold.
Local Gold – Scottish gold is an example of a local non-generic type of gold. This gold is considered by some to be more valuable than regular gold. This is in part because it is difficult and more expensive to mine gold from the quartz rock in this area. However, this type of gold will still have the same standard value as any other type of gold when it hits the world markets. Ease of mining does not affect the selling price. Much of the added value is simply due to buyer perception. Local residents see gold from their home country as more desirable than any type of anonymous gold.
Acid testing, also known as touchstone testing, identifies the purity of gold by applying a special acid mixture to a sample of the gold that is being tested. This test is effective since 24K gold resists all acids except for the strongest. We do not recommend doing this at home because the chemicals that are used for this are highly carcinogenic.
By lightly scraping a piece across a touchstone and then applying the acid mixture, a jeweler will be able to go through a process that determines the purity of the gold that you have. There are different mixtures for testing different purities. If a jeweler applies the 22k solution to a streak of your gold and the acid dissolves, this means that your gold is less than 22k in purity. The process is repeated with a new solution that is designed to test for 18k purity.
This is the most popular way to test gold to see what type of gold it is. The downside to this method is that you have to scrape a bit of gold off of your jewelry and this is not something that you would want to do to a family heirloom. Just imagine that piece being scraped and tested every 15 years when a new family member wanted to see what they were holding onto.
Electronic Test for Purity
For more important pieces of jewelry, an electronic test can be used. This uses x-ray fluorescence to tell not only the purity but also the amount of each metal in it. This method doesn’t require any harsh chemicals, and the device can be purchased for around $500.
The Magnet Test
This is an easy test that you can do at home without going to see a jeweler. While this test cannot tell you for sure if you have real gold or not, it can tell you conclusively if you have fake gold or something that is gold-plated.
Gold is non-magnetic. This means that if you hold a large magnet over your jewelry it will not be picked up if it is real gold. This also means that if your gold is attracted to the magnet, it is not real gold.
If it is not magnetically attracted, this does not mean that it is actually real gold… You won’t be able to tell yet. There are other metals that are non-magnetic as well, and if any of those are electroplated with gold, they will still be non-magnetic. Further testing would be needed before you could conclude that you have real gold or determine its purity.
Identifying Rare Types of Gold
This is where things get tougher and more expensive if you want to find out exactly what kind of gold you have.
Unfortunately, much of the “Welsh Gold” that can be purchased in the UK contains less than 1% of real welsh gold. This would make identification almost impossible through testing. However, pure Welsh gold can be identified through molecular testing which is capable of determining a metal’s origins. Because of the association with royalty, some gold pieces can be identified by examining their recorded history and provenance.
If you wanted to identify a piece of gold as having been mined from a certain area (such as with Scottish gold) you can always try to do this with expensive molecular testing. However, since most of this gold is sold for standard prices to the world market, there is little/no desire to ever do this. If you really desire a piece of gold from Scotland or anyplace else for that matter, your best bet is to do what this person did and mine the gold for your own wedding ring yourself.
Shipwreck Gold is something that collectors and historians have a much greater desire to identify. One characteristic that can help with this is the presence of sea coral. This is an obvious indicator that a piece of gold has been submerged underwater for a long period of time.
While identifying a piece of gold as shipwreck gold can increase its value (shipwreck gold usually sells at approximately 2x the melt value), historians have a much greater interest in identifying the metal. By examining site location data, historical maritime records, and any stamps or markings on the gold, a historian can often tell you which ship you have found, when it sunk, and the story behind it. Thus, a missing chapter of history will be filled in.