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Quick ID guide to different types of cameo .. Part 1: Plastic cameos

I’ve recently had a couple of emails from readers asking for help in identifying what their cameos are made from, so it’s given me an idea to do some blog posts on the different type of cameo available.

Let’s start with the cheapest type of cameo – one’s made from plastic resin. Generally costing between £2 and £15, they are perfect for everyday wear, and many are beautifully detailed.

Tips to identify:

  • Plastic cameos tend to feel slightly dense and heavy, and make a dull sound when gently tapped on the teeth.
  • Hold a piece of shell or smooth glass/ pebble in your hand – it’s feels cold. Now, hold a plastic cameo – it will feel warmer and softer in comparison (this is a great tip for identifying plastic beads too).
  • Stand in front of a window, and with the front of the cameo facing the window (so you are looking at the back of it), a hold a plastic cameo up to the light – it’ll be quite dense and opaque, where as shell cameos would still be detailed and quite transparent.

 

Here are some pictures of plastic cameos I’ve had, with further identification details:

 

vintage art deco plastic cameo clip on earrings

Vintage art deco circa 1930s clip on plastic cameos earrings. Note the glue marks around the face, where the white ‘face’ of the cameo has been glued onto a red background (real cameos are carved complete from one shell or hard stone). These plastic earrings have had a lot of thought put into them, as each face is slightly different, as would be the case with real shell cameos.

 

vintage 1970s plastic cameo brooch jewelry

Vintage circa 1970s plastic cameo brooch. There was a big art nouveau and deco revival in both the 1960s and 70s, and many pieces I have seen advertised for sale as genuine art deco often date from this much later period. The technique for this brooch cameo is the same as the above earrings – a separate plastic molded white figure glued to maroon background.

 

Art deco plastic resin cameo vintage brooch 1930s costume jewelry Adam and Eve

An old art deco superb quality molded plastic cameo brooch, depicting Adam and Eve from the Old Testament Bible. This stunning piece dates from around the 1930s, and was completely molded in a cream piece of plastic as one piece, with a darker beige ‘background’ painted on after the molding took place.

 

Plastic kitsch cameo girl pendant charm jewellery

Probably the most famous and well known type of cameo is this plastic side-facing pony-tail lady, first seen around the 1980s and still being mass-produce made today. Quick ID tip! Plastic cameos tend to be glued into their metal frame setting, as you can see with this one (it has a slight gap around the edges where it doesn’t sit flush to the setting. Real shell cameos tend to be flush-bezel set or prong set into the frame, with no gaps.

 

Vintage art deco plastic resin cameo brooch

A well detailed vintage art deco circa 1930s cameo brooch, made from one piece of cream molded plastic, with darker orange painted background and metal filigree detail.. Old art deco plastic cameos can be well detailed – plastic was a new and exotic material to work in, and I have a feeling the complexity of some these deco cameos may have reflected perhaps a desirability of this new ‘plastic’ material at that time.

Vintage circa 1950s plastic costume jewellery cameo brooch

I purchased this cameo brooch as a gamble a few years ago, from an online auction site, hoping it was real shell. It wasn’t – but instead was a lovely quality plastic cameo, nicely bezel set (the type of metal and brooch back dating it to circa 1950s)

 

Vintage 1980s plastic resin cameo costume jewellery brooch dancing people

Beautiful quality circa 1970s plastic cameo brooch. I’ve come across a few of this type (ie, intricately detailed romantic scenes) and they are so realistic they could be mistaken for real cameos. However, on close inspection you can see they are molded; they also are quite heavy, are not very see-through when held to the light, feel warm to the touch compared with glass or stone, and make a dull muffled cluck sound when gently tapped on the front teeth (where as shell/ gemstone will make a high pitched sharp ‘clink’ sound).

 

 

 

Further reading:

Five tips on how to date vintage brooches – with photos to help!

A beginners guide to cameo jewellery (there are pictures of two very good quality plastic cameos in this article).

 

 

 

Vintage marcasite jewellery

If you want sparkle, but prefer an understated look, then marcasite gemstone jewellery may be perfect for you.  These semi-precious stones are a type of mineral, which range in colour from silver-yellow to bright white silver. When faceted and set into jewellery, they create a subtle sparkling effect, rather than a full on glitz – perfect for adding a hint of shimmer.

