You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal. –William S. Burroughs
When it comes to jewelry, we would all hope Mr. Burroughs above statement is correct. However, as time has told, fakes and duplicates can come in any number of forms, but most notoriously they are found in jewelry. Generally there are two reasons for fake jewelry, one for the buyer and one for the seller. For the seller, it’s easy to swindle most people because not everyone is a gemologist. Few people even have a basic understanding of how to determine real rare metals, gems, and stones. While for the buyer, if you can buy something that looks real but comes at a fraction of the cost, there’s no reason to fork out the big bucks when the little ones do just fine.
Now there really isn’t anything to be said about people who want to buy fake jewelry, at least they know what they’re purchasing. The problem exists for those purchasing what they believe to be real jewelry when in fact it is not. It might also be fun to be able recognize fakes on people claiming them to be real. But in the end, either way, if you enjoy jewelry and tend to purchase it for yourself or others, you ought to know how to determine the genuine pieces from the less than genuine. So without further ado, let’s go over some of the basic points, and cover a few of the more common metals and stones to watch out for.
Nothing is more frequently faked than gold. It’s expensive and commonly used in most jewelry, which means it’s often easy to get away with due to the frequency of its use. Overall its rather common place, but at nearly $1,300 an ounce, selling even a quarter of an ounce of fake gold could net you over $400. So when looking to verify that gold is real, there are essentially 5 ways to help determine this.
First you will want to inspect the piece for any official markings as often times a stamp will be added to indicate the finesses or carat. Though, older pieces may have the stamp worn off and fakes can have stamps as well. Second you will want to look closely at the piece to find any odd or abnormal discoloration. If it appears there is another colored metal underneath, you may well have a gold plated piece. Third you can use a magnet to test, gold is not magnetic. Though if it doesn’t catch, it doesn’t entirely mean it’s real as another material could still be used. Fourth you can weigh the piece, pure 24k gold weighs about 19.3 g/ml. There are few metals denser and heavier than gold, so if the piece is lightweight, it may indicate a fake or gold plate. Fifth you can do the ceramic plate test. Simply find an unglazed ceramic plate and drag the piece across the surface. If a black streak appears the gold is not real, if a gold streak is left behind you have real gold.
There are three relatively good ways to determine if a piece of silver is real. You can start with the “ring” test. Silver has a pleasant ringing sound once it is tapped; you should hear a high-pitched bell-type ring and can last upwards of 2 seconds depending on the resonance of the piece. The second test is the ice test, and is actually rather fun. Silver has the highest electrical conductivity of any element while also having the highest thermal conductivity of any metal. If you place a piece of silver on an ice cube, it will nearly immediately start to melt where its touching. Make sure to do a comparison with another jewelry piece so as to get a metrics to base it on, starting with something you already know to not be Silver. Finally there is always the magnet test. Silver is not magnetic, so if you place a magnet next to it the piece should not react if 100% silver.
People often have a hard time determining silver from platinum as they are both colored similarly. Platinum is naturally white remaining so forever, it is heavier than gold, and can scratch. However when scratched, the metal does not scrape off but rather is pushed aside which means its easily repaired. If you are trying to figure out whether it is real, you can always do a chemical test, but on the fly you should notice a marked difference in the weight of the piece. If it is significantly heavier than other similarly sized pieces, has no odd discoloration, then the piece is probably real platinum.
Next to gold, Diamonds are the next most frequently faked jewelry item, though they are very easy to determine their authenticity. To start you will want to look through the diamond. Diamonds have a high refractive index which means the diamond sharply bends the light that’s passing through it. Glass and quartz on the other hand refract much less, and as a result, they sparkle significantly less. The cut of the diamond doesn’t matter either as the refractive nature is an inherent physical property.
While looking through the diamond, notice the reflections that are occurring. A real diamond usually has reflections in multiple shades of grey. If you notice any color, you are either dealing with a low quality diamond or a fake. You can always weigh the diamond as well, a cubic zirconia always weighs more than a real diamond of the same size. A quick test that can be performed is the fog test. Diamonds disperse heat nearly instantaneously. So if you were to exhale on the diamond and it fogged up, it’s probably a fake. A real diamond will not become foggy or remain so for very long. If you do this repeatedly, you will notice condensation building up on the fakes, while a real diamond will remain clean.
Pearls are perhaps one of the easiest jewelry items to check for authenticity. Mainly because to truly replicate one would take a rather natural process, which imitations simply cannot accomplish. To start you can do the tooth test. A real pearl will feel gritty when rubbed on the edge of your front teeth, while a fake will be slick, with no friction present. Similarly, if you have two pearls, when they are rubbed against each other there should be a noticeable friction. If you have a magnifying glass, inspect the pearl and look for a real one to appear fine-grained, scaly, and maze-like. A fake pearl will look grainy or speckled.
Upon first glance at a piece with multiple pearls, you should see a noticeable difference between all the pearls. They should not all appear to be the same flawless shape, and rather, oddly shaped non-uniform pearls indicate its authenticity. Pearls in a sense are like snowflakes, where no two will ever be the same.
There are a number of precious stones used in jewelry and far too many to cover each in this article. But there are a few general rules of thumb to follow when determining whether a precious stone is real or not. For starters, very few real precious stones will appear flawless. Most stones are cloudy and have imperfections. If a stone appears glassy, perfectly shaped, with no obvious flaws, it’s either a fake or synthetically made. Also many stones are uncatchable, so know the stone your viewing, its scratch ability, and test it out. If it does indeed scratch, it’s a fake. Weight is also another factor to keep in mind, real stones are relatively heavy. If you pick up a stone and it doesn’t weigh what you would assume a dense rock of that size to weigh, it may be fake, though this depends on the stone of course.
This article by no means covers everything a person could know, or all that can be done to help determine a jewelry pieces authenticity. But for the layman, it is certainly a good starting point. If you know what type of jewels you will be viewing, inspecting, or potentially buying, it is highly advised you read up on that particular stone. Every stone has their own unique characteristics to be aware of which will help further deduce whether your jewelry piece is real or not.
The author of this article is Damien S. Wilhelmi. If you enjoyed this piece you can follow me on Twitter @CustParadigm. When I’m not writing about the difference between real and fake jewelry pieces, I can be found working for a local custom made jewelry maker, honing my abilities.