Knowing how to spot a piece of gold or silver jewelry at the thrift store could mean the difference between a real steal and a bad deal. Luckily, regulations in the jewelry market require all jewelers to label each piece with identifying marks. These marks provide information about the gold and silver content of each piece as well as information on the maker. Knowing how to properly read the marks will help you find high quality jewelry at a thrift store bargain.


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Identify sterling silver by checking the stamp of quality under a magnifying glass. On rings this will be located inside the ring. It will be on a small tag or the clasp for bracelets and necklaces. True sterling silver will be marked as either “sterling,” “sterling silver,” “ster,” or “925.”

Identify gold by a quality stamp reading “10K,” “14K,” or “18K.” These may also be marked as “10KT,” etc. If the karat marking is absent, look for a number. For a 10 karat piece this will be “416,” for 14 karat piece this will be “585,” and for an 18 karat piece this will be “750.”

Look for markings that indicate gold filled or gold/silver plate. Gold-filled pieces may be identified with a marking similar to “1/20 14K,” meaning that 5 percent of the piece is 14 karat gold. Plated pieces will have a marking such as “GP” for gold plated, “HGE” for heavy gold electroplate, or “SP” for silver plated.

If the markings have worn off of a gold piece or if they appear to be absent, rub the piece against a clean jewelry cleaning cloth. If the gold is fake, some of the gold color will be removed from the jewelry. Alternatively, you can use a magnet to test if the gold is authentic. Real gold will not be attracted to the magnet.

Tips

  • Certain marks are less common, but you may come across one from time to time. Marks of “9CT,” “13CT,” and “15CT” indicate that the piece was made in England. These are true karat marks that are not produced in the United States. “20K,” “22K,” and “24K” are Asian in origin.

  • If the piece is the right price but hard to identify, you may consider purchasing it and taking it to a local jeweler for identification.