Close up of loose marcasite gemstones

Above, a varied selection of vintage marcasites, harvested from old broken jewellery. Notice how some are flat-backed (near the back), and some are the traditional ‘diamond’ shape, depending on the setting of the jewellery they came from. Marcasites generally vary in size from approx 0.5mm to 1.5mm. They are seriously tiny!

marcasite gemstones size close up next to finger

Marcasites next to my pinky finger!

vintage marcasite pave sterling silver ring jewelry

Marcasites can be set into all types of jewellery, and were a popular gemstone to be used in art deco rings.

vintage marcasite swirl silver tone bridal wedding necklace jewellery

Marcasite necklaces have been worn since the 19th Century, and are still hugely popular today. This vintage beauty dates from around the 1960s.

vintage marcasite swirl silver necklace jewelry

The above marcasite necklace when worn

vintage marcasite bow silver brooch jewellery

Marcasites can sometimes develope a yellow/ brown colour over time, as seen in this adorable vintage circa 1970s bow brooch – this is simply age and nothing to worry about 🙂

vintage silver marcasite carved shell cameo brooch jewellery

Had normal glitzy glass paste rhinestones been used to frame this lovely carved shell cameo, they would have detracted from its beauty. Marcasites however, are perfect for giving a crisp finish without over awing the jewellery itself.

vintage cold painted enamel marcasite flower basket brooch jewellery

Flower basket brooches were hugely popular in the 1950s – some were plain or set with rhinestones, while others were encrusted with diamonds and coloured gemstones (depending on your budget!). Marcasites are the happy medium between costume jewellery and fine jewellery, and suit most budgets.

vintage 1950s cold painted enamel marcasite flower silver brooch jewelry

This outstanding marcasite flower brooch has been ‘cold painted’ with enamel (ie, using a paintbrush and enamel paint, rather than more complex true vitreous enamel work which involves firing powdered glass in an oven). Cold painted marcasite enamel jewellery was popular during the 1950s to 1970s, and on a personal note, is one of my all time favourite types of vintage jewellery – it transcends ‘accessory’ and becomes ‘art’.

vintage 60s marcasite collar necklace leaf wedding bridal jewellery

Vintage circa 1960s marcasite and silver tone leaf necklace

vintage marcasite clip on earrings swallow bird silver jewelry

These marcasite bird clip on earrings look like they could have been made recently – but they actually date from the 1950s. Cuteness never goes out of style 🙂

vintage 1970s cultured freshwater pearl marcasite swirl circle brooch jewelry

While a couple of stones missing from vintage marcasite jewellery is quite normal, any more and I consider it damaged and in need of repair (with prices to reflect this.

repairing marcasite stone jewellery

Repairing marcasite jewellery yourself is tricky, but can be done with a steady hand and the right tools. Firstly, you need a good stock of marcasites harvested from other broken jewellery (or buy some online). Match up the sizes to the rest of the marcasites in the jewellery you wish to repair. Next, get yourself some proper ‘jewellery cement’ such as “GS Hypo Cement” – it’s a strong clear specialist jewelry glue that has a super fine nozzle – perfect for tricky work (never use superglue – it dissolves marcasites, as I found to my horror many years ago at my first attempt at marcasite fixing!). Put a tiny dab of cement in the hole you which to place the stone in, and then pick up the marcasite by pressing your finger on it – the natural moisture on your finger will temporarily hold it on. Finally, place it in the hole, and adjust with a pin if needed. This is tricky work, and it may take a few attempts before you get it right.

vintage 1960s marcasite gold tone maltese cross teardrop pendant necklace jewelry

An unusual vintage circa 1960s Maltese cross pendant – gold tone, but set with silver colour marcasites

vintage 60s faux marcasite horse pony eloxal brooch silver jewellery

Spotting faux marcasite jewellery can be hard work, especially because modern real marcasite jewellery can look very similar to vintage faux marcasite jewellery! A good giveaway is the weight – vintage faux-marcasite jewellery, as seen in this cute pony brooch, was made from a metal called Eloxal (a type of aluminium) which was very light in weight – almost weightless! (Vintage Eloxal jewellery was usually made in West Germany and occasionally East Asia, and was popular during the 1960 and 70s because it never tarnished or discoloured). Grab a magnifying glass and have a good look at the stones – if they appear too ‘perfect’ and flush set, it could be faux marcasites (real marcasites are a pain to set straight, and are often even purposely set slightly crooked to give better sparkle and depth to the whole piece of jewelry).

vintage 1960s faux marcasite eloxal panel bracelet chunky jewellery silver celtic knot pattern

A beautiful Celtic inspired vintage circa 1970s faux marcasite panel Eloxal metal bracelet. Two give-aways in identifying the jewellery was its weight (almost weightless when held – a signature of vintage Eloxal metal), and the uniform shape and settings of the ‘stones’. Vintage Eloxal jewellery is a collectable in its own right, and I absolutely love this bracelet!

Info guide to cameo jewellery

Antique victorian carved shell cameo brooch jewelry

Cameo Lovin’

Cameos have been treasured throughout the ages. They are made from hand carved shell, agate, marble, coral and precious gemstones, and even made from volcano lava.


