Check out the article on Karat Purity and Gold Content if you're not yet familiar with these terms.
There are many different tools available for testing gold jewelry but no matter what you use, ALL of your tools should be chosen for their ability to help you answer these basic questions:
- IS this piece of jewelry REAL GOLD (aka, "SOLID GOLD")?
- HOW MUCH GOLD does this piece of jewelry contain (aka, what is the "gold value")?
Tools that don't help you answer the above questions are not needed in a BASIC gold testing kit, and when you're just starting out, there's no sense spending money on tools that'll just take up space and offer distractions.
That being said, here's a list of the jewelry testing tools I personally use and feel that everyone interested in scrap gold and silver should have on hand.
More detailed information on each item is provided below the list.
- 10x Jeweler's Loupe / Magnifier - For reading tiny markings
- Digital Scale that will Weigh Accurately to Hundredths of a Gram
- Rare Earth Magnet - Very handy for telling you what is NOT GOLD...
- Gold Test Stone - A small unglazed ceramic tile, used with Test Acids
- Gold Testing Acids - Varying concentrations of Nitric Acid, usually marked 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k
Jeweler's Loupe / Magnifier
The magnification device you use will depend on personal preference and needs. Some of us have trouble reading the almost microscopic markings found on gold jewelry, others of us are blessed with almost unnatural near-sightedness. Whatever your situation, the whole point of a magnifier is to answer the question "Is this REAL gold?". That question is a whole lot easier to answer if you can actually read the markings. :)
If your scale isn't accurate, your gold valuations won't be accurate either. Now, I'm not advocating you blow your entire bankroll on an ultra-fancy contraption, but you definitely don't want to skimp when buying a digital scale. And as soon as you get one... TAKE THE TIME TO CALIBRATE IT. Even GOOD scales aren't always ACCURATE scales if they aren't calibrated.
Here are some of the features I look for when choosing a scale for my gold jewelry test kit:
- Capacity of AT LEAST 100 Grams (Higher capacity scales can weigh heavier items such as silver dishes/flatware -- but at the cost of less accuracy. If you're just weighing gold jewelry, go with improved accuracy.)
TWO Digit Accuracy Reading (in Grams) - Being able to weigh gold jewelry to the hundredth of a gram will give you a very accurate number when finding the gold value and this extra accuracy doesn't cost much.
Weight Unit Options - This is a personal preference since any scale that will weigh in grams can be used to determine gold value but depending on your preferences / needs, having a scale that will weigh in other units such as ounces, troy ounces, pennyweight (dwt), and carats can prove highly useful.
Rare Earth Magnet
Magnets stick to Ferrous Metals (aka, Iron); Precious metals like gold and silver are Non-Ferrous -- They do not contain Iron and will not be attracted to a magnet. Having a small and handy magnet in your gold testing kit is invaluable when sorting through multiple pieces of jewelry as you can very quickly distinguish what is NOT gold.
Beginner Secret: Many beginners assume that if jewelry is NOT MAGNETIC, it must be gold (or silver). DO NOT FALL VICTIM TO THIS FALSE ASSUMPTION. Magnets attract Iron, that's the ONLY THING they do. So the ONLY THING a magnet tells you is whether or not a piece of metal jewelry contains Iron.
If it sticks to a magnet, it IS NOT gold.
If it doesn't stick to a magnet, THIS DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY mean it's gold.
Gold Test Stone
The "Gold Test Stone" is usually in the form of a small, unglazed tile, around 2" square, although many different materials exist that will work for our purposes.
Gold Testing Acids
Dilute Nitric Acid. The acid usually comes in small plastic dropper bottles individually labeled with a karat purity (10k, 14k, 18k, 22k are most common). I would suggest getting the 10k, 14k, and 18k as a minimum. The 22k acid is quite potent and doesn't get used often so the choice of including it in your gold test kit is up to you.
If you're looking specifically at what's "required" to test gold jewelry, that's it!! That's all there is too it, and having a magnet is optional but so handy that I've included it as I like keeping one around.
In the coming articles, we'll look at some additional tools you can include in your gold testing kit, including silver and platinum test acids, small file, and a diamond tester, but the list above IS really all you need and more than plenty to get you started testing gold jewelry and determining value with confidence.
As you'll find in later articles, the kit above not only works for gold jewelry but CAN ALSO BE USED to accurately test SILVER jewelry AND confidently spot most platinum.
HOW? Knowledge, education, and experience are always the most valuable tools you can have in any tool kit!!
Stay tuned and I'll help you arm yourself with the REAL TOOLS!