The Science Behind Silver and Gold

It is a tale as old as storage auctions themselves. You've won a storage unit and much to your excitement, it is full of jewelry.  There is a little of this and a little of that and nothing is organized. How do you begin sorting all of it and determining what's real and what isn't? This step by step guide provides you with the information you need to determine the authenticity of your jewelry items as well as how to determine value and how to sell your pieces.

Step 1. Determine If You Have Actual Gold and Silver


More than likely, you'll find a bit of everything. Be prepared that you may find many items that are not real gold or silver. This is ok, because these items can still be sold in mass quantity online or at yard sales and flea markets and allow you to get a return on your investment.

There are many different ways to determine the authenticity of your items.


Using a magnet to sort through your jewelry is the quickest way to determine if you have any real gold or not. Real gold will never magnetize. Something that is fake may not magnetize, so you're still left to examine each piece further to determine it's authenticity, but any items that do stick to a strong magnet can then be marked as costume jewelry. To test using a magnet, grab a strong magnet and run across large piles of jewelry. If anything sticks, it is fake. Separate these items from the items that don't stick and continue to further examine the rest of the jewelry. While gold follows this rule, silver does not. You will have to rely on examination and testing to determine it's authenticity.


It is possible that you may be able to simple sort your jewelry pieces individually and be able to detect real from fake pieces on sight, as well as what specific karat the item is. This type of examination will come from practicing this each time you win new jewelry at storage auctions. Each time you have new items, examine them for their general look, texture and color to try to sort them out. Once you've done this, do some further testing to determine if you were right or wrong. Eventually, you'll develop a skill for this and be able to quickly assess what you have.

If you're just getting started as a storage auction hunter, you'll need to examine your pieces in depth. Start by looking for markings. Is the item marked with a stamp stating 14K or 10K. True gold normally always has this stamp, however, some fake pieces may also have this stamp as well; keep this in mind and further examine your items. Look for other markings that you may not be as familiar with. You may have to research what these stamps mean and where they come from to help you determine value. Your items may also have a percentage stamp, such as 58.3% or .583. These numbers also indicate the carat value of the item.

Silver items have similar markings that note the amount of silver in the item, such as .999, but they may also have stamp markings of "STER" or "STERLING." Also look for brand names that you can quickly identity from the local mall, such as "Claire's." These items will not be real. One brand that does use real gold and silver is Disney. Review all markings on the item to determine if this is the case before throwing it into the costume jewelry pile.


If you are unable to determine the value of your items by using a magnet and then examining the items further, you can use a chemical acid test. This test is common for determining if your item is gold, silver, platinum. This allows you to quickly determine the carat value of each individual item and is commonly used in many locations that buy precious metals. Most tests come with a stone board, and various acid levels that allow you to test for silver, platinum and various carat levels of gold. Tests may vary slighly in terms of the acids included. To complete the test, you to scratch the item against the stone, leaving a sample of the metal. You then drop each acid on the sample. If the scratch remains the same, you've determined that the item is at least that carat amount. You continue to progress through each acid until the scratch changes shade or darkens in color or dissolves. If an item is tested for 14K and the line dissolves, move on to 10K. If the scratch remains the same at 10K, you can safely assume that this is a 10 carat item. Testing for gold with acid focuses around the fact that gold is a noble metal which is resistant to change by corrosion, oxidation or acid. The acid test for gold is to rub the gold-colored item on black stone, which will leave an easily visible mark. The mark is tested by applying aqua fortis (nitric acid), which dissolves the mark of any item that is not gold, silver or platinum. If the mark remains, it is tested by applying aqua regia (nitric acid and hydrocholric acid). If the mark is removed, then this test dissolved the gold, proving the item to be genuine gold. More accurate testing of the item for its fineness or purity can be done through the use of differencing strengths of aqua regia and comparative testing of gold items of known fineness. Check out this informative video on the topic that walks your through the process of testing your items yourself and showing examples of various tests.

 2. Determine The Daily Market Price For Your Metals

Checking any reliable stocks/trading/commodities information will to determine the most current and accurate market price for precious metals.

3. Determine How Much Gold/Silver You Have

Most stock and trading information will list market price for your metals in ounces. You will need to determine how much of each precious metal you have before you can determine how much you can sell your items for later on.

To determine how much gold and silver you have, you should simply weigh it. Use an ounce or gram scale to determine the total weight. If you are using a gram scale, you will need to convert this number later on. Remember that 31.1 grams are in an ounce. Another piece of information to keep in mind is how much other pieces of your items weigh. For example, some items may include other stones or glass. Guesstimate to determine how much these items weigh and remove that from your estimation.

4. Determine a Dollar Amount For Your Precious Metals

So, you've determined that you have real precious metals and have determined how much weight you have in gold and silver. How do you assign a dollar amount to your loot? This involves some math, so prep your TI-83's, a pencil, and some paper.

The gold price currently at $1,335.30/ounce.

The price accounts for pure gold, but much of what you have may be mixed metals and you need to understand the percentage of gold you have in comparison to the carat.

24k - 100%
22k - 91.6%
18k - 75%
14k - 58.3%
10k - 41.7%

If you get an item that has a unique carat value, you can just guesstimate based on the next closest carat amount.

Then you need to include the weight.

For the purpose of this tutorial, let's assume that you have 0.3 ounces.

1.0 ounces X 31.1 grams (to convert to grams) = 9.33 grams of gold. You will not have to complete this step, but this shows have the conversion process works.

100% gold is currently 1,335.30 per ounce, that means 10k gold is 41.7% of that, so it is 556.82 an ounce. If you're using grams as your unit of measurement just divide 556.82 amount by 31.1 to get 17.94 per gram.

556.82 X 0.3 = 167.05
(Or 17.94 X 9.33) = 74.08

These final numbers reflect the worth of the metals per ounce and per gram.

5. Determine Fair Dollar Amount For Your Items


In most instances, it is reasonable to receive between 25% and 65% of the price for your gold. If we review the numbers from Step 4, we see that our item is worth $167.05 in value.  If you brought this item into a pawn shop, you would probably be quoted anywhere from $58 to $125.

Keep an eye out for dealers who offer you a round number. When you are given a quote down to the cent, this means that the person making the offer has calculated the worth of your item to a specific number and are then taking an appropriate percentage.

 6. Determine If It is Better to Sell as a Piece or for Scrap

The best way to decide this is to determine the overal worth of an item. If you have a piece of gold that has a large diamond or rare stone, then you will make more by selling the item as it is, with the stone intact. This is also true of exceptionally rare and vintage collector pieces.  In most instances, unless your item falls into these exceptions, it will make you more money to sell your items for scrap, as the price for gold and silver is currently very high.

7. Is Silver Different?

In most ways, silver is calculated and sold in the same way. The only difference is the values that you're working with to determine your final numbers. Silver is normally somewhere between $30-40 an ounce and the percentages are .999 for silver and .925 for Sterling silver. When figuring out silver, take your $ / ounce, figure out the weight, and take 92.% percent of that if it's sterling., a member of the Self Storage Association, provides our customers with a comprehensive auction list in multiple auction formats for all 50 states and over 51,000 facilities. Subscribers can review over 10,000 auctions each month through their personal dashboard making storage auctions easy to find whether you're treasure hunting for fun or running a profitable business.

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