A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of shopping with a friend at the sprawling Ontario Antiques Mall in Farmington, NY outside of Canandaigua.
I love this place. You can literally get lost in row upon row of treasures, with a lot of finds in the field of my favorite treasure hunt: costume jewelry.
When browsing the cases, I saw a thick, rich-looking bracelet. From behind the case, it looked maybe like sterling, or maybe gold tone. I took a picture of the case number, and of the bracelet, and when a customer service rep brought me back to the case, I appreciated the weight of the piece. It was indeed gold tone, and the price was compelling – $45.
It also had a mark.
When checking out, I borrowed a loop, and studied the hallmark. I offered it back to the woman ringing me up. “Can you read that?”
“18K,” she reports.
The seller’s tag honestly said “gold-plated” but I was taking no chances.
I bought the bracelet.
For the next hour, I thought I was $5,000 richer. I measured the weight in my hand. I googled the price of gold per ounce. I reduced my profit based on a melt value minus a generous 25% cut for my local jeweler.
Then I discovered the truth. This was fake gold, aka Autobahn gold.
Read about legitimate “Fool’s Gold” and Marcasite jewelry.
Or read about the Art Deco era fake gold Oréum, advertised as a replacement for real gold.
What is Autobahn gold?
Autobahn gold is fake gold made to look like real gold. The weight and color is manufactured to give all the appearances of authentic gold, with the intent to defraud a buyer. Autobahn gold often includes fraudulent markings, including Karat hallmarks like ’18K’.
Autobahn gold got its name from con artists on the Autobahn who, in an effort to cheat unsuspecting travelers and tourists, feign a need for money due to a flat tire, being out of gas, or a minor accident. They offer to exchange their gold Rolex for a few hundred Euro.
“A steal! I wish I didn’t have to do this,” they’ll tell you. “But I need the money to get out of this jam.”
Even London-based gold news market Bullionvault reports on the widespread nature of Autobahn gold hucksters.
In the United States, this is called Gas Station Gold, according to the jeweler who confirmed my new $45 bracelet was fake. Apparently, the same thing happens in the US.
How to tell Autobahn gold from real gold
Because makers will hallmark fake gold with a fraudulent Karat mark, and the heft of Autobahn gold mimics the weight of gold by design, even certified and experienced jewelers have trouble at first glance telling the difference.
Here are a few tips for telling the difference between Autobahn gold and real gold when an opportunity for gold feels too good to be true:
- With real gold, there’s no silver tone. One thing to look for when telling the difference is the slight silver tone to the gold. This is what had confused me upon first look in the case. Is it gold or silver? You don’t have to ask with real gold.
- If the gold is wearing off, it’s not real gold. Autobahn gold shows signs of wear, where the gold tone finish rubs off to reveal silver base metal beneath, usually on the underside or around the clasp, where the metal rubs against skin most often. This is another reason why the bracelet appeared to me silver tone.
- Autobahn gold will not pass chemical or electronic tests for real gold. Although my local jeweler was as excited as I was at first, as soon as he pulled out his professional electronic gold tester, he knew the truth.
Want to buy a fake gold bracelet? Contact me! 🙂