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:
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.
Some people test is to rub it very lightly and feather-soft gently on an unglazed tile – it will leave a green streak. HOWEVER, this will damage the malachite (especially if it’s polished – it will leave a permanent damage mark) so I don’t recommend it under any circumstances. Malachite is very heavy (heavier than glass), and ice cold – it takes a long time to warm up when held in your hand. More info on Malachite identity here.
I’m looking for old duplicate jewelry for drama stuff ..
Best bet is probably good old Ebay. Search for the term ‘job lot of vintage jewellery’ (or job lot of necklaces/ bracelets etc), also use key words such as ‘old’, ‘junk’, ‘pile of’ if the term ‘job lot’ isn’t yielding decent results.
Looking for beginners info on Victorian antique jewellery – help!
Check out this article here, which includes a bit on identifying brooch clasps to their historical period – hope this helps 🙂
Info on a 10k gold bracelet with a crown symbol?
I’d have to see a good quality close up photo of the stamp, but right now, I haven’t a clue! Anyone any ideas?
How to test amber?
It’s tricky, especially if the stone is set in metal and not loose. Two quick tips – amber is warm and soft, and feels quite plastic-like (which unfortunately means there are lots of plastic fakes around); it’s not cold and not hard like glass or other gemstones. Check out more amber ID info here.
What is the meaning of ‘gold tone’ jewelry?
It usually means that the item is not solid gold – it’s non-precious metal which is gold in colour, or gold plated. Check out this article here.
Any cameo testing jewellery tips?
Check out this article here – the testing tips are a bit further down.
Do you have a jewellery query which you can’t find answers to? While I’m not a professional expert, I have collected many types of jewellery (modern, antique and vintage), gemstones (and costume) for over 20 years, so even if I don’t know the answer to your query, I can hopefully point you in the right direction.
Shopping around for black jewellery, you many come across a term called ‘French Jet’. While it sounds romantic or even like a gemstone in its own right, French Jet simply a fancy word for good old black glass.
It became popular during the Victorian period (1837 – 1901) when black jewellery was very fashionable. Genuine Jet (which is a real gemstone, most famously found in the Whitby area on the east coast of England) was the most sought after material for making black Victorian jewellery, but due to demand and increasing scarcity it was became expensive. Black glass was a much cheaper alternative.
Where the actual name French Jet comes from is unclear. The glass beads and stones themselves were usually made in the great glass making countries of Europe, such as Austria and the Czechoslovakia regions, and then sent through to other countries (including England and France) to be made into jewellery.
Other black materials used in Victorian mourning jewellery are: onyx, Vulcanite (a type of early rubber), Gutta Percha, genuine real jet, and bog oak (ancient fossilized wood type material usually found in Ireland).
Quick glance identity to mourning jewellery materials:
Bog Oak = usually only seen in brooches. Look under a magnifying glass to see wood grain texture. Often depicts Irish scenes, castles and motifs.
Gutta Percha = rare, similar to Vulcanite except one important difference – the taste test. Be careful with this, as moisture can permanently stain old Gutta Percha. With a dry tip of the tongue, gently press your tongue on the jewellery. Gutta Percha tastes very salty!
Do you have a piece of jewellery you think may be valuable?
Don’t know where to start, or wouldn’t know who to approach to get some guidance?
Fear not! Because in this post I’m going to show you how I find a basic valuation to vintage jewellery.
The main thing I do when I’m looking for a possible valuation, is to use the Ebay search facility. Ebay sells pretty much everything, and in my opinion, is the best place to research an up to date bottom price estimate of a vintage item (the up to date part is very important as vintage prices can fluctuate wildly from month to month). The following info is for Ebay.co.uk, as I’m in the UK, but I imagine other Ebay sites around the world are probably quite similar. So let’s get started!
1.Go to Ebay.
2.Now, type into the search bar at the top of the page, your jewellery item. So for this example, let’s type in “vintage Trifari necklace” and click the search button.
3. So, having typed in our search term (eg, “vintage Trifari necklace”), a new page will appear, with lots of options and categories in the left hand column of this page. Slowly move and scroll down the page until you come to an option called “Sold Listings”, on the left hand column. Click on this link.
4. Having clicked the “Sold Listings” link, a new page should appear, showing all of the jewellery which has been sold in the past few months, that was in your search query, and most importantly for what price it sold for (the sold prices are written in green). So in this example, all of the “vintage Trifari necklaces” that have been sold will appear.
5. And that’s it! Average the prices out, and you have your very first valuation. From here, you can go onto other jewellery and vintage websites and see what they are selling their similar jewellery for. However, do keep in mind that there’s a world of difference between what people try and sell their jewellery for, and what customers actually end up paying for it! If an item is for sale on one website for £100, but the average selling price on Ebay is about £15, you need to use common sense and work out an average price.
