We recently spent a few hours in the company of an expert jeweler, looking through a batch of old jewelry scrap. It was amazing to watch him work. He seemed to have a kind of sixth sense about what he was looking at. He picked up a small chain and said, “This is solid gold.” Then he looked at an old watch and said, “The case is gold plated, not worth much.” Then he looked at a ring and said that although it looked like platinum, it was base metal that had a thin level of chrome or other bright-metal plating applied to it. Again, not worth more than a few cents.
How did he instantly know so much about all those items, at just a glance? He knew because he had spent years looking at jewelry, and he just knew. He was experienced.
That got us to thinking, is it possible for people with more limited experience to develop that same kind of sixth sense about what is valuable and what is not? We asked our jeweler friend, and he offered some advice on how to quickly tell the difference between precious metal scrap that is valuable and metal scrap that is worthless.
What Does the Surface Look Like?
Genuine platinum scrap is free of tarnish. Plated pieces (like the ring we mentioned above) often have small scratches and abrasions, sometimes deep enough to reveal some of the base metal below. Plated pieces are also sometimes covered with a thin layer of clear lacquer, which is another giveaway.
It is more difficult to tell the difference between solid gold and gold-plated pieces. In many cases, there will be a small stamp that indicates their karat rating if they are solid gold; however that is not always the case if you are looking at small bits like chain links or clasps. To find out their content, you need to ask a precious metals lab like Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners about testing.
If It Is a Gold Piece, Does It Feel Heavy?
Solid gold items generally weigh more per volume than gold-plated items. “This is subjective,” our jeweler friend told us. “If a gold-toned item simply feels substantial, chances are better that it is made of solid gold.”
What Does Your Intuition Tell You?
This is pretty unscientific, but how do you feel when you look at a piece? Do you have a gut feeling that it is “the real thing,” or not? The jeweler told us that scientific or not, your intuition can send you clues that are often correct.
What Does a Fingernail Test Tell You?
Here’s a small experiment that can illustrate this principle. First take a piece of aluminum and scrape your thumbnail across it. Then do the same with a piece of sterling silver, a piece of gold, a piece of titanium, and a piece of platinum. Each of them will send you slightly different signals. They feel different.
How about a Taste Test?
Plated items sometimes have a bitter, chemical taste that results from chemicals that are left over from the plating process. Silver and silver-plated items that have become tarnished have a slightly bitter taste. Plus if they have been polished, there could be a faint taste of silver polish. Gold and platinum pieces are generally free of any taste. “This is unscientific, but can still give you a clue,” our jeweler friend states, “and of course if you are in a store or other public setting, you might not want to stick the item you are looking at into your mouth!”
Want to Know for Sure?
Call our precious metals consultants at 800-426-2344 to find out how we can test your scrap metal items. In many cases, we will even pay the cost of shipping your items from your door to our lab - be sure to ask.
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