What is 925 China? (Your Guide to Buying Real Gold and Real Silver Jewelry)
Posted on 09 November 2018
Buying jewelry online or in stores can be a really exciting and enjoyable experience, or it can be really frustrating, time-consuming, and you can feel like you are getting jerked around by the jewelry dealers. Deception and fraud in the jewelry industry is not a topic that jewelers usually openly discuss, however these experiences do happen and it’s important to shed a light on them to stop them from happening. If this describes your experience when buying jewelry, either online or in stores, then there’s a few things to consider.
First things first:
When buying jewelry, it is important to know the quality of the metal for a variety of different reasons. Choosing a new piece of jewelry is exciting, no matter the occasion! However, you want to make sure the metal is not scratched, the gems are in good condition, and you find the quality stamp on the item of jewelry. Whether you are looking for a wedding band, or simply looking for a new everyday necklace, it is important to know what composes the content of the piece of jewelry.
In addition to knowing your metals and understanding high quality jewelry materials, it is important to recognize the stamps and hallmarks on each of your jewelry pieces when building a jewelry collection. A common stamp that comes up on a lot of pieces of jewelry believed to be made of gold is the “925” or “925 China” stamp. But, what does this mean?
What does 925 China Mean on Jewelry?
Did you just recently purchase a necklace or bracelet and you thought it was gold, but you notice a “925” stamp on the inside and not sure what it means? Well, it turns out “925 China” is a standard marking on jewelry to denote sterling silver jewelry. If you see “925” or “925 China” stamped on what you thought was your gold jewelry, then the jewelry has 92.5% sterling silver content and is merely gold-plated. The remaining 7.2% is composed of other metal elements.
But Why Stamp Gold Jewelry With a Silver Mark?
Because it is not real gold, and it is in fact sterling silver merely coated in a gold outer layer. The “925” marking denotes the purity of the underlying silver core and has nothing to do with the outer gold layer, or gold plating. If you have a gold piece of jewelry with a “925” or a “925 China” stamp, then it is gold vermeil (pronounced ver-may), which is the name used to describe silver jewelry that is covered in a thin layer of gold.
Were you looking for real gold and, instead, you realize you purchased a sterling silver piece? Don’t want to make the same mistake again? Keep reading and we’ll explain the differences between real gold and fake gold, real silver and fake silver, how to tell if your item of jewelry is fake, and the stamps and hallmarks for each.
What is Real Gold vs. Fake Gold?
According to American standards, fake gold is anything less than 10K, or 10 karats. Fake gold can also be used to describe jewelry that is gold-filled, gold-plated, or jewelry that has a heavy gold electroplate. This description describes the “925” stamped jewelry you may have purchased -- this item is likely gold-plated with a sterling silver core. HOWEVER, this does not mean that the gold on the outside of your 925-stamped item is fake, only that the majority of the jewelry piece is made of sterling silver and it is not made of pure gold. If you want to know the difference between gold-filled and gold-plated, check out this blog post.
Fake gold is also commonly called fool’s gold, which can be any of these 3 minerals: pyrite, chalcopyrite, and weathered biotite mica. Pyrite is the most common mineral that is mistaken for gold. Chalcopyrite appears as gold-like. Weathered biotite mica appears like a flaky gold.
Of all metal choices for jewelry, gold is the most commonly used because it is naturally soft and malleable. The purest gold is 24 karat, which is also the softest. Since 100% pure gold, or 24 karat gold, is far too soft to be worked into jewelry, other metal combinations/metal alloys are added to form the metal into jewelry. If other metal alloys are added to the pure gold, such as copper, silver or palladium, the gold’s hardness increases. When gold jewelry is scratched, the gold is lost and it looks like a scratch on the jewelry.
To determine the gold karat used in the piece of jewelry, check its markings, or its hallmark, usually found on the inside or the backside of an earring, bracelet, or pendant. The traditional hallmark identifies the percentage of pure gold in the jewelry, whereas the modern hallmark are stamped with the weight of the karat, i.e. 14K. The number before the “K” indicates, in parts per 24, how much of the metal is actually gold. Thus, 14K means that the piece of jewelry is 14 karat gold, or that 14/24 of the metal is gold -- just over half.
How to Tell if Gold is Real
It is super important to know if your gold jewelry is real or not for your own peace of mind and for the jewelry’s resale value. Many people have items of jewelry lying around that they are not sure of its gold content because they don’t know how to test it and maybe they didn’t think to ask about it when they purchased it. Family heirlooms are another example of jewelry items that people are unsure of its content. Below, we’ve laid out 7 simple tests to determine if your jewelry is real gold or fake gold.
#1 Visual Inspection - Look for the Hallmark & for Discoloration
Just about all real gold is stamped with a hallmark that denotes the karat weight of the jewelry, like 10K or 14K. The purity of American-made gold jewelry is measured in karats, and so there will be a stamp of a number and “K” usually found on the clasp of a necklace or bracelet, or on the inner band of a ring. The number indicates how much of the metal in the piece of jewelry is actually gold.
The European system for gold jewelry is simpler: European gold marks the gold content in the jewelry with a decimal. For instance, “.585” indicates 58.5% gold purity level, which corresponds to 14K, or 14 karat gold. Likewise, “.999” or “1.000” is 100% gold, pure gold, or 24K gold.
Another visual inspection you can do is to check for discoloration, especially in areas that face constant friction -- typically around the edges of the piece of gold jewelry. If the gold appears to be wearing off and you can see a different colored metal beneath, then most likely you have a piece of jewelry that is only gold-plated.
#2 Magnet Test
This test is easy, but keep in mind it is not a fool-proof method for determining real gold jewelry. You will need a strong magnet, something found in a hardware store or even in common objects like women’s purse latches, unused hard drives, or children’s toys.