Early Cameo History

It’s generally thought that cameos originated in the Middle Eastern regions over 2000 years ago. They wouldn’t have been used for the decorative purposes we love them for today – cameos were statement objects. They might depict the portrait of the King or Ruler of the time (therefore showing political allegiance of the wearer), or show a religious icon. Cameos were also used as amulets and charms to guard against evil spirits and promote good luck. The main materials used in the making of ancient cameos were precious gemstones and hard-stones such as marble and agates – back then, shell cameos were considered inferior imitations only to be worn by the poor.

Vintage carved agate hardstone cameo ring antique jewelry

Vintage carved agate hardstone cameo ring

 



The Cameo Jewellery Golden Era


Although cameos have been esteemed throughout history (Queen Elizabeth I and Napoleon Bonaparte were famously both avid collectors), the heyday of cameo jewellery was between the 18th and 19th Century. They were loved in royal circles and the aristocracy around Europe, who at the time dictated the fashions trends of the time. This period was also the time of the famous Grand Tours,  where the wealthy members of high society would travel extensively around Europe, soaking up new cultures. Italy was an especially popular destination due to its prestigious history in arts and culture. Most of the finest cameos came from there, and were often bought as souvenirs, or sent back home as a gift for loved ones.


Modern Cameo Jewellery


By the mid 20th Century the cameos’ popularity was ending. Though they were still being produced, the quality of the carving in many pieces became poor, with figures and portraits being much cruder than their life-like predecessors of the Georgian and Victorian period.

 

ABOVE: Two cameos. The left one dates from the 19th Century Victorian period, while the one on the right is from the 1990s. Note the difference in quality, with the older cameo benefiting from far superior carving.

 

The cameo is once again seeing a new lease of life. The 21st Century is bringing new state of the art techniques to the craft, such as laser and ultrasonic stone carvings; portraits of pets and loved ones are notable growing areas. These new cameo artisans use lasers to carve the stone while working from emailed photographs, to create a perfect likeness. It seems no matter what happens throughout history, the art of the cameo survives, adapts and flourishes.

How Cameos Are Made


A cameo is carved from one piece of shell or stone such as agate. Shells and stones are naturally layered in colour, for example, the underside may be dark brown, whilst the top may be white in colour. A cameo-carver artisan, due to their years of training, knows how to carve the shell or stone, so that the “white” part is the picture (eg, a lady), and the background is the dark part of the shell or stone. If you do a search for cameo carving on youtube, you’ll see some good videos of this.

Cameo carving is a highly skilled craft, which involves a long apprenticeship and a complete understanding of the materials being used. The basic theory behind both hard stone and shell carving is that the artist develops a deep knowledge of how best to cut and shape a material, so the different coloured layers of shell or stone can be carved and manipulated to their best advantage. For example, a piece of agate may have three layers of colour (eg brown at the bottom, white in the centre, and black at the top). The artisans use their knowledge to take advantage of the layers, leaving the brown as a flat base, the white above this is carved as the portrait, and the black above that is carved into hair. This gives the lifelike 3-D appearance of the fine cameos we see.


‘Fake’ or reproduciton cameos jewellery


As with all fine jewellery, you’ll always find fakes and costume jewellery copies. While most people are honest in describing their cameos, you will occasionally come across people trying to pass on costume jewellery copies as a real carved cameo.  Reproduction cameos are made from plastic or glass. The most common plastic cameo depicts a side portrait of a young lady with her long hair tied in a ponytail – this is the cameo portrait you see in all the high street shops.


Plastic cameos

There are also some beautifully detailed plastic cameos depicting mythology on the market, usually dating from around the 1960s, which to a beginner may look real. Plastic cameos feel warm and slightly soft, not hard and ‘clinky’ like shell. The background can also give you clues – the colour is often a little too bright or pink in plastics. Tap a cameo gently on your front teeth if unsure – plastic cameos feel warm and make a slightly ‘dull’ thud sound, while shell and agate are hard, cold and make a lighter ‘clink’. Finally, you could always try a hot pin test (though this could damage the jewellery and its price, so it’s not recommended). Take a very hot sewing pin (hold it with pliers) and touch the cameo with it in an inconspicuous place. Most plastics will melt, while glass, agate or shell won’t.

ABOVE: Two good quality plastic cameo brooches. Note the unrealistic background colour on the left one, and the molded look of the right one.



Glass cameos

Glass cameos tend to be either one uniform colour such as cream, black or turquoise, or two contrasting colours (eg black background and a glued on opaque white portrait). Glass is cold to touch (like stone), but the quality is not there. They often look quite molded with little true detail, and sometimes have dyed areas especially around the hair that imitate ‘dirt’. Glass and plastic cameos tend to be thicker and chunkier than agate, while shell cameos are very thin. Occasionally agate cameos can be ‘faked’, with a carved agate portrait being glued to a different agate background (this is called a cameo doublet). A good magnifying glass can help you spot this



Collecting plastic or glass cameos is a fun hobby in its own right – many of them are beautiful to look at and are durable enough to worn everyday. The problem begins when people try to pass them on as real.


