How to identify Antique or Vintage Jewelry
If you are interested in older (vintage) or antique jewelry, an important issue you have is how to identify antique or vintage jewelry. After all, just because someone tell you it’s antique or vintage, doesn’t make it so. You need to know how to look for tell-tale signs that the piece is actually what they say.
Here are five ways about how to identify antique or vintage jewelry:
- Look at the findings and fittings on earrings
- Identify the findings and fittings on brooches
- Identify the material
- Use color to guess the time period
- Check out the marks and hallmarks
We will discuss each point below.
1: Fittings and Findings for Earrings
The invention of different earring findings will help date your jewelry. Jewelry findings are ready made pieces that jewelers use such as clasps, pin stems, hinges, etc. Fittings refer to the parts that can be custom-made for a piece.
The drawing below shows the styles when they were introduced into the market. In order of date, the styles are named as follows: shepherd hook, image two is not named, kidney wire, screw-back (pierced), lever back, screw-back, post & butterfly, spring clip, and omega back.
Drawing by Karen Malzeke-McDonald
2: Fittings and Findings for Brooches
Drawing by Karen Malzeke-McDonald
Most answers to understanding jewelry can be found by looking on the backs or undersides. Brooches have evolved over one hundred years, and the backs provide much of the information we need to date the piece. Again, the drawing above shows the different types of clasps used on brooches or pins with the approximate date as to when they first appeared.
Sometimes you will notice lumpy solder on the backside of a brooch. This can mean it was altered or repaired. It doesn’t mean it’s not an older piece, but it could be a newer piece altered to appear like a vintage or antique brooch.
Now onto a popular material, black jewelry.
3: How to Identify the Materials of Black Jewelry
Black jewelry can be found in abundance at flea markets, estate sales, and antique stores. Identifying what the black material is can make a big difference in determining when it was made and how much it could be worth. Black jewelry most likely made of one of the following: plastic, glass, stone, jet, gutta-percha, crepe stone, bog oak, and bakelite. There are ways for you to test each one of these materials to determine what it is.
- Plastic is the most obvious of all materials to decipher. Plastic is very lightweight and you can tap it on your tooth to hear a “click” sound. Use your loupe to look for a mold line. A mold line will go all around the piece splitting in two.
- Glass will be heavier and reflects light. Holding it in your hand will warm up the material.
- Stone would remain cold if you held it in your hand.
- Jet is as light as plastic, and hard and coal-like in material.
And there are more ways to test:
- Gutta-percha can also be black. It is made from the sap of a Malayan tree. It was used primarily in the Victorian Era. Running this material under hot water will cause it to emit a strong burnt rubber smell.
- Crepe stone is another black material and is made of glass. It was introduced in 1883 by the Fowler brothers in Providence, Rhode Island. It was called English Crepe Stone and has a very distinctive look.
- Bog oak is also another black material that is very easy to identify because it is oak wood that has been preserved in the bogs of Ireland. This jewelry is visually identifiable because of the Irish motifs.
- Bakelite can be made black, but not all Bakelite is black. A good test for Bakelite is to put 409 bathroom cleaner on a cotton swab and touch a small hidden area. If the cotton swab is yellow after touching the surface of the tested piece then it is Bakelite.
4: Using Color to Date Your Jewelry
The use of color gemstones and enamel correlates to architecture and decorative art of the times. For example, color in the Renaissance was almost gaudy, while the use of color during the Victorian Era was somber because the death of Prince Albert caused Queen Victoria to declare an extended period of mourning. After the Victorian Era, the period of Art Nouveau utilized soft and delicate colors with rich gold and silver metals. This was short-lived as the Art Deco era moved to the forefront with its use of bolder colors and geometric designs. A devil-may-care attitude influenced the look.
Color palettes dominated different time periods throughout history. Knowing which color gemstones were predominant at certain times in history goes a long way in helping to date a piece of jewelry.
5: Marks and Hallmarks
Hallmarks and markings are an important clue to help date a piece of jewelry. Most often these marks are hidden on the inside of a shank on a ring, the inside of a bracelet, or on the inside back of an earring. Using your loupe, you will often find some kind of mark identifying the jeweler, designer, retailer, or manufacturer. If you bring this to a jeweler, they may be able to date the piece based on the marks.
These marks can also make a tremendous difference on the value and collectability of the jewelry. Remember that the value is not always about the intrinsic value. The trademark can also provide information about when and where a piece was made.
Resources to show you how to identify vintage or antique jewelry
Good sources for this information can be found at: Researching Costume Jewelry History and the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers’ Marks Plus this article appeared in Hobbylark.com By: Karen Malzeke-McDonlad, October 18, 2016. We borrowed it, with edits, so that you might learn from their thorough piece.
Of course, if you purchase antique or vintage jewelry from Regency Jewelry, you can rest assured we have done the research for you. You can trust it is antique or vintage if that’s what we tell you. Come in to our showroom to see our collection of beautiful antique and vintage jewelry and giftware. Our address, phone number, email and store hours can be found here. Can’t do that right now? Check out our antique and vintage jewelry on our website