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Original or Imitation? Tips For Identifying Authentic Antique Jewelry

Tanzy Ward

When I first began curating antique jewelry, sometimes it would be challenging trying to authenticate antique period era items from reproduction-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 century old antique piece that is still in good condition. I often feel like an archaeologist on a treasure hunt, with a mission to preserve history with memory filled jewelry. Generally, antique jewelry is usually at least 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, collecting, and researching antique jewelry.

Brooches/Pins

  • Look for trombone hinges, tube hinges, and c-clasps 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 patented in Europe in 1850 and was usually handmade. Both the tube and c-clasp hinge were created in 1850 and were usually handmade. Most Victorian brooches/pins have a c-clasp. 
  • Around 1890, the safety catch was invented to better secure brooches and pins. Early safety catches were handmade. Victorian Era brooches/pins usually have handmade simple catches.
  • Tongue and groove safety catches were invented during the Edwardian Era, around 1910. Most Victorian brooches do not have a tongue and groove catch. However, there are Victorian bracelets that have simple v-spring and box catches that are similar to tongue and groove safety fasteners. Often times, the longer the pin is, the older the brooch/pin. Examine how far the pin extends beyond the catch.However, many antique 19th century pins also can extend the same distance of the catch as well.

(Below is an example of an antique early 1900's Edwardian brooch, the pin extends beyond the catch. Zanathia Jewelry Collection )

Earrings:

  •  Victorian pierced earrings usually had long simple looped wires for pierced ears or threaded posts. Screw-backs for non-pierced earrings were invented during the 1890's, patented in 1894. Hinge wire Victorian earrings were usually associated with European jewelry. The wire would be inserted from the back of the ear and fastened at the front.
  • During the early Art Deco Era, post and clutch earring backings were created (c.1920). 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 vintage jewelry periods as well.

Bracelets/Necklaces:

  • The common spring ring clasp was introduced in the late 1890's. An older rounded spring ring clasp without a thumb knob were common in some older Victorian jewelry.
  • The pin and barrel clasp was common during the Victorian Era.
  • The hook and box clasp was seen on necklaces and bracelets during the early 20th century, circa 1920's.

(Pictured above is an Antique Victorian catalog from S.F Myers & Co (1889). This is a good source for comparing other antique bracelets with a similar or general style. Hinge bracelets we’re common during this era as well.) 

Materials/Manufacturing/Hallmarks:

  • Examine the different types of materials, designs, and stamping methods commonly used in period jewelry.
  • 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. Therefor, usually any natural jet jewelry is an indicator that the piece is a true older antique from the Victorian Era.
  • 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.
  • Hallmark and metal purity stamping varies 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. Most antique jewelry will not have the '925' marking on sterling pieces. If an item was marked sterling then, it would likely say 'Sterling', 'STER', or 'STG'.
  • If a jewelry piece is marked 'Czech' or 'Czechoslovakia', then it is not a 19th century antique. The country of Czechoslovakia was formed following the World War 1 in 1918. Therefor, most antique 'Czech' jewelry were created during the Art Deco Era. 
  • Carat markings differ depending on the country. In Britain, carat is spelled with a 'c', and in the U.S, karat is spelled with a 'k'. This is beneficial to finding the country of origin in antique jewelry if there are no other markings or hallmarks on the piece. 
  • Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, was created in New York, circa 1907. Therefor, any antique Bakelite jewelry cannot be from the 19th century, and is post 1900's.
  • Most stones during the 19th century were hand cut rather then machine-cut. Machine stone cutting was invented during the 1900's. Prior to the 1900's, stones were set by hand, like the rose cut of the Georgian & Victorian Eras.  

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 when I am specifically looking for antique period styles. I am constantly learning and researching new information, which is important in antique dealing and collecting. 

 

 


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