How to Choose a Gold Chain: 8 Expert Tips

A gold chain is one of the most common ways that gold is used in jewelry. However, most people make the mistake of thinking that a gold chain is a simple one-choice item.

Not quite. There’s quite a few things to consider when purchasing a gold chain. They come in a variety of styles and lengths, and it can be quite a challenge to pick the right one for your needs. Here are 8 important things to remember when you are on the hunt for the perfect gold chain.

1. Know the chain types.

There are different types of chains that work for different purposes and personalities. Some chains have a masculine look whereas others are quite feminine. Some are able to withstand daily wear and others are better to hold pendants. Knowing why you’re buying the chain will help you zero in on the right type. Here are the most common types of gold chains available:

  • Bead or Ball Chain: This variety of chains has small round beads of metal that are either spaced at some distance or linked closely together with just a tiny space to allow movement. Ball chains are very popular, especially with dog tags for men. You can choose the thickness of the bead which generally varies between 1mm to 2mm thickness.
ball chain gold
Ball/Bead chain. See it here.
  • Box Chain: This type of chain has square “box” links that are usually worn as a necklace for pendants and around the wrist with watches. The nice thing about box chains is that it is easier to repair than other types of chains. If a “box” breaks, the link can be replaced or the broken chain reattached with the remaining links. Box chains are popular among women and range in size from 0.5 mm to 1.5mm. 
Gold box chain
Box chain. See it here.
  • Cable Chain: This is probably the simplest type of gold chain and looks much like a tiny version of a common iron chain. Simple but elegant, cable chains have identical, uniformly interlocked ovals. This chain is popular for both men and women and ranges in thickness to suit all styles.
Yellow gold cable chain
Cable chain. See it here.
  • Figaro: This is another gender-neutral chain, but a tad fancier than cable chains. Originating in Italy, Figaro is composed of an alternating pattern of flattened links varying in size. Usually, the pattern is 2 or 3 shorter links followed by a longer link. Figaro chains are commonly chosen for necklaces as well as bracelets. 
Yellow gold figaro chain
Figaro chain. See it here.
  • Anchor or Mariner Chain: This chain is composed of interlocking ovals with a bar that runs across the center of each oval. Anchor or mariner chains come in a variety of widths, with thicker sizes common among men. There is a modern version called the puffed mariner which is also very popular these days. 
Yellow gold mariner chain
Mariner/Anchor chain. See it here.
  • Rope Chain: This works like a “supporting” chain in that it is intricately designed to look like a real rope. These are more popular worn with a pendant which is the actual focal point.
Yellow gold rope chain
Rope chain. See it here.
  • Snake Chain: Composed of small rings, either plates or bands, snake chains are knit closely together to form a continuous tube-like appearance that resembles that of a snake’s skin. These are very delicate but very flexible and would complement a pendant well.
Yellow gold snake chain
Snake chain. See it here.
  • Spiga or Wheat Chain: Spiga, meaning wheat, is formed by delicately woven strands of twisted oval links. The chain looks like a soft golden braid. This necklace is very popular with women because of its intricate pattern. It has a delicate, stylish look and can be worn by itself or with a pendant. 
Yellow gold spiga chain
Spiga/Wheat chain. See it here.
  • Singapore Chain: This is one of the most delicate-looking and beautifully designed types of chains. Made of fibers that are braided and twisted together, this is a classic chain known for its durability and strength.
Yellow gold singapore chain
Singapore Chain. See it here.

2. Know the chain’s strength.

If your main purpose for a chain is daily wear, the number one question would be: What is the strongest chain? Out of all the types of chains we mentioned above, the strongest ones are those made of LINKS, such as cable, figaro and anchor. These are the strongest for the following reasons:

  • Each link in the chain is individually soldered for enhanced strength.
  • The chains can be crafted to be thicker, improving durability, all while maintaining the flexibility inherent to a rope chain.
  • Strong chains do not possess a single point of bending, which ensures that they can handle various activities such as bending, twisting, folding, or knotting without breaking.
  • In the unlikely event of a link breaking, the chain’s design allows for easy repairs, either by replacing the broken link or reattaching the remaining links.

You have to remember though that this will only apply to quality metal. Any jewelry made out of substandard material will deteriorate over time regardless of the design. But how to sort the real deal from the not-so-great ones? This brings us to our next question.

3. Solid chains vs. hollow gold chains.

mariners gold chain on grey background
14k Yellow Gold Mariners Chain by Thalassa Jewelry
paper clip chain
Paper Clip Gold Plated Chain by Easy Jewels

There are three main types of material that a gold chain can be made of: Solid gold, gold filled, and gold plated. What are these, you ask? For detailed insight, check out our comprehensive guide to gold. Here is just a brief outline:

  • Solid Gold: Solid gold doesn’t necessarily mean that the chain is made of 100% pure gold (24 karats). It can be 22K, 18K, 14K or 10K. Of these, 18 and 14 karat gold have the best combination of beauty and strength. Higher gold karatage results in a weaker chain while lower karatage results in chains that don’t have the best gold color.
  • Gold Filled: Also called rolled gold, this type of metal is made by bonding sheets of gold onto a base metal, commonly silver. Rolled gold is much less valuable than a solid gold chain but better than a gold plate.
  • Gold Plated: Gold plate is done by submerging the non-gold alloy into molten gold to create the golden coating. This is one of the inferior forms of golden chains in the sense that the only gold material you can find is on the coating of the base metal. It is less costly but it is more temperamental because it needs so much care and maintenance to make its beauty last longer.

What’s a Hollow Gold Chain?

