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How to Spot and Avoid Counterfeit and Imitation Jewelry

There's nothing worse than thinking you got a great deal on a piece of fine jewelry only to discover it's counterfeit.

If you don't know how to spot the fakes, it's easy to fall for a scam. When you don't know what to look for, the best way to find out if a piece of jewelry is real or fake is to take it to a jeweler and have it inspected for authenticity.

But, there are several ways you can check at home and get a better idea of what you have so that you don't end up with imitation jewelry. Read on to find out how to tell if you have fake jewelry.

Costume Jewelry vs. Fine Jewelry

Before we dive into it, it's essential to understand the types of jewelry. There are two main types of jewelry, fashion jewelry ( or costume jewelry) and fine jewelry.

Fashion jewelry is usually made with base metals like brass and copper and simulated stones like cubic zirconia. There are several diamond simulants, diamond imitates, and diamond substitutes that look like diamonds to the untrained eye. They are usually more affordable alternatives but can be passed off as authentic by scammers.

Fine jewelry is made from precious metals like gold or silver and precious or semi-precious stones like diamonds and sapphires. And there's nothing wrong with fashion jewelry! You can wear it without the worry about how valuable it is or the fear of it getting broken or lost. The problems arise when people try to pass off fashion jewelry as fine jewelry and sell it for much more than it's worth.

Can You Tell The Difference Between Costume Jewelry and Fine Jewelry?

Home Tests to Spot Fake Gold

Gold is incredibly popular for fine jewelry, but unfortunately, there is a big market for fakes. Luckily, you can do quite a few tests at home to find out if gold is real or not.

  1. Put the piece of gold in water and watch to see if it floats or sinks. If it sinks, it is likely real gold. Gold is dense and will not float in water. If the jewelry floats, it is most likely imitation gold or plated gold.

  2. Place the gold on a flat surface and use a dropper to put a few drops of vinegar on the gold. Let it sit for 15 minutes, and then check on it. Real gold will not change color, but fake gold will. Warning: Vinegar can damage semi-precious stones, so use this method carefully.

  3. If this is a piece you often wear, especially a ring, you can look at where contact with your skin has worn away the gold. If there's a different color underneath, it's another type of metal under the gold layer, and the ring is only gold-plated. A silver color may mean either silver or titanium, and a red color may mean copper or brass.

  4. You can also look for any discoloration of the gold levees on your skin. A black mark on your skin means silver is present, and a green mark means copper is present. But only use this method with other tests because most gold jewelry is a blend, and even a real piece might leave a mark.

  5. Real gold is not magnetic, so test your piece to see if it's affected by a magnet. Any old magnet won't work, though. It has to be really strong to conduct the test correctly.

  6. Perform an acid test. Kits for this can be purchased online or from some jewelry stores. This test involves scratching the gold piece and then placing a drop of nitric acid on the scratch. If it's real gold, there will be no reaction. But if it turns green or has any reaction, you know it's gold-plated or a low-purity blend.

Look for Markings

Fine jewelry will have a marking somewhere to indicate what it's made of. The trick is to know what the markings mean. Sometimes imitation jewelry will have markings that make it look real unless you know how to read them.

Because pure gold is very soft, most gold jewelry is a blend of metals or an alloy. The markings will tell you how much gold is in the piece. Some research on the specific markings and what they mean will tell you if what you have is authentic or an imitation.

Gold, platinum, and silver jewelry are usually alloys. Sterling silver is the most popular form of silver alloy. It is 92.5% silver with copper added to strengthen the jewelry.

Check for a Certification

If you buy fine jewelry, it should come with a certification of authenticity. A certification is the official jewelry paper that tells you it's real. The certification might be for the metal or gemstone. There are several certificates, but any of them will tell you that the item you purchased is genuine.

The certificate will have information about the certifier, a certification number, the purity of the metal, and the quality of the diamond, which includes color, clarity, cut, and weight. The certificate will also tell you how much the piece is worth.

There are several types of certificates available, but some of the most trusted ones are:

  • Gemological Institute of America (GIA)

  • Platinum Guild International (PGI)

  • The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS)

  • International Gemological Institute (IGI)

  • South Africa's Gemological Laboratory (EGL)

  • Solitaire Gemological Laboratories (SGI)

  • Cambay Gemological Lab (CGL)

a large number of loose diamonds with a certified stamp graphic on top of the image

Spotting Fake Gemstones

If you know for sure that the metal in a piece of jewelry is real, then there's a good chance that the gemstone is real too. But if you are unsure, there are several ways you can get a better idea if the gemstone is real or fake. These do require the right equipment, though.

  1. Carefully examine the gemstone with a jeweler's loupe and look at inclusion and color variations. Many clues in the visual appearance alone can tell you if a stone is real or fake. If you have another gemstone of the same type, compare them side by side and look for differences and similarities.

  2. Test the stone's hardness using the Mohs Scale. The scale orders gemstones by hardness and will help you evaluate what gemstone you have or if it's a fake.

  3. Use a refractometer to test the refractive index of the gemstone. This measures the amount of light dispersed by the gemstone.

Authentication from Carats and Stones

It doesn't matter what pieces of jewelry you're wondering about. You might be worried your engagement ring has a synthetic diamond or that a family heirloom isn't as valuable as your grandma told you. Or you might just be worried you'll fall for a scam and be unable to tell natural diamonds from diamond alternatives on the spot. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams out there, and knowing what to look for can save you a lot of grief down the road.

There are ways to test if gold is real if you have it at home. And you can tell a lot just by looking at the markings and understanding what they mean. Remember that any fine jewelry should come with a certification from a reputable certifier and should have all the relevant information laid out for you. There are even a few ways to test gemstones at home to see if they are real or fake.

As always, the best way to tell if you're jewelry is to take it to a jeweler and get an appraisal.

Our expert jewelers here at Carats and Stones can perform appraisals and help you authenticate your jewelry! Book an appointment with us in-store or online to get started.


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