Fool’s Gold Vs Real Gold: What Is the Difference


Gold is one of the most highly-desired and useful metals in the world. Not only can it be beautifully shaped and sculpted, the precious yellow metal conducts electricity and does not tarnish. These qualities make it the metal of choice for the industrial, medical and technology industries, just to name a few. 

Nonetheless, the primary concern is whether or not you have genuine gold or fool’s gold. If you are the one who likes gold, you probably want to know the primary differences between fool’s gold vs real gold. We prepared a short guide for you, explaining what fool’s gold is and how to tell it apart from the real thing.

What Is Fool’s Gold?

“Fool’s gold” is a common nickname for pyrite. Pyrite received that nickname because it is worth virtually nothing, but has an appearance that “fools” people into believing that it is gold. With a little practice, there are many easy tests that anyone can use to quickly tell the difference between pyrite and gold. 

To be precise, pyrite is not the only mineral associated with fool’s gold, but it is the most common. Other minerals, such as chalcopyrite and biotite mica, also have a close resemblance to gold, but people encounter them less often.

Origins of the Fool’s Gold Saying

Many believe that this term appeared for the first time among miners and gold prospectors during the Gold Rush. In such a case, the most likely reason for this name was that someone felt stupid after trying to sell pyrite they mistakenly considered real gold. However, it is more likely that the term was older and actually dated back to numerous expeditions to the New World organized to search for gold.

It is believed that Queen Elizabeth’s expeditions were the first ones to bring pyrite ores to Europe. Many inexperienced miners believed that they hit the mother lode upon finding a cache of iron pyrite. Ever since the saying “fool’s gold” has been a part of the English language, used to describe something shiny, flashy, or greatly-desired but has no real value. The saying fool’s gold went mainstream during the famous gold rushes in the USA, where plenty of prospectors saw their dreams of fortune disappear by running into pyrite.

Separating Fool’s Gold Vs Real Gold

Up to this point, it is evident that real gold is distinct from fool’s gold. How then can you certify real gold from fool’s gold?

There are standard tests that can be carried out by inexperienced people. These tests will also produce successful, reliable results. It is advised that you obtain a couple of pieces of both pyrite and gold for a valuable experience. While conducting the tests, you should keep in mind that all gold pieces are valuable, regardless of the size.

For real gold, the premium value can be destroyed by some of the tests that are explained below. Thus, it is crucial to know the difference between destructive tests and non-destructive tests for fools’ gold vs real gold.

Non-destructive Tests

  1. Tarnish: Tarnish, or patina is a thin layer of corrosion that forms on some metals and minerals. It is usually a different color from the original mineral or metal and acts as a protective layer for the metal or mineral from outside elements.

Pyrite, in the majority of cases, comes with tarnish on the surface of the mineral. On the other hand, gold nuggets do not have tarnish and are quite bright, a defining characteristic of gold and one of the primary reasons why jewelry and decorations are made with gold.

  1. Color: In general, the color of both pyrite and gold is yellow. The difference is that pyrite has a brassy yellow while gold is bright to golden yellow. The majority of gold found in nature is alloyed with silver; when the ratio of silver to gold is high, then the combination will show a whitish-yellow hue.
  2. Shape: Pyrite is usually found as angular pieces, and many of them exhibit the faces of a cube, octahedron, or pyritohedron. Most gold particles found in streams have slightly rounded edges, but be careful – some crystalline gold specimens can display a crystal habit that is similar to pyrite.
  3. Striations: Striations are fine parallel lines only found on the face of pyrite, lines gold never has. Always give it a thorough examination, as tools and equipment for digging gold can often leave striation-like lines on the gold pieces.
  4. Specific Gravity: Specific Gravity of an object is the object’s weight divided by the object’s volume. Gold and pyrite have significantly different specific gravities. Gold is much more “dense” than pyrite, having a specific gravity of 19.1, and pyrite has a specific gravity of around 5. When comparing pieces of fools’ gold vs real gold of similar sizes, the gold piece should be much heavier.

However, gold often comes in alloys. Some of the metals that gold forms alloys with often have a similar specific gravity to pyrite. In those situations, alloys with low gold content can have a similar specific gravity to pyrite. Still, alloys with significant gold content will always weigh more than pyrite.

Destructive Tests

  1. Hardness: As per the Mohs test, gold records a hardness of 2.5 while pyrite records a 6 to 6.5. When scratched with copper, with a Mohs hardness of 3, pyrite scratches, but gold does not. 
  2. Streak: According to the streak test, a yellow streak identifies gold metal while a greenish-black streak identifies pyrite.
  3. Ductility: Gold is very ductile, and a tiny piece of gold will bend or dent with pressure from a pin or a pointed piece of wood. Tiny pieces of pyrite will break or resist the pressure.
  4. Sectility: Small particles of gold can be cut with a sharp pocket knife. Small particles of pyrite cannot be cut.


Pyrite is not the only mineral that can fool you! Other minerals include Chalcopyrite and biotite mica. With a look that is similar to gold, pyrite is widely known as fool’s gold. It deserved its nickname because many people who have found it believed they had found gold.
Unfortunately, pyrite is worth practically nothing, so you should see a way to distinguish between fools’ gold vs real gold using some simple tests before making a decision.


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