It’s a Fake! How to Spot Fake Gold, Silver & Diamonds
By Alex Levin
There is perhaps no older form of currency than precious stones and metals such as gold, silver and diamonds. From the earliest records of human history until the modern portrayals of diamond heists in Hollywood, these pretty little things have entranced the minds and drained the pocketbooks of human civilization through the ages. And as the current financial climate continues to waver and falter, many have become disenchanted with the imaginary value of paper currency and turned to these precious materials as a more stable alternative, choosing to deal in carats rather than cash. This is evidenced in the explosion of dealers who eagerly gobble up gold, silver and gems in exchange for flimsy dollar bills.
However, as this market’s popularity grows so too do the chances of being scammed by those eager to take advantage of new unseasoned recruits. And unlike cash which is elaborately marked and identically printed to be difficult to forge, precious metals and stones come in different sizes, shapes and colors and indeed no two may look exactly alike.
Therefore, to help provide a rough guide for identifying flaws, we’ve compiled these methods for spotting fake gold, silver and diamonds.
For your eyes only – Though perhaps the most unreliable method, sight still remains a good first step for identifying fake gold – and it also is the lease intrusive way as well. Good signs to look for include color inconsistencies around the edges or areas which have experienced the most abrasion. If most of the piece looks gold but these areas show another metal, there’s a good chance your piece is only gold plated.
Heavy Lifting – Gold should not be taken lightly – precisely because real gold is very, very heavy and approximately two and a half times denser than steel. The reason that so many people are unaware of gold’s density is because we usually deal with it in amounts too small to be able to properly appreciate its heft. But a good scale will be able to pick up the difference between a piece of true gold and an imposter, and if your piece is big enough a simple pick-up test with the gold piece and a similar non-gold one should be a good indicator as well.
Watered Down – Another test that proves slightly more complicated than the previous ones involves placing gold in a vial of water and measuring the water displacement to judge the density of the piece. Judging by how much water is displaced, one can roughly tell if the piece is dense enough to qualify as gold. However, because this is a complex method that requires precise measurements, it is best to have an experienced jeweler assist.
Soft at Heart – Gold may come across as one of the more haughty metals, but it really is a softy at heart. It is actually so soft that the average fingernail can make an indent if pressed in hard enough. This softness explains why some gold dealers insist on biting down on the piece, to get a “feel” for it and to note the indentations. However, the bite test is not the most recommended of gold tests, as it can damage both the gold and one’s teeth.
Opposites Attract – While not a perfect test, using a powerful magnet can be a good place to start. Since silver is not magnetic, if the item displays any form of magnetic attraction than it’s got another metal underneath. One problem with this method is that a determined scammer can use other non-magnetic metals as well, such as stainless steel.
Acid Reflex – Using acid can be a very effective way of telling whether the piece is silver, though it might come at the cost of a minor cosmetic defect. The method involves making a small scratch on the piece and then placing white vinegar in the scratch. If the area exposed to vinegar turns a greenish color, then it is likely not silver.
Cold to the Touch – Silver is a very useful metal, in part because it has the highest thermal conductivity of any metal. Because of this unique property, it absorbs temperature at extremely fast rates which has given rise to the popular “ice test.” This involves placing an ice cub on the piece, and judging how fast it takes for the ice cube to melt and the silver to become cold. Whereas steel might take 30 seconds, silver’s high thermal conductivity causes this change to occur almost instantly.
Bending to One’s Will – In its natural form, 100% pure silver is a weakling amongst metals and would be too fragile to realistically implement into a functioning object. Therefore, people mix it with other metals to toughen it up a little. But, with sterling silver, the purity levels should be high enough to allow for some bending with minimal effort.
Foggy Knowledge – This test happens to be a favorite among jewelry appraisers since it is easy and fairly reliable. Simply put, it involves holding the diamond up to your mouth and breathing on the piece to “fog it up.” Since real diamonds disperse heat almost instantaneously, if the piece fogs up then it’s probably not a real diamond. When dealing with a real diamond, the fog will have dispersed before you even have the chance to look at it.
Weight Watcher – Weighing the diamond is a reliable way to test a diamond’s authenticity since a genuine diamond will weigh approximately 50 percent less than an artificial one. However, to use this test correctly requires a very accurate scale and preferably both a fake and a real diamond to compare weights between.
Clearly a Fake – Diamonds refract light in high levels, which makes them very difficult to see through. This refractive index means that if you place the diamond on text, you should not be able to read the text through the piece. If it’s clear, odds are that the diamond is a fake. This method, however, is not fool proof since some diamonds are cut shallow enough to read through.
Got the Blues – Also known as the UV Test, this method involves placing the diamond under a UV light and observing its appearance. If the diamond shows signs of a blue florescence, odds are it’s a true diamond. A troubling fact about this test is that the absence of blue light does not necessarily indicate the diamond is a fake – it could mean that the diamond is of a higher quality. Thus when the blue florescence is visible, it confirms that the piece is a diamond but of lesser value.
Though these tests are a good start when testing your gold, silver or diamonds at home, there are also a multitude of other more scientific tests that may be worth exploring for more valuable pieces. Additionally, taking the piece to a reputable jeweler for appraisal still remains the most foolproof way of assessing the difference between precious and imposter.
Alex Levin is a writer for The DuMouchelle Diamond Exchange, appraisal and auction specialists for over 80 years.