Cameo Themes, Valuation and Starting a Cameo Collection


Putting a value to cameos can be daunting if you’re new to the subject. Many factors have to be taken into account, including materials used (eg shell, volcanic lava or gemstones), quality of the carving, and if subject matter is rare or not. A big factor is also condition. Hold a shell cameo up to the light and you may see lines and cracks. This is not desirable, and any damage to a cameo can affect its value (unless the subject matter is rare or sought after).  Some cameos are set into solid gold or silver, though confusingly if the carving quality of a gold set cameo is poor, then it’s often not worth as much as a highly detailed top quality carved cameo in plain base metal.


Portrait Cameos

Most cameos are portraits. Right facing is most common, then left facing after that, and very occasionally you may see a forward facing portrait.



Mythological Cameos
Cameos depicting scenes from Roman mythology were made up until the early 1900s, and are always highly sought after. Popular themes are:


1.The Three Graces ( three dancing women side by side)

2. Hebe and Zeus ( a swan swooping down from the sky towards a lady)

3. Diana the Moon Goddess ( has a moon crescent in her hair)

4. Bacchus the God of Wine/ Intoxication (has grapes in the hair)

5. Athena/ Minerva Goddess of Wisdom, Warriors and the Arts (female warrior with helmet)

6. Peace- Psyche & the Dove (beautiful woman with dove bird)

7. Poseidon/ Neptune (holds a pronged trident)

8. St George and the Dragon

9. Apollo (laurel wreath in his hair)

10. Venus and Cupid (Venus is always a beautiful lady, sometimes playing a harp and if you see a small winged cherub it’s Cupid).

antique cameo brooch hebe zeus shell mourning victorian jewelry

ABOVE: A Victorian cameo depicting Hebe and Zeus (as an eagle). Note the fine quality carving of the brooch. Unfortunately, this one has a crack down one side, which in most cases severely affect the price. However, this cameo was quite special; it had a secret glass compartment at the back which could hold a keepsake – almost unheard of in cameo jewellery.



Other subjects in cameo jewellery.


Cameos of flowers are popular when beginning a collection as they can still be purchased quite cheaply. Occasionally you’ll find cameos depicting rural farm scenes, or animals such as horses. These were often private commissions, and can be highly detailed. Value depends on the theme and quality, and will usually in the same price region as the mythology cameos.

 

Georgian tiny carved shell cameo brooch lake antique jewellery Vintage carved shell cameo brooch rural peeping tom jewellery gold

ABOVE: Two rural scene cameos. The one on the left is tiny (less than an inch), and dates from the Georgian period. The right one is from the 20th Century, and shows a cheeky peeping tom boy looking at a girl bathing in the river.



Dating Cameos


Nothing beats personal experience when it comes to learning how to date a cameo. Go to antiques fairs and vintage jewellery shops and handle as many as possible. Get a feel for them – look at the metal settings, quality of carving and subject matter. Some guidelines below may help:


1. Look at the clasp. This is always a good indication of age. ‘Roll over clasps’ are modern, and won’t really be seen on pre 1920s jewellery. A plain ‘c-clasp’ (ie the brooch pin loops under a c shaped piece of metal with no ‘roll over’ fitting) are a good indication of a possible old/ antique brooch.The pin is a giveaway too. Pre 1920s pins were set in a T-shape.

2. What is the subject? Mythology shell cameos usually date from the 18th Century to the very early 20th Century. Portraits can give hints of age too, and here I’m going to share with you a dealers secret! Look at the persons nose. A strong ‘Roman’ nose indicates pre 1860s. Straighter noses are Victorian, while tiny pert noses are contemporary 20th/ 21st Century. Chunky rounded ladies are generally Victorian in origin Cameos made from Whitby Jet or lava are usually Georgian or Victorian.


Modern vintage (ie after the 1930s) cameos are usually portraits of pretty young dainty ladies, with flowers on their hair. Some cameos wear necklaces which are set with sparking stones such as diamonds. These are known as habille cameos.

 

Modern laser cut agate cameos are easy to identify, having a vivid background colour (usualluy blue or pink) and white portrait . The portraits are incredibly detailed – often too detailed! Hair is let loose and swirly, and the whole cameo has a wispy, almost Art Nouveau dreamy feel. This type of cameo also can feel slightly ‘gritty’ when gently rubbed across your teeth, whereas the old agate cameos feel much smoother like glass.


Caring For Your Cameo Jewellery


Shell cameos need a little TLC once a year. Simply wash them gently in weak soapy water and dry thoroughly. Rub a little mineral oil all over front and back and leave to soak in for a couple of hours, after which you can wipe away all the access. By treating (called feeding) the cameo in this way once a year you are protecting it from drying out and cracking, preserving it for future generations to enjoy and admire.

