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Original or Imitation? Tips For Identifying Authentic Antique Jewelry

Tanzy Ward

When I first started curating antique jewelry, sometimes it would be challenging trying to find authentic antique period era styles. There is nothing wrong with replica styles and paying homage to original pieces, but collectors like myself are in love with actual memory-filled historic jewelry from the past. Of course, there are true vintage jewelry styles that were inspired by earlier times, such as the Victorian-Revival era of the 1970's & 80's. These Victorian-Revival era pieces are at least 30-40 years old, and were designed to resemble jewelry from the original Victorian era (c.1837-1901). As the years and eras go by, older accessories are becoming more rare and sensitive to preservation. It is very exciting for me to discover an original piece from many decades ago that is still in good antique or vintage condition. I often feel like an archaeologist on a treasure hunt, with a mission to help preserve and research history with memory filled jewelry. Antique jewelry is usually 80-100 years old. As time goes on and eras past by, what is considered antique will inevitably change. Therefor, the descriptions and characteristics of what is an 'antique' will broaden as well. Here are a few tips and information I've learned from treasure hunting and researching antique jewelry.

  • Look for t-bar hinges and c-clasp mechanisms on brooches and pins. These types of pins were generally used from the 19th century to the early 20th century. The trombone clasp (shaped like the instrument) was also common in the 19th and early 20th century.  Roll over clasps locking mechanism were created during the Mid-Century Era (c.1950's-1970). Examples include Zanathia's antique and vintage collection of pins/brooches. Often times, the longer the pin is, the older the brooch/pin. 
  • Examine and research the clasps/closures for necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. The common spring ring clasp was introduced in the early 20th century. The lobster claw necklace clasp is the most common modern closure and was not used in antique jewelry. It can be a little more challenging to identify antique and vintage earrings since some of the backings and designs were commonly used in later jewelry periods as well. Some popular antique earring designs include thick thread stud earrings, kidney wires, and non pierced screw-back earrings. The shape and material used in antique jewelry often differ and were modified in modern jewelry eras. This is particularly true for non pierced screw back earrings of the Retro (c.1939-1950) and Mid-Century (c.1950-1970) jewelry periods.
  • Examine the different types of materials and stamping methods commonly used in period jewelry. For an example, carved jet was a popular choice for Victorian era Mourning jewelry. It was first mined in Whitby, England. It is now illegal to mine jet. Art Nouveau jewelry (c.1890-1915) used many semi-precious stones like Amethyst and opals with designs such as butterflies, fairy-like women, and nature-themes. Research the hallmarks or stampings on jewelry. Hallmark and metal purity stampings differs for different countries and regions. For an example, the term 'sterling' was used in the U.S.A after 1870 but was not commonly stamped on antique English jewelry. Prior to 1870, the U.S.A used the 'coin silver' standard (900/1000), which is lower than sterling (925/1000) silver.     

Knowing the different characteristics of antique period jewelry such as the clasp/closure mechanisms, design aesthetic, and materials used are important factors for authentication. Of course, sometimes it can be extremely difficult dating jewelry, but going with my gut instinct and antique knowledge from research has helped me in my treasure hunting journey whenever I am specifically looking for antique styles. I am constantly learning and researching new information, which is important in antique dealing and collecting. 

(Common antique c-clasp with pin extending outward. Edwardian era brooch available at Zanathia)

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