How Accurately Can You Test Precious Metals in a Home Lab?

Do you have a quantity of jewelry pieces – findings, bits of chain, clasps or pins, perhaps – that you suspect might be valuable karat gold jewelry scrap? Or how about an old coin or piece of bullion that might, or might not, be pure gold?

Can you accurately test karat gold jewelry scrap and other precious metals in a home lab? What do you think? Credit: JupiterImages/liquidlibrary.

Can you accurately test karat gold jewelry scrap and other precious metals in a home lab? What do you think? Credit: JupiterImages/liquidlibrary.

Although it is true that inexpensive testing kits can determine with some accuracy whether you have a piece of pure karat gold on your hands, most other home tests won’t go too far to tell you whether you are looking at platinum, rhodium or other precious metals.

A Common Misconception about Precious Metals

There is a common belief that precious metals will not react with chemicals and that you can identify them easily by immersing them in common acids like vinegar. If there is no chemical reaction, you’ve found a precious metal, correct? Actually, that is not the case. In fact, all precious metals will react with some chemicals, as we will explain in a moment.

But before we explain that, let’s understand the difference between precious metals and noble metals.

  • Precious metals are usually listed as gold, palladium, platinum, rhodium and silver. All of them, except silver, are resistant to oxidation or chemical reactions with other chemicals. But they are not exactly the same as…
  • Noble metals, which got that name because they are highly resistant to corrosion or oxidation. (Gold, for example, is called a noble metal because it doesn’t tarnish; even when it is found in nature, it is bright and shiny.) Traditionally, the noble metals are listed as gold, iridium, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium and silver.

So precious metals and noble metals are not exactly the same thing. But that’s not all you need to know.

Noble Metals Are Not So Noble After All

Back in the 14th Century, a European alchemist named Geber discovered that gold would dissolve in a solution that contained hydrochloric and nitric acid. He was so taken with his liquid that he called it Aqua Regia (“the king’s water” or “royal water”). In the following centuries, scientists determined that platinum would dissolve in Aqua Regia too. They also found that rhodium and ruthenium would not. It might interest you to know that Aqua Regia is still used today to clean laboratory glass and in some etching operations.

So, Can You Accurately Test Precious Metals on Your Own?

The answer is that no, you need a qualified precious metals testing company to evaluate any items that you think might contain precious metals. Call us at 800-426-2344, inquire about testing, and be sure to ask about the free or discounted shipping costs that we offer on the items that you send to us for testing.

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