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Updated 12:52 28/02/21

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Fake Gold

With gold being such a highly sought-after metal for much of human history, it is no surprise that unscrupulous people have long tried to find a way to produce a convincing fake. Fake gold does exist, but fortunately the unique properties of gold make it quite difficult to create imitations. With a little bit of knowledge, you can avoid making a costly mistake.

First and foremost, the easiest way to avoid fake gold is to buy from a reputable gold trader, like BullionByPost. We only sell gold from LBMA approved refiners. The strict quality guidelines that the LBMA asks of their refiners ensures that our customers are buying gold of the exact weight and purity stated. The LBMA's Good Delivery Rules are considered the international regulatory standard for gold and silver bullion.

When buying scrap gold back from customers, our team of experts use industry-proven, professional testing methods to ensure the authenticity and fineness of the gold we buy.

Simple ways to spot fake gold

If you have gold items you’re unsure about, there are a number of ways to tell if your gold is real. Checking with a jeweller, metallurgist, bullion expert, or another professional is always the best way to definitively determine if gold is real, but there are a few simple things you can look for at home that might help inform you one way or the other.

  • Weight: Gold is incredibly dense. Part of gold's allure is the impressive weight a relatively small amount of gold can convey. Gold is often heavier than it looks, and this can be a very easy way to spot a fake. Some coins and bars also have their weights stated on them, such as the 2019 Britannia coin pictured below. Using accurate scales, you can see if the weight stated is correct; but it should be noted that a troy ounce, used in bullion, is different from a traditional ounce - weighing 31.1034768g.

Real gold, coin markings. .

  • Size: Similar to the weight, the specifications of gold coins are regularly listed online in great detail. The diameter and thickness of these coins are exact, and all are produced to these standards. If you have a gold coin bigger or smaller than specified, then something might be wrong.
  • Hallmarks: Hallmarking laws in the UK can be traced back as early as the 1300s and, other than coins and bars, items sold as gold must be marked with appropriate gold hallmarks. These stamps, independently applied by assay offices, ensure that jewellery, watches, and other gold products are of the metal and fineness stated. Though not conclusive, especially for older items, an absence of a hallmark could be a sign of fake gold. Gold-plated items will also have hallmarks so look for letters that could denote this; GP, GEP, RGP or HGE all imply some form of gold plating rather than pure gold.
  • Discolouration: Gold is one of the most ‘noble’ elements. One of the reasons for its high value, is the fact it does not tarnish over time or react with other elements, the way many other metals do. If a gold item shows signs of tarnishing or discolouration it is likely to be fake or plated gold. For jewellery, this can also result in discolouration to the skin, after being worn for extended periods of time.
  • Price: Gold has a set spot price that is publicly visible on the BullionByPost website via our live price chart. By checking the gold price before buying you can work out a rough idea of what the cost should be. If someone is selling gold below the price, then this could be a sign it's not real gold. If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Metals that look like gold

Fortunately, there’s no metal that looks exactly like gold. Close inspection should be enough to tell the difference, but there are a few metals out there that have a passing resemblance to gold.

Fool’s Gold is the most common of these. Better known as Iron Pyrite, this sulphide mineral is infamous for looking just close enough to gold to fool the untrained eye. Fool’s Gold is much less dense than the real thing however, so this is a very easy way to check between the two.

Fool's gold, a metal that looks like gold. Image courtesy of Didier Descouens via Creative Commons.

Brass is another common metal that can occasionally be mistaken for gold. An alloy of copper and zinc, brass does look a little like gold thanks to its yellow hue, but it is much duller and should be easily distinguishable. Once again, Brass is also much less dense than gold so will feel lighter in your hand. Common brass alloys, like Pinchbeck and Similor, were popular for costume jewellery in the Victorian period as, at a distance, they could look like gold.

The most common method of making a metal look like gold is to use gold itself. Rolled gold, for example, uses a very thin layer of gold which is then heat-fused to either side of a base metal. Similarly, plating a cheaper metal with gold is a simple way of reducing costs, and is often done honestly with clear markings to say so, but can be used in attempts to make fake gold items.

With BullionByPost you can rest assured that anything you buy is real gold. If you have any other items you think might be gold, then hopefully this article will help you further verify what you have. We buy back scrap gold at competitive rates.

Please note: We do not buy gold watches, gold dust or grain, plated gold, rolled gold, or filled gold. If you have any scrap gold items you are unsure about, call us on 0121 634 8060 for more information.