and other white metals

How to test platinum, white gold, palladium, steel and silver







I was taking a training course for the managers of a chain of shops, they showed me a collection of white metal bracelets several stores had bought, paying between £500.00 and £700.00 each. They were steel. The managers explained that their shop staff knew nothing about gold and had to rely entirely on the acid test. That's fine, the acid test works well, but I also do recommend that anyone who buys scrap learns a little about the characteristics of gold and silver!


This article has some tips about how to detect steel without the need for acids, and how to test for steel, platinum, white gold and palladium using our special 'green' acid for 'platinum. You must use this special acid in conjuntin with the 18ct (blue) acid and a strip of test paper. Although there's a summary below, please read the instructions that came with your testing kit.




Firstly, the marks. If an item is simply stamped with a number, and nothing else, it is 'marked' - but that mark is not a hallmark, it means nothing, you have to test the item. Anyone buying or selling precious metals must, by law, display a hallmark chart (we have these in stands or just laminated). Get a chart, learn to recognize the marks, a hallmark is your guarantee that the item is genuine. Hallmarks are controlled by the government, a forged hallmark is considered the same as a forged banknote, they are always investigated by Trading Standards and the police, forged marks are rare. Experienced jewellers recognise cheap costume jewellery posing as platinum, they can see, instantly, that it's a fraud; they recognise handmade diamond jewellery and would never question the mark, they know it's platinum; but if you are new to the trade you may wish to start by testing everything.




Testing white metals really is simple.

Start by using a magnet. I recommend the very powerful Neodymium magnets:

- if itís magnetic it canít possibly be gold (in this case, white gold), no further test is necessary
- silver is diamagnetic and can be tested with suitable magnets, but copper gives the same result (i.e. the item could be copper plated with silver)
- being magnetic does not prove it's steel, not all steel is magnetic

- some platinum contains cobalt and is very slightly magnetic

- do remember, you cannot 'test gold' with a magnet, if it's non-magnetic it does not mean it's gold!


Before carrying out an acid test, you must file the item to get beneath any surface plating (don't be shy, be firm, you may be filing through gold plating then copper then steel):


- unless you are relatively new to precious metals (I would recommend The Gold and Silver Buyer's Handbook) you will know that precious metals are soft; you will know if the item is steel because you won't be able to file it with your steel file (and it will 'feel too hard' even if you are using a diamond file), it will be so obvious that your eyebrows will rise with surprise and you'll say, "This is steel!"
- if the colour underneath is different from the colour on top (e.g. gold colour on top, white underneath), be suspicious! Test it for silver, then test it for other white metals (see below).




Testing yellow metals is easy, follow the instructions that came with your acids (e.g. a Quicktest 3). This article is about how to test white metals.


Start with the obvious, test it for silver, especially if the surface is gold colour and the underneath is white. The Quicktest SILVER acid (the 'AMBER' acid) turns red on silver. Take care to test only the filed area, if the acid touches both the filed and a silver plated area, the entire spot of acid will turn red. If it is not silver, the spot of acid will remain amber. Only silver makes the acid turn red, it will not turn red on white gold, platinum, palladium, rhodium, steel, chrome or nickel. For those that are colour blind: red is the really deep tone, amber is a clear transluscent-golden tone. Please read the instructions that came with your set of acids, especially the safety precautions.


Now you have tried the obvious, move on to the gold acids - this is how you test white metals:


Always start with the Quicktest 9ct acid (the 'WHITE' acid), apply it to the article as described in the instructions that came with the testing set, if it fizzes it is not gold or platinum. If it stays clear, move onto the Quicktest 14-24ct acid (the 'BLUE' acid). Please read the instructions that came with your set of acids, especially the safety precautions.


The 14-24ct/blue acid gives really clear easy-to-see reactions on yellow gold (best tester: Quicktest-3) even for the colour blind; testing white gold takes just a little more care (you will need the Troytest). Apply the 14-24ct/blue acid to the article as described in the instructions that came with the testing set:

- if it turns dark quickly it's either 14ct or palladium. On 14ct it turns very dark (and, when fresh and strong, will then bubble); on palladium it turns reddish, quickly going dark red, then definitely bubbles. Either way, it is not 18ct white gold and it is not platinum, if the seller is still insisting it is 18ct white gold or platinum, start to get very suspicious. Check the results with the 'platinum' bottle (see Advanced Test below).


- the 14-24ct (blue) acid cannot (on its own) distinguish 18ct white gold from steel. If it turns yellow (and when the acid is new and strong, the yellow will quickly darken then bubble) it MIGHT be 18ct white gold or it MIGHT be steel. Whilst the reaction on gold is fairly consistent, the reaction of steel varies (there are hundreds of different types of steel) from very slight yellow to bright yellow, and with various degrees of bubbling and / or leaving behind a grayish stain - so some steels do react in the same way as 18ct white gold, often the result is just 'confusing', that's why there's a special test with the gree (' platinum') bottle (see Advanced Test below).



The advanced test uses the 'platinum' bottle (the 'GREEN' acid) from the Troytest set.


Place the blue acid on the item, allow plenty of time for any colour change, soak up the spot of acid with a strip of test paper (see the Troytest sets, also replacement books of test papers) then put a spot of the green acid onto the stain on the paper.


- if it is 14ct to 18ct, the stain on the paper is yellow / yellowish-green and the spot of green acid turns the stain dark.

- if it is steel, the stain on the paper is the same yellowish-green but the spot of green acid bleaches it out (i.e. takes out the colour).

- if it is Palladium the stain on the paper is red-ish and the spot of green acid turns the stain dark.
- if it is platinum, there is no stain (it just looks 'wet') and adding the green acid does nothing (it still 'just looks wet') - more details below.


I shall repeat the above paragraph in special language for the colour blind (a significan percentage of the populatiion is red-green colour blind):

14ct to 18ct = light stain on paper and turns dark when you put a drop of GREEN acid onto the stain.

Steel = light stain on paper and bleaches out (goes clear) when you put a drop of GREEN acid onto the stain.

Palladium = dark stain on paper and ...turns darker when you put a drop of GREEN acid onto the stain.

Platinum = no colour, it just looks 'wet', as you would expect if you soaked up water.


Platinum is the easiest metal to test, you can leave the blue acid on the metal for several seconds, or even for a minute, and nothing happens at all, it looks just like water; then soak up the spot of acid with the test paper and nothing happens, it looks just like water; then apply the green acid to the stain and nothing happens, it looks just like water.



It is important to note that the above instructions are for those who already use acids and know how to handle them, PLEASE do not buy loose bottles of acid unless you already have a secure (preferably lockable) box and the full instructions and (most important of all) the acid safety instructions.



QUICKTEST, Watford, WD18 8PH, Tel. 01923 220206, email info(at)quicktest.co.uk