Tests for identifying jewellery materials, from Amber to Whitby Jet

Buying and collecting vintage jewellery can be so addictive once you get started, so it pays to make sure what you’ve bought is the genuine article.  Here are some tricks of the trade to help you get started!  Though these tests aren’t 100% conclusive, they can guide you in the right direction when investigating what a material is.  

***WARNING: The tests marked ‘invasive’ are here for historical information only – do not use them – they can seriously damage jewellery. ***

Tests for antique mourning jewellery materials such as Whitby Jet can be found at the very bottom of the page.

How to test amber gemstones jewelry real fake tips

Testing amber

AMBER

Amber is fossilized tree resin which is millions of years old.  It can come in a variety of colours, from light yellow and green to dark brown-red and even rare glowing blue amber from the Dominican Republic.  One of the first items used to make jewellery thousands of years ago, Amber has captivated us ever since. Unfortunately fake amber and the real thing can feel and look the exactly same, and your best bet is to get it tested by a proper expert, such as a long time amber collector (online gemology/ mineral forums are a good place to find some), registered auctioneers or fully qualified gemologist.

Test 1: There’s a lot of fake amber around the internet at the moment.  The safest and least invasive test is the static test.  Rub the amber vigorously against wool for a few seconds, then place next to a piece of paper, or a strand of hair.  Real amber creates static electricity, and should gently pull the paper or hair towards it.

Test 2: Genuine amber usually floats in sea water, so try the salt water test (only works on amber without settings ie plain loose pieces or beads).  Mix about 20-25 grams of salt into 200ml of water until it’s dissolved.  Real amber generally floats, imitations tend to sink to the bottom.

Test 3: Invasive:  The acetone test (try some brands of nail polish remover).   Put some acetone on a tiny bit of cotton wool and rub it in an tiny inconspicuous area of the amber – acetone should not affect it. Copal or some plastics become slightly tacky.  This test can massively decrease the value of you copal or plastic jewellery.

Test 4: Invasive: Hot needle test.  Heat a fine sewing needle and gently pierce the amber with it (in an inconspicuous place so it will not be seen).  Plastics will emit a chemical smell, amber will emit a sooty pine smell, with white smoke.This test can massively decrease the value of you amber jewellery.

Some amber will glow gently under UV light – but this isn’t a good test, as some plastic fake amber glows under UV light too.

How to test coral gemstones jewelry real fake tips

Coral

CORAL

This organic material comes in a variety of colours, though mainly red and sought after salmon pink.  It can be carved into cameos or polished into beads, and has a long and distinguished history in jewellery. It was poular in Victorian jewellery as it was thought to ward off illness and disease.  Coral is still popular today, and good quality vintage coral jewellery always demands a high price. 

 Test 1:  You’ll need a good jewellers loupe.  Inspect the coral closely with the loupe – it should have tiny ‘grains’ to it, similar to a grain of wood.

Test 2: Invasive: Take some lemon juice and a good magnifying glass/ jewellers loupe for this.  In an inconspicuous place, place a tiny pin-head sized drop of lemon juice on the coral.  Look at the area with a magnifying glass – tiny little bubbles should start to form from the coral if it is genuine.  Thoroughly wash the item immediately after it happens to remove all traces of lemon juice – if you don’t this test will completely ruin the coral.  This test can massively decrease the value of you coral jewellery.

How to test diamond gemstones jewelry real fake tips

Testing diamands

DIAMONDS

The only real way to test diamonds yourself is to purchase a top quality diamond tester, which includes the Moissanite test (moissanite is a type of imitation diamond).  It’s always best to take possible diamonds to your local jeweller or auctioneers for proper appraisal,because even if your jewellery is made from diamonds it can vary widely in price.  The following are only stepping stones, and must not to be used as conclusive tests.

Test 1: Breath on the stone.  A real diamond disperses the ‘breath’ mist immediately, while fakes usually remain misty for a few seconds

Test 2: Diamonds will scratch glass (though many other gemstones will too!)

Test 3:  If the stone is loose (ie, not in a setting) then try reading a word in a newspaper through it – it should be impossible to make out.

Test 4: The cost – real diamonds are not cheap!  If the price is too good to be true it usually is. 

Test 5: Colour. Fakes such as Cubic Ziconias, Diamoniques(TM) and glass are usually much ‘whiter’ in appearance than a diamond, especially when they catch the light. Diamonds can vary in colour  –  some being an almost almost translucent grey.

Test 6:  Some diamonds glow when held under black light (also known as UV or ultra violet light). 

How to test pearl gemstones jewellery real fake tips

Pearls

PEARLS

Genuine pearls feel slightly gritty when rubbed lightly against your teeth, while glass pearls or plastic pearls always feel smooth.  Plastic pearls are light to the touch.  Both glass and plastic pearls have a pearl coating which  scratches or chips off – this cannot happen with real pearls. Real pearls are often slightly mis-shapen (unless very expensive).

