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How Is Gold-Plated Different From Real Gold?

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Not all gold is made from pure gold. In some cases, a piece of jewelry contains metal covered with gold to imitate pure gold. This lowers the cost of producing gold, which lowers the price of buying gold. Real gold and gold-plated metals have characteristics that allow experts to distinguish them.

Gold Plating Process

Gold-plating involves an electrochemical process whereby jewelers place thin molecules of gold on a base metal like copper or brass. Some gold-plated products are not created using real gold, but something that has a gold color. The gold color is eventually worn down by pollutants and salts. Gold-plated jewelry lacks the durability of authentic gold jewelry.

Gold Mining

Miners remove gold from the earth and from water using various methods, including gold panning and dry washing. The extracted gold is either pure gold or has mercury and silver included. The gold must be refined so it has a market value. Miners can remove the mercury from the gold by heating it until it vaporizes. However, refiners must take steps to avoid inhaling the toxic mercury fumes. People later melt down gold into different forms, such as gold bars and coins.


Gold is non-magnetic. Gold-plated products sometimes contain magnetic metals like steel, which will be drawn to a magnet. Base metals also react to nitric acid, while gold will not. However, gold testers using nitric acid should know what they’re doing, since the acid can seriously burn the skin.


Jewelers cannot legally sell a product as gold unless it has at least 10 karats. However, without sophisticated tests, distinguishing between 10 and nine karat gold can be difficult. When seeking real gold, consumers should shop at stores that have quality assurance programs and test their pieces. In addition, gold that has poor quality workmanship is likely to be gold-plated instead of pure gold.


About the Author

Chuck Robert specializes in nutrition, marketing, nonprofit organizations and travel. He has been writing since 2007, serving as a ghostwriter and contributing to online publications. Robert holds a Master of Arts with a dual specialization in literature and composition from Purdue University.

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