You’re cleaning out the attic or basement, and you discover a long-forgotten jewelry box. You open it and find several lovely pieces of old jewelry. Are they real, or simply elaborate pieces of costume jewelry?

Unless you’re a professional jeweler, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate piece of jewelry and a worthless imitation at first glance. Here are a few expert tips you can use to potentially spot the fakes that may be hiding in plain sight.

How to tell your gold jewelry is genuine

Looking for easy ways to tell whether your gold jewelry is the real deal? First, pull out your magnifying glass and carefully inspect the item for a hallmark. A hallmark is stamped directly into the metal to certify its purity.

For example, if you’re looking at a gold ring and spot a tiny marking that says 10K, 14K, 18K or 24K, that’s a good sign it’s real gold. European stamps for pure gold are a little different, featuring specific numbers to indicate the number of carats, so if you spot markings that include 417 (10 karats), 583 (14 karats) or 750 (18 karats), you’re in good shape.

Second, take a good look at the overall color of the item. There’s a big difference between real gold and gold-plated, and many people are fooled by gold-plated jewelry all the time. Real gold does not rust, tarnish, or decay over time, so the coloring should be consistent and bright, regardless of the age of the piece. Check the edges of the piece for any spots or nicks, especially areas that look like there may be a different metal underneath. That’s a likely sign your jewelry is gold-plated.

Third, if you have access to a strong magnet, you can put your piece to the test. Real gold isn’t magnetic, so if you hold your item near a strong magnet and it sticks, it’s fake. However, if it doesn’t move, you’re likely holding a piece of real gold in your hands. However, note that this isn’t a totally foolproof way to verify, as technology and other methods have made it easier to create counterfeit gold items using non-magnetic materials, so don’t rely solely on this test to verify authenticity.

Last, and this one may sound strange, but try to take a bite. Gently, of course! Real gold is extremely soft, so if you bite down on it, your teeth will make small marks or indents in the metal. Fake gold won’t dent at all, and biting down too hard is likely to hurt!

What about silver jewelry?

Because pure silver is a very soft metal which doesn’t keep shape well, jewelers often mix it with trace amounts of copper or nickel to make it stronger, thus creating sterling silver.

Like gold, the easiest way to verify sterling silver is to find the imprint or marking. Anything made of real sterling silver – rings, earrings, and necklaces – will typically feature a stamp with the numbers 800, 925, 958 or 999 in a circle somewhere on the piece. On rings, this stamp will usually be on the inside of the band. Bracelets and necklaces will likely have the marking either on the clasp or on a separate charm. However, it’s easy to create these stamps, so don’t rely on these markings alone to determine if your jewelry is real silver.

Unlike pure gold, sterling silver does tarnish over time. A good way to test if your item is sterling silver is to rub it with a white polishing cloth. If the piece is real silver, the cloth will turn black as it picks up any tarnish on the surface.

Another easy test is to grab a glass of ice water. Real silver is highly conductive, meaning it transfers a lot of heat. To test this, put a piece of silver jewelry into the icy water for a minute, then hold it in the palm of your hand. If it stays cold for a long period of time, it’s likely real silver.

How can I verify gemstone and diamond jewelry?

Just as many people are unable to tell real gold just by looking at it, most people need a very keen eye to tell real gemstones from colored glass or synthetic/imitation gemstones.

For colored gemstones, start with the color itself. For example, if you’re looking at a sapphire ring, which is a distinctive blue color, and the stones just don’t look right, they’re likely fake.

Next, look closely at the stone’s cut, color and clarity. If the stone appears way too even or has absolutely zero flaws, it’s likely machine-cut glass. Natural gemstones have innate impurities and flaws, which help distinguish them from colored glass imitations or lab-created gemstones. For diamond jewelry, get that magnifying glass again and look closely at the stone’s edges. If they’re sharp, it’s a real stone; if they’re rounded, you can be certain it’s fake. Look carefully at the colors the stone reflects, especially with diamonds. If there are too many colors being reflected, like a rainbow effect, there’s a high chance the stone isn’t real.

Another interesting test is called the fog test. Yes, that’s right. Breathe on the gemstone. This is an especially good trick to use for diamonds and sapphires. Ever noticed how mirrors get foggy if you breathe on them? Fake diamonds and sapphires will do the same. Fog will evaporate quickly from real gemstones, however, because they don’t hold onto water vapor well.

Another simple test is to look at the stone’s mounting. Real gemstones are generally mounted in real gold or sterling silver. Who wants to take the time and effort to mount a real stone in fake metal? If the metal’s real, your gemstone probably is, too.

The best way to verify your jewelry is to visit a professional for a free appraisal. At Gene’s Jewelry & Pawn, we can offer an expert appraisal on the spot and provide you with a free estimate of its worth. Once we appraise your jewelry, you’re welcome to keep it, sell it to us, or even take it to a competitor – no questions asked. Our hassle-free appraisals offer peace of mind, with fair and honest pricing and no commitments. The choice is yours! Visit us today!