How to test gold gemstones jewellery real fake tips

Gold

GOLD

The best way to see if gold is real is to find its hallmarks.  However, some antique gold isn’t hallmarked, and you can buy cheap testing kits which use a special acid to test and grade the gold.  Please use these kits with extreme caution – I’ve seen dreadful damage done to antiques by well meaning people trying to test their gold.  Take your jewellery to a local jewelers or auction house for proper appraisal without damaging potentially valuable items.


Test 1: With a strong magnifying glass or jewelers loupe study the gold. Look at its edges, and the parts that come into direct contact with the skin closely.  What kind of wear can you see? Can you see any fading, or another colour showing through underneath?  If the item is scratched, can you see the colour of the metal inside the scratch – is it the same colour?   Gold is always uniform throughout its depth ie any scratches or dents to gold should only reveal more gold underneath – never another colour.

Test 2:  Grab a magnet, and hold it to the item.  Precious metals are not magnetic.

As you become used to handling a lot of gold, you’ll develop a ‘feel’  for it.  Many professionals can privately tell a good quality gold plated piece from a solid gold piece just by looking and briefly holding it, though this takes a time and practice!

How to test glass jewellery real fake tips

Testing glass

GLASS

Glass has been used as an imitation for gemstones and in costume jewellery for hundreds of years.  It is always cold and hard to the touch.  It can be opaque or clear, and molded into impressive shapes and designs.  A hot pin test will never damage glass.  When rhinestones (also called ‘pastes’) are used to imitate gemstones, they have often been coated at the back with a gold or silver coloured foil, and have a more ‘flat colour’ compared to the real thing.  Glass can also be scratched, cracked and chipped quite easily. 

The term ‘paste’  or ‘glass paste’ is the correct term used to describe any imitation stones made from glass.  French Jet is another term you may often hear- this is simply fancy name for black glass. 

How to test mourning jewery real fake tips jet glass gutta percha bog oak vulcanite

Testing old plastics

PLASTIC

Plastic is softer and warmer to touch than glass or gemstones.  It is a specialist collectors area in its own right, with Bakelite in particular attracting a huge following and prices to match.  Plastics come under ‘costume jewellery’, though many plastic Bakelite pieces can fetch over a thousand pounds at auction. 

Plastics are most commonly used to imitate Amber, Jet or Tortoise Shell.  It often has ‘seams’ where it has been joined or molded together during manufacture, where as genuine items don’t have these seams. 

Bakelite jewellery in particular is flooded with fakes, and many sellers don’t know how to test for it properly.  If you see an item of vintage Bakelite for sale always ask the seller how they know it’s genuine Bakelite.  I always use the respected Simichrome test (along with my sense of smell) to make sure any Bakelite I have is genuine.

Testing Bakelite:  Try and get hold of some Simichrome Polish, which is the easiest way to test for Bakelite.  Put a dab of the polish onto cotton wool and rub the item.  The cotton wool should turn a yellow colour.  If you can’t get hold of any Simichrome, simply rub the item vigorously until hot – it should emit a distinctive chemical odour.  Bakelite should never have any mold seams, and is very hard to the touch. 

Invasive:  Bakelite does not accept a hot needle (though a hot needle will badly damage the Bakelite by leaving a brown permanant scorch mark which decreases its value massively).  Using this test will massively decrease the value of your jewellery.

Tips on how to test bog oak jet french jet mourning jewellery vulcanite etc

How to test Victorian mourning jewellery

MATERIAL USED IN MOURNING JEWELLERY: 

  Mourning jewellery has been around for centuries and was created and worn in remembrance of loved ones.  It became hugely fashionable during the reign of Queen Victoria.  Mourning jewellery often had hidden meaning in it’s symbols (such as flowers or objects) – it could even reveal a Victorian woman’s status in life.  Many pieces were typically made from black coloured materials, such as Whitby Jet, Onyx and glass.  The richer members of society wore solid gold, sometimes decorated with fine black enamel and detailed with the loved ones woven hair.

BOG  OAK 

This is a type of beautifully carved peat, and was used mainly by the people of Ireland for creating imitation Whitby Jet.  It is usually very dark brown in colour.

Test 1:  Will leave a brown streak on a white unglazed tile.

Test 2: Feels warm and lightweight (like wood) when held. If you hold a magnifying glass up to it you should see grains, like grains and patterns in a plank of wood.  Will not usually be highly polished and shiny like Jet is.

Test 3: The actual design of the item can give bog oak away. Mourning/ Victorian era bog oak jewellery mostly came from Ireland, and usually has shamrocks, castles and harps carved into it.