Hollow gold chains have a hollow space inside, somewhat like a tube. The reason for this is to reduce the quantity of gold used in the chain, so they’re more affordable.

For example, a hollow 14K gold chain will still be a gold chain, but with much less gold than in a solid chain. Hollow gold chains are less expensive and lighter but they are much weaker. They can dent, kink, or break easily.

If you have the choice, go for a solid chain as it will last you a very long time and will never lose its value. But if you’re on a budget, a hollow chain gold chain still has more resale value than a solid gold plated or gold filled piece.

4. Hollow gold chains are not fake.

Girl with gold chain and gold ring

This depends on the amount of gold in the chain.

Not all hollow gold chains are fake. Hollow chains refer to how the chains are constructed not what type of material they are made of. As mentioned above, hollow gold chains can still be made out of pure, 24-karat gold or other valuable gold alloys.  And of course, they can be gold-plated.

But are hollow gold chains the best type? Depending on what you use it for, hollow chains are either value for money or wasted investment.

Hollow gold chains are better worn every now and then and do not perform well for daily wear.

5. Evaluate the quality of your gold.

Because gold is a very in-demand metal, there will always be people who will try to fob you off with a fake. The key to outsmarting them is to know your information and not fall for these traps! Here are five easy ways to determine whether a gold chain is real or fake:

1. Hallmark

A hallmark is a tiny engraving on the surface of an item of gold jewelry, usually found in very inconspicuous parts. This indicates the purity and material of the gold chain. Any reputable gold chain manufacturer will include a hallmark on their work.

2. Porcelain Test

One of the easiest ways to initially determine if the material is fake or not is by rubbing it against an unglazed porcelain tile. Inspect the color the chain has been left on the tile. If it is real gold, you should be able to see a golden yellow stain. If it is a fake (usually of pyrite), it will leave a black streak.

3. Magnet

Another easy initial test would be to check if the product is magnetic. There is no such thing as magnetic gold. If your chain is attracted to a magnet, then it means that it has some iron or even nickel in it. While this is a good test, remember that some scammers use non-magnetic metals such as copper, aluminum, and lead.

4. Acid Test

You can do this with nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, or sulphuric acid. Granted, it isn’t always easy to get your hands on these chemicals. But assuming that you do, all you have to do is to drop a very small amount of acid on the body (not the clasps since some scammers would go so far as to make the clasps real just to trick you).

If there is no reaction, there is a good chance that you have the real deal. If there is, then you’ve got either a fake, a gold-plated item, or an item with a very small percentage of gold (and not exactly what the karat hallmark says).

5. Appraisal

This is the surefire way to determine the authenticity of your gold chain. It is somewhat costly to pay for an appraiser and this is best if you are dealing with high-risk purchases.

6. Know the chain thickness you need.

The thickness of a gold chain doesn’t only serve aesthetic purposes. It also has practical uses. Gold chains are produced thick or thin according to how they are used. If you are going to use the chain to hold a pendant, consider the size of the pendant. Make sure the chain is thick enough to be able to hold the weight.

anchor pendant gold
Choose a chain with strength and style for your pendant. See this here.

Some people consider having long hair a major issue when wearing gold chains. This is because smaller, thinner chains can tangle easily, taking your hair with them. To avoid this, it is advisable to wear a chain of medium thickness.

For men who use the chain as a standalone accessory, personality is key. If you are more of a flashy, boisterous type, a thicker chain is good for you. For simpler silent types, a thin chain works well.

7. Pick the length of your chain.

It may sound like a dirty joke, but size does matter. You don’t want to be choked to death by your own jewelry because it’s too short nor deal with a mess of tangles because it’s too long. Chains ranging from 14 to 22 inches are the most common for regular wear.

Shorter chains are good for day and night use and are more comfortable if you plan to wear the chain while you sleep. As an aside, it is not advisable to wear your gold chain when you sleep because it can cause sleep marks on your skin and there is the possibility of damaging the gold by bending or denting it. Another thing you have to avoid with short chains is getting choked. Make room for some movement.

Longer chains are best for outdoor wear and/or parties. They get in the way more than short chains do and therefore are best for special occasions or when you are heading out.

8. Know your style.

Man wearing rope gold chain

You have to know your style in order to choose your chain.

If you like classy and elegant designs, go for a thin, delicate chain. Choose a simple pendant to go with it for a casual, stylishly minimalist look. For a more outgoing person who likes to make a statement, an eye-catching larger chain will work wonders. You can pull it off, so why hold back!

If you would like to know more about gold, check out our comprehensive guide on gold. 

If you’re looking to buy a gold chain, Amazon has an unbeatable range that suits all budgets. You’ll surely you’re your ideal chain here. We also recommend searching on Etsy for stylish, artisanal pieces. Blue Nile also has a select range of high-quality gold jewelry on offer.

Wrapping Up

Buying a gold chain can be a tricky process, with several factors to consider. At the end of the day, deciding on your budget, style, and purpose of the chain will narrow down your choices and help you pick the right one. Hopefully, you found these tips useful in your search for a gold chain.

Related Articles

How to Clean a Gold Chain – A Quick Guide

How to Wear Gold Chains for Men: A Handy Style Guide

Strongest and Weakest Necklace Chains

Choosing Best Chains for Pendants: A Complete Guide

Best Places to Buy Gold Chains Online (Top 9)

Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years in the jewelry niche. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education. She has always been interested in expression through fashion and accessories, and her extensive experience in the field has made her a respected voice in jewelry trends and education. As the chief editor of Jewelry Shopping Guide, she not only leads the content strategy but also shares her insights through engaging articles. Her passion for storytelling is reflected in every piece she curates, exploring the intricate relationship between jewelry and personal identity.

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