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Spotting a fake: Tips from a Pawn Star

Created date

November 30th, 2009

As the owner of the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, Nev., Rick Harrison depends on his ability to spot a fake. Whether he's buying an antique firearm, a 200-year-old map, or a silver tea set, Harrison needs to know that he's laying his money out for a genuine product. During our recent phone interview, the star of the History Channel's Pawn Stars was good enough to give us a glimpse of his world through his eyes and share a few tips on spotting fakes with two items that are favorites among forgers: silverware and Rolex watches. Silverware Silverware is among the most commonly purchased goods in Harrison's pawn shop. "First off, I have to say that just about everyone who comes in here thinks that his grandmother's silver is real, but most of the time, it isn't," says Harrison. "In fact, most of the silver tea pots and utensils that you see out there are actually silver plated that is, a thin layer of silver over copper." So, how can you tell if your silver is genuine? There are a few things to look for. First, there are usually characteristic markings at the bottom of the item. For instance, it might say "sterling," list an abbreviated form of the world as "ster," or show a number value that usually ranges anywhere from 800 to 950 depending on the amount of silver in the item. If your stamp reads 800, that means that the item contains 80% silver. If it reads 950, it contains 95% silver. According to Harrison, most of the silver in the U.S. is sterling, which contains about 92.5% silver. He also notes that, on rare occasions, you might find the marking "coin," which means that your item is made of silver derived from melted coins. Of course, people can fake these markings, too, so the only way to truly tell whether silver is genuine is to use nitric acid, WHICH YOU SHOULD NOT TRY AT HOME. The way professionals like Harrison perform the test is, nevertheless, something worth noting. He starts by making a small mark on the bottom of the item using a file. The objective here is to get below the silver plating to determine just how deep the precious metal runs. Next, he places a small drop of nitric acid over the file mark. When the acid makes contact with genuine silver, it will turn a creamy white color. If the item is only silver plated, however, the acid will turn creamy white around the file mark and green inside it. Rolex Watches The first thing to remember about a genuine Rolex, according to Harrison, is that there should be nothing wrong with it. Everything on it is perfect. You won't find distorted hands and dials or smudged serial numbers. If something isn't right when the watch comes off the assembly line, Rolex discards it. Next, if your Rolex is genuine, you should be able to put it under water without experiencing any fogging or other damage related to water getting inside the watch. A fake Rolex, on the other hand, will usually leak. Third, you will never come across a stainless steel Rolex with the day and date on the face. You will only find ' those features on the 18 ct. gold and platinum models. Furthermore, the little magnifying glass that you commonly find above the date is called the "cyclops." On a Rolex, this device will provide a magnification of two and a half times. On a fake, it will only be about one and half times. You should have no trouble seeing the date on a genuine Rolex. On a fake, it's more difficult. Finally, it's a belief among many that all Rolex watches have a sweeping hand, and that if you have a second hand that ticks rather than sweeps, you're holding a fake. Harrison stresses that this is not true. Rolex makes both, so don't use that as a way of spotting a fake. "There are new fakes of everything that comes out, and I mean everything," says Harrison. "I've been doing this for decades, and I still get burned every once in a while. In this business, you can't be too careful, and having a few tips like these in your pocket can really go a long way."