Hold a magnet up to the item of jewelry you want to test. Gold is not a magnetic metal, so if your “gold” piece of jewelry is attracted to the magnet, it is definitely not real gold. This does not mean that there is no gold in your item of jewelry, only that it is not made with a substantial enough amount of gold, and that there are other magnetic metals in the item of jewelry.
HOWEVER, just because the item of jewelry is not attracted to the magnet does not mean it is real!!! In counterfeit pieces, non-magnetic metals are used as well.
#3 Density & Heaviness Test
To test the heaviness of the item of jewelry, drop it into a bucket of water. Real gold is really heavy, so it will sink to the bottom. Any piece of “gold” jewelry that floats is likely made of fool’s gold or fake gold.
To test the density:
#4 Ceramic Plate Test
- Find an unglazed ceramic plate
- You can purchase a piece of unglazed ceramic from a home improvement store
- Keep in mind that your item of jewelry might get scratched
- Once you have this item, drag your piece of jewelry across the ceramic piece
- If a black streak appears, then your item of jewelry is not real gold
- If a gold streak appears, then your item is genuine gold.
#5 Nitric Acid Test
The nitric acid test is used to determine if the gold jewelry is gold-plated or gold-filled:
#6 Liquid Foundation Test
This test isn’t as reliable as some, but it sure is creative! First, apply liquid foundation and powder foundation to your forehead. Next, rub the gold jewelry across that area. What appears? If a black streak is left on your forehead, then it is most likely made of real gold. A little odd, but hey, you don’t need nitric acid for this one!
#7 Professional Appraisal
Taking your item of jewelry to a reputable jewelry dealer is a sure way to determine if it is real gold or fake gold. Though most jewelry stores usually charge a small fee, a jewelry dealer will definitely have the testing kit needed to determine if the item is real gold.
What Are The Types of Gold Jewelry?
So, you know now what constitutes REAL gold and FAKE gold, and you know how to test for it! But what about yellow gold, white gold and rose gold? Are those real gold?
All of these gold options utilize metal alloys to improve the original pure gold’s strength and malleability. These metal alloys can still be 14K and 18K standard white gold with nickel, or 58.5% - 75.0% pure gold.
What is Real Silver?
Silver has been valued for centuries and has even been considered more valuable than gold at one point in time. Today, silver is considered a good choice for jewelry because it is the most affordable of all the precious metals.
Like pure gold, pure silver is too soft to be used in jewelry making. Silver is made more durable by mixing it with copper and other metal alloys to create sterling silver.
To be considered sterling silver, the item of jewelry must contain at least 92.5% pure silver, which is why it is stamped “.925.” Sterling silver is harder than pure silver due to its metal alloy composition, but it can still be scratched fairly easily. Regarding color and appearance, sterling silver can range from bright white to grayish white, and can have a shiny or matte finish.
Regardless of its initial appearance, silver is known to tarnish. To prevent your sterling silver jewelry from tarnishing, keep it in tarnish preventative bags, or store them in a cool, dry place. The tarnish on sterling silver can be removed with a silver cloth.
Like gold, the purity level of silver is determined by the percentage of precious metal (in this case, the percentage of silver) within the alloy mass. Karats are not used in determining silver purity levels. Instead, the percentage of silver, displayed as a decimal, is common for silver purity.
99.9% purity → .999
92.5% purity → .925
90.0% purity → .900
83.5% purity → .835
80.0% purity → .800
Types of Silver
For silver, different types of silver on the market tend to also correspond to their purity levels. However, when buying a very small piece of silver jewelry with very little surface area, keep in mind that jewelry is only stamped with the purity level if there is adequate space to stamp it. Therefore, there are many small findings and components that are left unstamped simply because they are too small. The lack of a purity stamp does not necessarily mean they are not quality alloys.
Check out these different types of silver:
How to Tell if Silver is Real
The tests to determine if your item of jewelry is real silver are very similar to the tests to determine if it is real gold. There are some overlap in the tests, but some new ones, too! In general, a sign right off the bat to determine if your jewelry is fake silver is that it is really inexpensive.
Check out these 5 tests:
#1 Visual Inspection
Similar to the visual inspection for gold jewelry, the item of jewelry will have a marking, such as “Ster,” “925,” or “Sterling Silver” if it is real silver in a hidden area of the piece. If you don’t see any of these markings, beware!
#2 Smell Test
Real sterling silver should not smell. If your item of jewelry has an odor to it, it is because there is too much copper in it to be considered sterling silver.
#3 Rub the Jewelry with a Soft White Cloth
After rubbing the item of jewelry with a white cloth, check to see if there are any marks. If there are black streaks on the cloth, then the item is made of real sterling silver. But, why does this happen? Because 925 silver oxidizes over time as it is exposed to air -- so 925 silver deteriorates and tarnishes with time, leaving black marks when rubbed on other surfaces.
#4 Nitric Acid Test
The steps to the nitric acid test to test if the item is real sterling silver are the same as above, when testing if your item is real gold. If the item of jewelry is made of real sterling silver, the nitric acid will have no effect on the jewelry itself, and the drop on the jewelry will appear creamy in color. If fake, or silver-plated, the jewelry item will turn a greenish color due to its high amount of copper.
#5 Magnet Test
Just like gold, magnets have no effect on silver. If the item of jewelry is attracted to the magnet, you can be sure it is neither gold nor silver.
And there you have it:
Your guide to determining the stamps and hallmarks of gold and silver jewelry, the differences between real gold and fake gold, the differences between real silver and fake silver, and whether your item of jewelry is fake. We hope this helped! Feel free to leave your thoughts, likes and dislikes in the comments section below! Stay tuned for a Jewelry Metals Guide of alternative metals for your jewelry!