How to Identify Precious Metals

Linda RayJan 25th, 2011

How to Identify Precious Metals

It certainly can help if you know how to identify precious gems and metals, especially if you purchase second-hand jewelry, artwork and other items that are purported to contain valuable materials. While the Federal Trade Commission regulates the marketing verbiage jewelers and other precious metal dealers are allowed to use, it is wiser to know your precious metals so you don't have to rely on the honesty of others.

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Step 1

Look at the jewelry or silverware for indications of the weight of the gold contained in the piece. According to the Federal Trade Commission, gold must be stamped or engraved if it contains any of the precious metal, even gold jewelry. Look for numbers such as 10K or 24K on the back or inside of the items. Sterling silver is marked with the letters STR or with a number such as .925.

Step 2

Hold the piece up to a magnet. According to precious metals buyers at Refinity, if your jewelry is magnetic, it doesn't contain any precious metal.

Step 3

Use an acid-testing kit on items that do not attract to the magnet. According to Canada Gold Buyers, the magnet test is only the first in a series of tests you must perform. The kit contains various acids for testing different gold levels as well as a stone on which you'll perform the comparison. Silver and platinum testing kits also are available.

Step 4

Scratch the jewelry, serving dish or bar of precious metal with a knife approximately one-eighth inch deep and then scrape the testing stone. Squeeze a drop of the appropriate acid on the test spot and compare it to the spot you scraped on your stone. If the colors match, you have a winner.


  • Magnet
  • Acid-testing kit


  • Purchase your precious metals from reliable vendors such as RedEnvelope to make sure you get what you pay for in precious metals jewelry.


  • The magnet test may not be 100 percent accurate if the piece of jewelry or serving dish contains cobalt, an alloy that often is combined with platinum in the manufacturing process. Platinum is a highly desirable commodity, so bring your piece to a professional appraiser if you have any doubts about its veracity.
  • Stay away from vendors who hail from foreign countries and sell gold flakes or shavings. According to Canada Gold Buyers, the frauds mix in real gold shavings with copper shavings that easily fool the untrained eye and pass the magnet test. Additionally, some scam artists may sell you real gold flakes for your first purchase, only to lure you back for more when they make the switch to copper-infused flakes.

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