There is a continuing evolution and sophistication regarding the types of jewelry alloys you will encounter in your scrap buying. With higher metal prices, even legitimate manufacturers are trying to find ways to reduce their wholesale price of newly finished jewelry. Competent testing of jewelry scrap is one of the most important skills a pawnbroker must have to avoid making expensive mistakes when purchasing or loaning on karat gold materials.
When scrap comes in to us for processing, we always do a cursory visual and magnet inspection on each and every refining lot. Sometimes we’re not able to identify bad pieces of material until after the melt is completed, when we find un-melted stainless steel, tungsten, titanium or similar hi-temp jewelry pieces in the bottom of the melting crucible. Recently, we were surprised to see a wedding ring made of 58.5 Platinum!
This blog series will present 4 important tips to help you identify fake materials. In this edition we will cover tips one and two, heavily plated materials and ensuring the freshness of testing acids
Beware of Heavily-Plated Materials & Keep Your Testing Acids Fresh:
In recent years, we have started to see more heavily plated jewelry material coming in, most often over brass or sterling silver. These items are easily overlooked because they will not attract to a magnet and the person testing the piece often chooses not to file into the metal to do a proper acid test. A perfect example - a Mid-States pawnbroker customer recently came in to witness an 80 oz. melt of materials he was told by his customer was gold-filled chain and assorted jewelry pieces that were sales samples from a reputable line of jewelry products. All of the material looked brand new and was of identical color and finish, but had no stamps or markings on the clasps. The material did not attract to a magnet, as most gold-filled material often will, so I decided to shoot a piece on two of our XRF's. Both instruments showed gold in the 42% range with copper and zinc present as well, but oddly no silver. This indicated we could be dealing with 10k material even if the alloy was somewhat non-typical of most karat gold alloys.
As a secondary test, I took the chain out to the bench grinder and made a deep cut into the surface and hit it with 10k testing acid. The reaction to the acid was very subtle and did not "red flag" it as being anything other than karat gold. Well, you can imagine how happy the pawnbroker was and how his expectations changed, now thinking his gold-filled lot was actually all 10k. Long story short, the material ended up assaying in the 2% range as he originally expected, and I immediately replaced our set of testing acids. Lessons learned - fake jewelry can be plated thick enough to fake out even the most sophisticated testing instruments and always make sure your testing acids are fresh.