Tips on how to test bog oak jet french jet mourning jewellery vulcanite etc

Whitby Jet

WHITBY JET

This fossilized black material was quite soft to work with, could be intricately carved, and was polished to a shiny finish. Antique Whitby Jet jewellery is today highly prized and desired.  It is black in colour, and is prone to cracking and chipping with age.

Test 1: Will leave a dark brown streak when lightly pressed on a white unglazed tile

Test 2: Feels surprisingly warm and lightweight to touch, similar to black plastic (never feels cold or heavy to hold like black glass or onyx).  Can be given a good polish and has an almost oily in texture when rubbed between fingers. Not as mirror-like reflective as glass or polished onyx.

Test 3:  Some jet creates static electricity when rubbed against wool.  Do this, and then place the jet near a strand of hair or a piece of paper – the jet should pull it slightly towards it.

Test 4: Invasive; Hot pin test.  Heat a needle and gently pierce an inconspicuous area of jet.  It should not take a needle well, and emit a coal like odour (jet is fossilized coal).  Using this test will decrease the value of your jewellery.

Tips on how to test bog oak jet french jet mourning jewellery vulcanite etc

Vulcanite

VULCANITE

One of the earliest forms of ‘plastic’, Vulcanite was invented in the 1840s by combining certain types of tree sap with sulpher.  It is usually black to mid-brown in colour, and is often in near perfect condition due to its durability (other than fading to a brown colour).

Test 1:  A simple and very reliable rub test.  Holding the jewellery, rub a part of the vulcanite vigorously until its quite hot and then smell.  It should emit a rubber like (and sometimes slightly sulfuric) odour. 

Test 2: Will leave a brown powdery streak on an unglazed white tile.

Never get Vulcanite wet – water will damage it.

GUTTA PERCHA

Again, another rubber type material used, and is not commonly seen.  Tests as for Vulcanite, though with one important and unmistakable addition – the taste test!  Touch the Gutta Percha in a tiny inconspicuous area with the tip if the (dry) tongue – it will taste incredibly salty.  Never get Gutta Percha damp nor wet as water stains and damages it. 

Tips on how to test bog oak jet french jet mourning jewellery vulcanite etc

French Jet

FRENCH JET

A fancy name for black glass.  Cold and hard to touch, and will not be damaged by a hot pin test. 

Tips on how to test bog oak jet french jet mourning jewellery vulcanite etc

Horn

HORN

Another material used to imitate Whitby Jet, horn was molded into desired shapes, and then dyed black.

Test 1:  Will sometimes leave a grey powdery streak when rubbed on an unglazed white tile.

Test 2:  When held to the light the edges are often translucent.

Test 3:  Invasive:  When gently pierced with a hot needle in an inconspicuous place horn will emit an odour of burning hair. Using this test will damage and massively decrease the value of your jewellery.

Tips on how to identify and avoid fake malachite gemstones.

Antique Malachite gemstone  cross bar brooch how to test malachite for fakes genuine real gemstones tips

Malachite gemstone

One of the most popular gemstones is malachite.  With its beautiful green colour, wonderful patterns and heavy, quality feel, its no wonder!

Like all popular gemstones though, there are now increasing amounts of fake malachite flooding the market, especially over the internet.  Here are some tips to help you avoid these imitations:

  • Genuine malachite is very cold, heavy and feels hard.  It is heavier than solid glass or plastic, and feels ‘dense’ and ice cold when held and touched.  The striped patterns are called ‘banding’.  Genuine malachite is not uniform in its patterns and colours; you’ll find circles and thin to thick parts in the patterns, and dark to mid-green hues.
  • Fake malachite comes in many forms.  Plastic fake malachite is lightweight and warm to the touch.  Glass fake malachite tends is cold to the touch like genuine malachite, but because it’s glass it will  warm up in your hand much quicker, where as real malachite won’t warm up much at all; it remains cold (this applies to a lot of gemstones btw).

Vintage green glass imitation malachite bead necklace jewelry how to test malachite for fakes genuine real gemstones tips

FAKE. This is a glass fake malachite necklace. The banding is too uniform, with no of the patterned circles or flourishes genuine malachite has.

vintage 1970s glass coral malachite glass scottish agate bracelet how to test malachite for fakes genuine real gemstones tips

FAKE. Selling imitation malachite, such the green glass imitations on the vintage 1970s bracelet is perfectly fine (in fact there’s a jewelry collecting niche for glass imitation gemstones), as long as the seller clearly points out the stones are not real malachite.

Reconstituted malachite fake tips avoid how to test malachite for fakes genuine real gemstones tips

FAKE. Re-processed or reconstituted malachite like the example above is made from crushed leftovers of the gemstone, mixed with dyes and resins.

vintage 1970s malachite brass bangle how to test malachite for fakes genuine real gemstones tips

REAL: vintage 1970s malachite brass bangle, made from small panels of malachite gemstone.  Up to now, man cannot 100% reproduce malachite ‘banded’ patterns accurately, nor its distinct green colours which can range from deepest forest green to teal green to light green all in one bead or panel.

