There are things in modern life that are certainties; death, taxes, and of course the autumn/ winter fashion designers rule which states that either army fatigues, the ‘Gothic look’ or head to toe tartan will be the next big thing (oh, and that some colour other than black will be the new ‘black’).
This year it’s tartans turn back on the runways (you can see some stunning Saint Laurent, Mulberry, Givenchy, Versace collections here). And if you happen to love tartan then why not finish your look with some rather gorgeous pieces of Scottish jewellery? Here are some beauties to wet the apatite…
This beautiful Scottish thistle brooch is made by another famous jewellery company called Heathergems. The stone isn’t a real ‘stone’ at all – learn more here!
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 jewellerymaterials such as Whitby Jet can be found at the very bottom of the page.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
This fossilized coal-like material was 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 on a white unglazed tile.
Test 2: Feels warm and lightweight to touch, similar to black plastic (never feels cold or heavy to hold like black glass). Usually has a good polish and an almost oily in texture like amber. Never truly reflective.
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.
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.
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.
A fancy name for black glass. Cold and hard to touch, and will not be damaged by a hot pin test.
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.
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).
*Check out the museums in your area – even the smallest ones can often throw up some big surprises!
Lapis lazuli has been sought after and used in jewellery for thousands of years. It’s rich blue colour, along with those sparkling flecks of fools gold iron pyrites make it truly irresistible! Unfortunately, lapis lazuli has also become one of the most faked gemstones in the world. It’s not easy to tell the difference between fake lazuli and the real gemstone. Many cheap minerals and gemstones (such as poor quality jasper, white howlite, spinel, sodalite or calcite) can be dyed to imitate it, while glass and plastic can been used to copy lapis lazuli too. Here are some quick tips to hopefully help you spot genuine good quality lapis Lazuli (and avoid the fakes) …….
Firstly, look at the price. The best lapis lazuli commands very high prices, and tends to be set in gold. So if you see a string of lapis lazuli beads for only a couple of pounds/dollers, they could be fakes or very poor quality dyed stones. In my own personal experience, a standard nice quality lapis lazuli undyed natural bead necklace tends to cost from around £30 upwards.
Poor quality Lapis lazuli can be dyed. Lapis lazuli is made up of a mix of minerals: lazurite (which gives it that distinctive blue colour), white calcite, dark grey-blue sodalite and golden ‘fools gold’ flecks of iron pyrites. Too much white in the gemstone means it classed as a cheaper calcite, too much dark blue-grey means it’s a cheaper sodalite. Poor quality lapis lazuli can be dyed to make it appear more desirable (see below photo).
To test if your lapis lazuli has been dyed, simply wipe your stone with acetone or alcohol. If it loses its colour it’s either a fake, or a poor quality lazuli dyed to imitate better quality lazuli.
Genuine lapis lazuli is around 5.5 on the MOHS gemstone hardness scale (diamonds are 10) which means it will just about scratch glass, though can itself be scratched with a knife.
Look for the ‘fool’s gold’ (a.k.a iron pyrites) in your lazuli. These are little random golden flecks and tiny lines of dark metallic gold in the gemstone. Genuine ‘fools gold’ is surprisingly difficult to imitate – it usually ends up looking far too uniform and ‘perfect’ for it to be real.
‘Reconstructed Lapis Lazuli means that bits of the leftover lazuli gemstone have been ground up and then binded together to make a new stone or bead. It’s not really a fake as it does contain lazuli… but then it’s not the true real thing either. Re-constituted lapis lazuli often has an unatural pebble dash feel and look to it.
If the Lapis Lazuli is simply too uniformly blue, and is cheap to buy, then it’s probably fake. Only the very best top quality Lazuli is a uniform blue colour, with virtually no fools gold. It is incredibly rare, deeply sought after and costs an absolute fortune; this is the type of lazuli you only see set into the finest 18k or 22k gold settings.
Plastic faux Lapis Lazuli can be identified by holding it and tapping it on your teeth. Plastics will feel almost ‘warm’ (ie not cold like glass or gemstone), and will make a dull quiet clink when gently tapped against your teeth (gemstones and glass make a cold hard higher pitched ‘clink’ on the teeth).
As with a lot of gemstones, lapis lazuli can be very cold to the touch. Although glass imitations are cold as well, they will quickly warm up when held – real gemstones often remain cool even after fairly prolonged holding.
Glass faux Lapis Lazuli often has no gold specks in it, although some top quality imitations do. However, the flecks are too smooth and uniformly patterned to be real, and the blue colour is too ‘blue’, shiny and even.
Real lapis lazuli will leave a blue-ish mark on a rough surface, such as an unglazed tile. When it’s cut in half, lazuli emits a foul odour; it contains sulfur, and this oxides (and smells foul) on reaction to the air. Both of these tests will of course completely ruin your stone, so I don’t recommend them! (Dyed inferior lapis lazuli will also stain a rough surface).
In the United Kingdom, people are often surprised to learn that we have an abundance of minerals and gemstones right here at home. Agates are found in Scotland (renowned for their variety and colours), we have varieties of quartz such amethyst and citrine, and jasper can be found here too. Take a walk along the beaches to the east of the country, and you may even be lucky enough to discover a washed up piece of amber!
The UK is also home to a unique type of fluorite, known as Blue John. Derbyshire in England is the home of this striking gemstone, and it’s only extracted in small quantities each year.
What gives Blue John its uniqueness in the gemstone world is the sublime colouring, which is a distinctive blue-purple, with areas of bright cream and yellow flashing through its veins. This creates a stunning visual effect, and is what makes Blue John so desirable to gem connoisseurs around the world.
Like many gemstones, Blue John can be cut and made into jewellery. It can also be made into other objects too, such as vases, bowls and paperweights.
Recently, a newly discovered gemstone seam in China has revealed fluorite with a similar characteristics to Blue John. However, only the distinctive purple-blue-yellow fluorite mined in Derbyshire can correctly be known as Blue John.
Once you see this wonderful gemstone in real life, you’ll never forget it vivid colouring and beautiful banded patterns – it’s a real gem in ever sense of the word!
When 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.