Gold jewelry and other gold collectibles have always been prized for their beauty and the valuable metal they contain. Because different types of manufacture use different amounts and qualities of gold in the creation of objects, it is important to know how to verify solid gold, gold-plated and gold-filled objects. Follow the descriptions below to determine the quality of your gold jewelry or other collectibles.
Look for karat quality markings on your piece. These will be stamped into the metal, usually a number, a K for karat and perhaps some letters or words following. These will indicate the quality of gold used in manufacture. Solid gold is too soft to be made into most things; gold must be mixed with base metals to hold a shape. The amount of gold is expressed as a fraction of 24 parts: 14-karat gold, for example, is composed of 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals. For many American pieces, 14-karat gold has been the standard for many years. Fine European jewelry or other objects may be made of 18-karat gold. To be described as gold, American objects must contain at least 10 parts, or 10 karats, of gold.
Identify gold-filled articles by the fractional numbers and letters surrounding the karat quality mark. Gold-filling involves mixing gold with more base metal than the fine gold in Step 1. This is expressed in a fraction: 1/20 10K G.F., for example, translates as: 10 karat gold comprises 1/20 of the weight of this object. Gold-filled is expressed as: GF, gold filled or, in French, double d'or. Other countries label gold filled articles in their own languages; if you are shopping abroad, learn the words you need to verify gold content and manufacturing process.
Identify gold-plated articles by words or initials following the karat quality mark. Gold plating can be done by electroplating or mechanical application. Electroplated articles should read: gold electroplate, gold plate, or G.E.P. Rolled gold plating is indicated by: rolled gold plate or R.G.P. In gold plating, a coat of gold is applied over base metal; there is no gold mixed into the object itself.
Learn whether to expect a trademark. In the United States and Canada, manufacturers are required to brand their articles; they require importers of jewelry and other objects to do the same. In other countries you may see jewelry or other objects without brand names.
Exercise caution when bargain-hunting for gold. Its value has been well known for centuries by nearly every culture, and gold bargains are rare. Follow the marks described above to make certain you are not paying solid gold prices for something filled or plated. Be prepared for disappointment if you buy unmarked or incomprehensibly marked pieces.
Reputable jewelers and antiques dealers are trained to recognize gold markings and some of the attempts to evade them. Seek their authentication if you have doubts about the quality of a gold piece. If your seller refuses to allow authentication, there may be a reason.
Expect gold pieces sold at mall stands and other casual venues to be plated or gold-washed. Washing involves applying a much thinner layer of gold to the surface than plating, and gold wash wears away quickly.