Vintage 1970s Malachite bead necklace earrings set how to test malachite for fakes genuine real gemstones tips

REAL This is a genuine vintage malachite necklace. dating circa 1970s. How could I tell? Firstly, it was very heavy and cold (and the beads didn’t warm up in my hands). Secondly, the beads were not a uniform round shape – some were slightly too oval, meaning they were likely to have been hand finished. Thirdly, the banding patterns were too ‘natural’ to be fake which is tied directly to the fourth way; experience. I’ve handled a lot of malachite over the years (as well as many imitations) and you just get a feel for it.  Go to museums and see chunks of the real stuff in gemology displays*, go to antique fairs and handle it. Buy it off reputable jewelers and gemologists , and also buy properly labeled imitations so you can compare the two (ie, reconstituted malachite, plastic, glass).

*Check out the museums in your area – even the smallest ones can often throw up some big surprises!

Are doublets & triplets real gemstones?

Doublets and triplets opal gem info at the Jewellery Muse jewelry BlogWhen you are purchasing gemstone jewellery you may sometimes come across the word doublet, or triplet.  The seller should explain to you what this means, but I’ve noticed that this isn’t always happening, and only a lightning-quick run through of the term is given, if at all.

Doublets and triplet gemstones aren’t fake gemstones, but they aren’t solid gemstones either. They are a mixture of both genuine gemstone and man-made materials.

A doublet is a genuine gemstone which has been thinly sliced and glued on top of another material such as glass.  It’s done mainly to make use of small flat pieces of gemstone (opals especially), and to save money.

 

A triplet is similar to a doublet, however the triplet also has a clear protective ‘cover’ glued over the gemstone (usually made from glass or clear cheaper gemstone, or even plastic).  Some gemstones such as ammolite or black opal are so soft that triplets are the most effective way to set some specimens into jewellery.  Though be a little wary with black opal doublets/ triplets – they are sometimes inexpensive white or clear opals set onto a black backing of glass.

The website www.opalsdownunder.com has a fantastic page on the subject, with some good photos to help you identify a doublet/ triplet gemstone.

Learning About Fake Gold and Hallmarks

One of the biggest jewelry problems I’m hearing about at the moment is buyers purchasing fake gold over the internet, at markets/ fairs and even occasionally in shops.  Here are some helpful tips to consider when purchasing gold in the United Kingdom:

1. If it’s too good to be true it usually is!

2.  Only buy gold that has been hallmarked at a British Assay Office. This means the gold has been tested and is real.

3. If buying from a ‘real world’ market stall, fair or shop don’t assume the jewellery item you are seeing is gold (even if it looks gold and is with other labelled gold items). An unscrupulous trick is to place a few non-hallmarked fake gold tone rings on a ring display pad mixed with real British hallmarked gold. 

These ‘jewelers’ will label a ring as simply (eg) GARNET ETERNITY RING, and place it on a display pad with other rings labelled ‘9ct topaz gold ring’. Now, the ‘garnet eternity ring’ does have a real garnet in it, and looks gold. And the seller will charge the same price for it as the surrounding rings, which are genuine hallmarked gold, so buyers simply assume it’s another solid gold ring on a pad of other gold rings. But its not.

Notice the wording – no mention is made of gold. It’s actually a dirt cheap garnet stone in a goldtone pot metal ring, and because the seller hasn’t described this particular garnet ring as gold (remember, they simply labelled it ‘Garnet Eternity Ring’) they’re not breaking any law, as far as I know. Do this with 4 costume jewellery rings on one display pad with 16 other real gold rings, and that’s a nice extra profit for dodgy sellers.

 

4. Gold jewellery in the UK comes in 4 finesses: 9ct (375)…….14ct (585)…….18ct (750)……22ct (916). All non-antique gold over 1 gram must carry a British Assay Office Hallmark. A simple (for example) ‘750’ or ’18k’ stamp on its own is not a proper hallmark, and is not allowed to be called gold or sold as gold in the UK.

 

How to id tips genuine gold tell it's not fake

ABOVE: This ring has a simple ‘9ct’ stamp. It is not hallmarked, and therefore cannot be legally called 9ct gold or sold as gold (unless it is a genuine antique, which is where things get complicated and I suggest you seek expert advise).


How to id tips genuine gold tell it's not fake

ABOVE: a proper set of British hallmarks, which means this ring can legally be sold as/ called 9ct gold.

5. 10k Gold is not a legally recognized finesse in the UK. The precious metal laws are tough here and so are the punishments – don’t describe any jewellery to sell as ’10k gold’ if you are based in the UK.

 

If in doubt, always ask a seller about the hallmarks on a piece of fine jewellery.