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Telling the Difference between Brass and Gold – How to test if your gold is real

Many people find it hard to tell the difference between brass and gold. However, when buying gold it is essential you can tell the difference.

When you buy gold from a reputable broker, or transfer your 401k into gold or other precious metals, you are unlikely to get duped with fake gold. However, when you buy gold items from an auction site or other non-certified outlets, you do need to know whether or not you are buying real gold. Many expensive-looking gold coloured items are often brass or sometimes even brass coated with a thin layer of gold.

What is brass?

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Usually, this is in the proportion of two-thirds, copper to one third zinc, although these can vary. The more copper the item contains, the more yellow it will be and the more like gold it could look in colour.

Brass can look like gold and may easily be confused with gold. Brass will stain over time, although it can be cleaned, and fake brass can rust, but this rust can be removed.

If you think you are buying a gold item and it turns out to be brass, the value will be significantly less.

What Is Gold?

Gold is a precious metal that is becoming increasingly rare to find in the wild.  This rarity is the main reason the price of gold has risen quite substantially in recent years.  The rarity is also why many people now recycle old gold items by either taking them to a bullion dealer or selling the item to acquaintances or on an auction site, but beware everything that glistens may not be gold.

How Do You Identify Gold?

There are several tests you can use on any metal that you think may be gold to tell if it really is gold. These include.

  • The Acid Test
  • The Magnet Test
  • The Float Test
  • The Skin Test
  • The Vinegar Test
  • The Size and Weight Test
  • The Ping Test
  • The Ceramic Test
  • The Stamp Test
  • Machine Tests
  • Having an Experienced Evaluator Test Your Item
augusta Precuious Metals Gold IrA checklist

The Acid Test

The acid test is probably one of the least straightforward gold tests to conduct as there is risk of damaging your item. Pure gold is a (noble metal) and is resistant to oxidation or corrosion when acid is applied.

Therefore, if you dip your gold item in nitric acid, it should have no effect on a pure gold item. Beware, not all gold is pure! If you are going to use this method, you need to be very careful and be sure to use the correct strength of nitric acid. You should always start with the lowest strength of acid and work your way up to avoid corrosion. More accurate testing of the item for its purity can be done using differing strengths of aqua regia. The different strengths provide comparative testing of gold items to establish the level of fineness.

The Magnet Test

Many metals are magnetic, including zinc brass; gold is not magnetic.  When passing a strong magnet over an item you believe to be gold, you should not get an attraction and it is highly likely the item might be gold.

If you get some form of attraction, the item could still be gold plated or some other metal made to look like gold

The Float Test

The gold float test is not fool proof as some other metals, such as lead, are also very heavy. This method should be used as a part of your gold testing regime.

Gold will always sink in water. Fill a clear glass container with water and drop your suspected gold item into the water. If the item sinks, it could be gold.  If it does not sink, it definitely is not gold. Gold will never rust, so if you see any signs of rusting on your time, it is not gold.

The Skin Test

If you have been wearing a piece of jewellery for some time and it is leaving black or green marks on your skin, the item is not gold.

The Vinegar Test

This test is like the nitric acid test mentioned above but potentially less damaging, but also less conclusive.  Using normal household vinegar, apply a couple of drops to the item. If the item changes colour in any way, it is not gold.

The Size and Weight Test

The gold size and weight test applies largely to bullion or known size and weight gold coins like sovereigns. Bullion coins are manufactured to very precise sizes and weights. This can provide an excellent method of testing if they are correct.

For example, here are the weights for Gold Sovereigns

Gold Sovereign dimensions


Diameter (mm)

Thickness (mm)















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The Ping Test

A test is that is used as a preliminary test is known by many people as the “Gold Ping Test”. The ping test is designed to tell us if the gold item is real or fake. The test is conducted by listening to the sound that is made when the item is struck. Precious metals will make a long, higher-pitched ringing sound when they are struck, whereas base metals will make a duller and much shorter sound.

Striking your item many damages it and is not practical on smaller items; this test is often used on coins and bullion bars.

The Ceramic Test

The ceramic plate test is another potentially damaging test for your gold. To conduct this test, you drag your item over a ceramic plate. If gold marks are left, it is likely your item is gold or at very least gold plated. If any black marks are let your item, is not pure gold.

The Stamp Test

Most gold pieces should have stamps or hallmark; these are small, engraved marks that will give details of the purity of the metal.  They can sometimes be accompanied by letter, date, and manufacturer marks. These engravings are often very small and hidden away so they do not detract from the beauty of the object.

It is important to check for stamps as if there are no stamps it is highly likely, but not impossible, that the item is not gold.

Even if there are stamps, some forgers have been known to stamp non-gold or precious metal items to inflate the price.

Below is a list of some of the potential stamps you may find:

  1. 10K or 417 — 10 Karat Gold or 41.7% Gold
  2. 14K or 585 — 14 Karat Gold or 58.5% Gold
  3. 18K or 750 — 18 Karat Gold or 75.0% Gold
  4. 24k             --   24 Karat Gold 99.9% Gold      -
  5. 10KP — 10 Karat Plum (exactly 10K or higher)
  6. 14KP — 14 Karat Plum (exactly 14K or higher)
  7. 18KP — 18 Karat Plum (exactly 18K or higher)
  8. 925 — 92.5% Sterling Silver
  9. PLAT — Platinum
  10. PT — Platinum
  11. 900 or 950 — Platinum
  12. K or KT — Karat

Machine Tests

There is a wide variety of gold tester and gold testing machines on the market. An electronic gold tester works by measuring the amount of decay of electrical current that passes through a potentially gold object. After cleaning the object, you place a non-toxic gel on the item and attach a probe to it. Electrical current is delivered usually from the tester’s internal battery, which passes through the object that you are testing and you are given an exact reading. This will tell you the precise karat or purity of the gold. This is a very reliable and non-destructive testing method. Below is our recommended list of gold testing machines:

Our Ranking

Product Name

Product Image

Check Price

Digital Electronic Gold Density Meter Gold Purity Tester Gold Purity Analyser Gold Karat Measuring Device Densimeter Precious Metal

Et-18 Gold Tester - TES-174.00

AuRACLE AGT3 Digital Gold & Platinum Tester Gemoro Precious Metals Analyze

GemOro AuRACLE AGT3 Gold (6-24K) & Platinum Tester Kit

RS Mizar M24 Mizar Gold Tester


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