Are Silver & Gold Magnetic? Here’s How To Test Your Silver & Gold
Contributed by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez
No type of silver or gold is magnetic.
It’s a question many folks have when they want to tell if something’s real silver or gold or want to know how to test for the presence of silver and gold in an item.
Gold and Silver Eagle Comparison
Surely, if magnets stick to your sterling silver then you may have a big problem on your hands—that’s because sterling silver is not magnetic!
So, if a magnet sticks to anything that you believe or have been told is silver or gold, then at the very least you have been accidentally misinformed or, at worst, scammed.
There are only a few metals that we encounter on a daily basis that are magnetic, including ferritic metals such as iron, nickel, and cobalt. Other less frequently encountered magnetic metals are samarium, neodymium, and gadolinium. So, that means there are plenty of metals that may look like silver but are not magnetic, including aluminum, zinc, and pewter.
Now, perhaps at this point you’re remembering that 1943 steel cents, which are made from zinc, are magnetic. As you know, zinc, a non-magnetic metal, constitutes only a thin coating on the steel cents, and steel contains the ferromagnetic metal iron. So, because 1943 steel cents are mostly steel, they are attracted to magnets.
But does this mean that silver- or gold-plated items may also stick to magnets? That depends on the other composition of the metals or other material under the plating. Certainly, a steel-framed watch or necklace coated with a thin layer of gold or silver plating may be magnetic, immediately giving away with the simple pass of a magnet that the object isn’t really made from solid gold or sterling silver.
Yet, that doesn’t rule out that non-magnetic items passing for valuables are always made from precious metal. Consider the situation in which a watch or piece of jewelry is made from a non-magnetic material, such as copper or even plastic.
How To Test If Something Is Really Made From Silver Or Gold
Have you ever seen Olympians playfully chomp down on their gold medals or trophies? This isn’t because eating gold is part of a champion’s well-balanced diet!
Rather, gold and some other precious metals are soft—softer than human teeth and much softer than pyrite, or “fool’s gold.” Now, you don’t see many coin collectors chewing on their gold coins, in part because doing so could damage these valuable collectibles. Also, there are more effective ways to check for the fineness of gold and silver products.
Here are a few methods:
When it comes to coins, rounds, and bars, test them for size and weight and be sure they check out within tolerances.
Subject the coin to a silver or gold acid test—beware acid may discolor the surface of the silver or gold coin and thus should be used sparingly and with non-collectible bullion coins or bars.
Use an X-ray spectrometer or audio spectrum analyzer to test the metallic properties of your coins, bars, and other precious metal items.
Do some thermal conductivity testing on silver, which can involve something as simple as an ice cube, which will quickly begin melting on a pure silver coin or bar.
Get the item authenticated by a reputable coin or bullion dealer or jeweler who can test the contents of your coins, rounds, bars, watches, and other items.
How To Avoid Buying Fake Silver Or Gold
If you want to buy real silver or gold coins, bars, or other item precious metals items, there are many ways you can ensure you’re getting the Real McCoy.
Here are some tips for safeguarding yourself against fake gold and silver:
Always buy precious metal items from a reputable seller—it’s generally not a wise idea to purchase any valuable from just anybody.
DON’T look for or buy “cheap” gold or silver! Unless you’re buying something at a discount price from a trusted loved one or friend, gold or silver items being offered for less than their spot value may be counterfeits.
When buying silver coins or bars, educate yourself on what authentic pieces should look like. Too many inexperienced hobbyists buy coins that seasoned collectors and investors can pick out as fakes from a mile away. Rounds and bars should match or be within the tolerances of specific weights and sizes.
If you’re buying non-monetized bullion items such as rounds and bars, stick with pieces from major, reputable refineries with well-known and highly recognizable seals—these are generally easier to spot than fakes from less-than-familiar names.
Don’t forget to use the magnet test! Remember, if your gold or silver items are magnetic, they’re not really pure gold or silver!
Are There Any Coins (Besides The 1943 Steel Cent) That Are Magnetic?
The 1943 steel cent is the only regular-issue United States coin that contains enough iron to be magnetic.
While nickel is also magnetic, there isn’t enough nickel in standard United States coins to make them magnetic. Even the five-cent coin, widely called a “nickel,” is only 25% nickel, with the balance made from copper. Therefore, U.S. five-cent coins don’t stick to magnets despite their nickel composition.
Things are different in places like Canada or Great Britain, where many coins are made from magnetic metals such as steel and nickel. These include the Canadian 1 cent, 5 cent, 10 cent, 25 cent, and 50 cent coins made since 2000, which have steel cores. Also magnetic are British 1 and 2 pence coins struck since 1992.
There are many other types of magnetic coins around the world, too. But remember—these are almost always base-metal coins with little intrinsic value. Gold and silver coins are not magnetic!
Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a journalist, editor, and blogger who has won multiple awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild. He has also authored numerous books, including works profiling the history of the United States Mint and United States coinage.
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