Finding karat gold at collectibles malls, flea markets or garage sales can be fun but identifying what gold you’re buying is critical to avoid scams and save money. You could pass up great precious metals jewelry if you don’t know costume jewelry from fine jewelry. Use the number marks on gold jewelry to learn more about it.

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Look for a number followed by “k,” for example “12k,” using a loupe or magnifying glass. American jewelry is often marked by karat, stamped into the inside of a ring or bracelet, on the edge of earrings or the back of a charm. If the jewelry is marked 10k, that’s the minimum mark used in the United States. Older gold may not be stamped but is usually 9k.

Look for numbers in the hundreds, such as “333,” which is 8k or about 33 percent gold. Gold can be all the way up to 24k, 999 or 9999, which indicates about 99 percent pure gold. There are about a dozen numbers in between, from 10k or 417 to 23k or 950.

Look for other hallmarks or stamps that indicate plated gold, such as “HGE,” “Gold Filled,” “Plate,” “RGP,” “EP,” or “1/10.” The fractions indicate the ratio of gold to alloy, such as copper.

Look for markings like “PT” or “PT” followed by a number to indicate platinum metal. You may also be looking at palladium jewelry, which has marks like “PD,” “PALL” or “Palladium.”


  • Carry a loupe and magnifier when you shop. Gold can be silver or even rose or green, depending on what it’s alloyed with and how it’s made. Silver metals have similar number markings but are usually preceded with a period.