You want to buy a piece of stainless steel jewelry, but you do not know how to tell if stainless steel jewelry is real. This is a post for you.
I’ve been around long enough to tell you that you cannot always trust the words of a jeweler, and unless you have the pieces tested before purchase or if you buy from the designers and high-end, reputable stores, your jewelry might not be what they claim it is.
Unfortunately, we often learn that we were duped long after the money is gone, and often you cannot do much about it. The sad bit is that this is the story of my life. As they say, once bitten, twice shy. So, after falling for the ‘genuine’ stainless steel rings marketing gimmicks, I later found out that my ring was far from the real deal.
Of course, this crushed my soul, and I learned to look for jewelry from reliable sellers, and if I have to get one from the pawnshop, have it tested first. Out of my experiences, however, I decided that instead of adding to the piling number of complaints online, I should offer advice instead.
Today, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about stainless steel jewelry, and also how to differentiate the real from the fakes or the plated stainless steel jewelry pieces.
I also write two posts: How to Tell If Something Is Stainless Steel or Aluminum? and how to tell the difference between silver and stainless steel? If you want to know more, click to read.
About Stainless Steel
What you may not know, however, is that stainless steel is an iron-based alloy containing chromium as one of its main constituents.
It also has other elements such as titanium, nickel, carbon, copper, silicon, aluminum, and silicone. Thanks to its chemical constituents, stainless steel is magnetic, ductile, and most importantly, resistant to abrasion, corrosion, electricity, and erosion.
But how can you tell that the jewelry piece in your hand is actually stainless steel? Which tests could you run to determine the realness of the piece of jewelry in your hands? Last month, I wrote a topic on Is stainless Steel Jewelry Good or Bad? if you want to know more about stainless steel jewelry, please click the link to read.
Don’t worry. Below, we outline some of the tests you could carry out to determine just that.
Here, I also write a post topic: Does Stainless Steel Jewelry Tarnish or Rust? If you want to know more, please click to read.
Stainless Steel Tests
- Run a visual inspection
You can tell that the jewelry piece you are holding or are interested in is stainless steel if it has a specific number/ code printed on it. The code for stainless steel is often in the form of an AES coding system or the ASTM code system ( here is a list of ASTM International standards from Wikipedia)– a 4-digit code which guides you on the type of stainless steel you have.
Also, on what you can see, stainless steel appears as a very shiny/ silvery meta with silvery fractures. See the pictures below.
- The Magnetic Test
Therefore, one of the most obvious tests for the genuineness of stainless steel involves magnets.
For this test, you need to stick a magnet on the jewelry piece you wish to test. If the magnet holds firmly to the metal, the chances are that you are dealing with stainless steel.
If it doesn’t stick or if there is only a little magnetic attraction between the test piece and the magnet, then it means that you are dealing with another metal like aluminum or even silver.
It’s also important to note that there are cases where stainless steel is not very magnetic, and in such cases, you have to run other tests. The reason why stainless steel might not be magnetic has to do with the fact that the stainless steel material is often made of different metals, and also that stainless steel falls into different families.
The basic stainless steel structure is ferritic and magnetic. The magnetism results from the addition of chromium to the metal, as well as the addition of carbon, which creates a martensitic structure that’s seen in cutlery.
On the other hand, most of the stainless steel jewelry and metals around have an even higher content of chromium, and they also have nickel.
These are the austenitic stainless steels. The addition of nickel results in a structural modification which makes this stainless steel non-magnetic. Most jewelry is made of austenitic stainless steel (304 and 316) and these stainless steel jewels are largely non-magnetic.
Therefore, if your jewelry is good-quality stainless steel, it should be non-magnetic or partially magnetic.
So, the magnetic test might have to be supplemented by other tests when determining whether a jewelry piece is made of real stainless steel or not.
Since some stainless steel jewelry pieces are actually made of aluminum rather than stainless steel, you might want to check the weight of the item in question. Stainless steel weighs 7500 kilograms (density) in comparison to aluminum’s 2700kgs. You might want to visit a local jeweler for correct weighting. Let’s see the tests below.
I did a test on my own. Here are 2 stainless steel rings. 1 alloy ring, 1 Tungsten ring. They are all same size.
See? Stainless steel jewelry is heavier than alloy jewelry and lighter than tungsten jewelry( Here, I write a post on how to test tungsten jewelry, you can read here). If you guys have many types of jewelry, you will tell them by weight.
Real stainless steel does not and will not rust. So, if you notice the formation of brown rust on your ring, you should know that you are dealing with a contaminated piece of metal – the rust is possibly oxidized iron.
You could test for rusting by very carefully running this chemical reaction. Wipe off the rust on your ring or necklace using equal parts of hydrofluoric acid and nitric acid. If the ring still has rust after the acid wipe, then it means that yours is not the real or 100% stainless steel ring. Your ring is stainless steel if after wiping off the surface you see a natural shine with no rust or discolorations.
- The Acid Test
Like the rusting test above, you need to exercise caution when doing the acid test for stainless steel.
For this test, you need to use safety goggles and gloves, as well as safety glass.
Select a spot on your stainless steel piece, a spot that you don’t mind damaging slightly.
Fill in an eye dropped with some muriatic acid and then drop a drop of this acid on the selected test spot. Let the acid sit for about 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, wipe off the test spot carefully, and then examine your jewelry piece. If your jewelry gets discolored, then you know that you are certainly dealing with a genuine piece of stainless steel.
- Nitric Acid Test
To differentiate stainless steel from non-stainless steel jewelry, run the nitric acid test. Note, however, that nitric acid is highly reactive and dangerous, which means that you must be very careful around the acid. Get a mask and safety glasses (here is a one available on Amazon) if you choose to run this test at home. Also, don’t inhale those brown fumes and avoid contact with the skin.
Put a drop of concentrated nitric acid on the surface of the jewelry piece in question. Alternatively, you could drop the piece in a nitric acid solution, at room temperature.
If you are dealing with non-stainless steel, you should expect pungent fumes, but if your jewelry piece is made of real stainless steel, there will be no reaction.
After the test, clean your samples thoroughly.
These are some of the reliable tests for stainless steel. Even though you cannot run all these tests, physical tests could help you in identifying the pieces you are dealing with.
For example, if you clean real stainless steel and get rid of any tarnishing, you will be left with a shiny, mirror quality reflection from the piece in question.
See you guys in the next post. Do you have any other questions, please let us know.