A family member has passed away and you have just inherited their jewelry collection. You open the box and, GASP! This is a mess! Chains are tangled together, gold & silver, some tarnished. Earrings are intertwined in the clump of necklaces. Loose stones, small ladies watches and pearl bracelets lay about the box. A diamond solitaire, a few gold crowns. Have you inherited junk or a college fund?
We see this routinely, and most often our customers are very curious to find out how we determine what is what.
The first step is to separate the gold, silver and costume jewelry. Most gold and silver items contain a stamp indicating their gold content. For bracelets and chains, these stamps are usually located on the clasp or o’ring connected to the clasp. For small earrings they are located on the post and for large earrings they may be on the back of the earring itself. Ring stamps are located on the inside of the band, usually towards the top of the ring. Pendant stamps are often on the inside of the bail (the part the chain goes through) or on the back of the pendant itself. Most jewelers will use a loop to see these stamps, as they are often very small. You might utilize a magnifying glass or a camera with zoom capabilities.
What are these numbers and codes?
The stamps won’t say usually say GOLD or SILVER. They will contain letters and/or numbers. The numbers represent the percentage of gold or silver content in an item. For instance, 585 indicates that the item is 58.5% gold, which is 14k.
14 karat gold : 14K, 585, 14KP
10 karat gold : 10K, 417, 10KP
Sterling Silver : 925, SS, Sterling Silver (usually on non-jewelry items)
Gold-Filled : 10K GF, 14K GF, 18K GF (Look for the GF)
Rolled Gold Plated : 10K RGP, 14K RGP, 18K RGP (Look for the RGP)
24 karat gold: 24K, 999
18 karat gold : 18K, 750, 18KP
Platinum (95% pure) : PLAT, Plat 950, 950, PT
Platinum (90% pure): PT 900, PLAT 900
Gold-filled and Gold-plated items have little to no resale value. Gold filled items have a small amount of gold that has been mixed into other metals, which means there will be no fading or flaking of the gold. Gold plated items will fade or flake, and often scratching the item with a tool will reveal the metal underneath.
If an item does not have a stamp, it may be necessary to take it to your local jewelry store to have it tested. Most jewelers will use an acid test to determine gold content. Many hand-made items will not contain a stamp, as well as some produced outside of the United States.
Stamps are not perfect. Although they are usually correct, some plated jewelry does get stamped as gold in an attempt to fool the consumer. These items might be sold by a street vendor in a large city or in a foreign country. If you have questions about your item, allow a trained jeweler to test your item.