Spotting Fakes
As with anything of value, unscrupulous types will produce fakes to make their profits. The worst offenders in modern times come from China. They will fake jewelry from Korea, Japan, and other Asian countries, and even go as far as forging the company logos in the hallmarking process. Silver jewelry is not as frequently faked as that made from more valuable metals, but large pieces like silverware do happen. Fakes also happen to bullion and coins worldwide.

Here are a few techniques one can use to spot fakes:


Most of the time hallmarks are a safe way to tell if what you have is real, even for larger items. Yet, for the larger items, look for multiple hallmarks. For instance, if a necklace seems like it is white gold and has a single 14k hallmark near one end, it is probably a fake. Legitimate white gold will have hallmarks for content on either end of the chain and one on the clasp. Plus, there will usually be one for the mint and/or country of origin. Numerous hallmarks are tougher to stamp before the metal cools, so the process is tougher for forgers.

Look carefully for questionable hallmarks, like "90" to mean 90% silver. True 90% silver is marked "900". Also, just because something has "SILVER" in the hallmark does not mean it is real silver, such as "Brazil Silver".

Sometimes hallmarks may be tough to find. You may need to purchase a jeweler's loupe to magnify 10x. To use a loupe, put it right in front of your eye and pull the item in question closer and closer to the loupe until it comes into focus.

Be aware of hallmarks for plating like "OX" (oxidied), "GE" (gold-electroplated), "GF" (gold-filled), "WEIGHTED" (thick plating over plaster filling), "3X" (triple-plated), and many more.

Generally, if there is anything beyond the standard hallmarks, research before buying because hallmarks were not standardized for centuries.

Japanese "Pure Silver" (999)

Magnet Test

No precious metals are magnetic. This is a very quick indicator of a fake. Iron and nickel are common in fakes and are very magnetic. An immediate reaction to a magnet means there is no value beyond cheap scrap metal price.

Do be aware that some alloys of precious metals may contain nickel and have a slight reaction to a magnet, but this reaction will be minimal.

Nothing marked "999" or "24kt" will ever be magnetic.

Magnetic "90" silver fake with forged company hallmark

Acid Test

This is the first of the tests that requires purchasing of special tools. Acid test kits generally come with a river stone, a file, and bottles of various mixtures of hydrochloric (muriatic) acid and nitric acid. Be very careful with these acids as their fumes can be harmful, and the acids themselves can eat through skin, clothes, and many surfaces. (For a potentially familiar reference, hydrochloric acid is the burning feeling after vomiting.) Baking soda then water should be quickly applied to the surface to stop the reaction.

The acid tests will be mixed into concentrations for testing silver, 10kt gold, 14kt gold, 18kt gold, 22kt gold, and platinum. These acid tests are based on "aqua regia", the only solution known to dissolve gold in ancient times. The silver test will produce a blood red color for real silver. All other tests will fade for fakes and do nothing for real precious metals. Other metals will produce every color of the rainbow with these acid tests. Do be aware that some alloys may show slight coloring, while still passing.

To conduct an acid test, either file directly into a hidden area of the piece a quarter to a half centimeter or scrape it directly on the river stone. Place one drop of acid directly onto the metal, and wait for the reaction. It should only take a few seconds. Alternatively, the acid can be dropped directly onto the piece, but permanent discoloration may result.

Acid tests on gallium

Density Test

For a density test, one needs to recall lessons of density from school science classes. Density is mass per volume. In the case of precious metals, we will use grams per milliliters.

Depending on what you are testing, you may have to buy graduated cylinders or test tubes for density tests. Kitchen measuring cups may work for larger items like bars and coins.

Begin by weighing the piece on a scale that displays grams. Record this amount. Next, fill the test jar with enough water that it will cover the item when dropped into the jar. Measure the water level on the milliliter side. Drop in the item, and measure the new water level. The difference the waterline moved is the volume. Divide the grams by the milliliters, and you have your density.

Be aware that this is not a very accurate way to determine if a small item it real because of the margin of error eyeing the water level. Also, it will only work for pure (999) items since each metal has a unique density. Here is a list of densities for precious metals and other metals with similar densities:

Gold: 19.32g/mL
Lead 11.36g/mL
Platinum: 21.40g/mL
Silver: 10.49g/mL
Tungsten: 19.60g/mL

Other Tests

There are other tests, but they are beyond what most people can afford, so they are limited to large volume companies. Tests relate to electrical conductivity, color spectrum, and x-ray penetration.

Generally, if you buy from a reputable source, you are fairly safe. Bullion from government mints are always safe. Mints like Kitco, Johnson Matthey, Engelhard, and The Franklin Mint, are safe. There are many other reputable mints around the world who sell jewelry, bullion, and commemorate items. Do some research if you have any doubt.
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