One last thing. You’re best going into any valuation with the mindset that your item isn’t valuable. Old doesn’t mean expensive, and there is a chance that your 50 year old heirloom brooch is worth as much as a coffee + sandwich and not much else!
Have you ever looked at gold jewellery on a website and come across the above words and initials in the description? Do you wonder what they mean?
You’re not alone. I’ve had quite a few emails over the years which have asked for my help in explaining the letters on gold looking jewellery that someone has purchased. Virtually every time I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news; they’ve been conned and their expensive ‘solid 18kgp ring’ is actually gold plated costume jewellery.
Sadly, some unscrupulous sellers give a rather ‘creative’ description of their jewellery for sale, which tries to gloss over the fact that their jewelry is not real – it’s gold plated.
So today, look no further than the Jewellery Muses’ quick glance guide to identifying letter stamps and initials on jewelry which are used to describe gold-tone/ gold-plated metal …
~ RG – means rolled gold. This is gold sheet (usually 12K or 14k) that is rolled into a tube, and then filled with a base (ie non precious) metal such as brass. This process gives a longer lasting gold colour than normal gold plating, and is often stamped on jewellery: 1/20 12kt GF or 1/20 14kt RG for example.
~ GF – means gold filled, which is simply another name for rolled gold. RG and GF are more durable than gold plated metal.
~ GOLD OVERLAY – again means a type of rolled gold; a gold sheet (usually 14k) that is rolled into a tube, and then filled with a base (ie non precious) metal.
~ GP– stands for gold plating, a process which involves spraying a fine layer of gold onto base metal. GP jewelry tends to lose the gold coating with day to day wear after a while.
~ HGE– means Heavy Gold Electroplate, a slightly thicker coating of gold onto base metal than standard gold plating.
~ HGP– also see HGE, means a heavier gold plate, a slightly thicker coating of gold onto base metal than standard gold plating.
~ LAYERED GOLD – another type of gold plating.
~ GOLD BONDED – another type of gold plating, or occasionally used to describe rolled gold.
~ VERMEIL – this is genuine 925 sterling silver which has been given a thick coating of gold (normally 14k or 18k). Base metal which has been gold plated cannot by law be described as vermeil, only genuine gold-plated sterling silver can.
~ HAMILTON GOLD – brass toned metal with gold plated finish; generally only used on watches.
~ PINCHBECKGOLD – an early gold imitation, invented in the 18th century and made from an alloy of zinc and copper. True pinchbeck items are very rare and worth a lot of money. Nowadays, the term ‘pinchbeck’ generally means any type of antique faux gold.
~ GOLD TONE / GOLD – COLOUR – jewellery that is gold coloured, not real gold.
~ GOLD LEAF – a type of gold plating.
Look out for descriptions such as“fantastic genuine solid 18k HGE gold ring”, or “solid 14KGP gold ring”. If you see any of these phrases, words or initials in the description of a jewellery item then be aware that the jewellery will not be genuine solid gold.
Two Final Quick Tips:
~ Just because something has a gemstone in it doesn’t mean it will automatically be encased in real gold. Low grade gemstones (or lab created gemstones/lab-diamonds) can be dirt cheap to buy, and might be used to make gold plated jewellery appear more ‘real’.
I love shopping for vintage costume jewellery, but looking back I remember being really intimidated by it all when I first started out back in the 1990s. Over the years I’ve found some bargains, made some awful mistakes, and had the chance to discover towns and cities I’d never consider going to if I weren’t for my treasure hunting passion!
So here are my top tips for vintage costume jewellery shopping ..
1. Vintage jewellery is uncommon to find in ‘real life’ shops, unless it’s a specific vintage shop. Charity and thrift shops do sell it occasionally (I absolutely LOVE charity shopping for vintage and make a day of it), but you have to search them out to find the best places, and even then they’re not consistent; a town bursting with unbelievable retro treasures in January may not produce anything else vintage jewellery-wise for the rest of the year. I actually keep a little calendar log of the towns I’ve visited, and don’t visit the charity shops there more than four times a year – yes, I’m that dedicated about it!
2. Not everyone like treasure hunting, so if you want to buy a vintage jewellery without the hours of rummaging through crappy stuff, then a good bet is to head for areas in cities which have a cluster of dedicated vintage shops in one road (often in student areas). A concentration of shops means competition, which often equals better quality goods at lower prices. A single vintage shop in a town or district can sometimes mean higher prices for a more limited range of items.
3. Have some background knowledge to what you want to buy if possible, especially when it comes to dating vintage stuff, or looking out for fakes. Ask your seller questions about an item, and trust your instincts. I’ve written some guides to dating vintage jewellery which can be found on this blog, or ask away here!
4. Quick vintage jewellery dating tips: Any necklace that has a lobster clasp is generally modern. T-bar hinges on brooches mean very old antique jewellery (yay!). Gloopy pearlized enamel is generally modern. Aurora borealis (also known as ‘AB’) is a special type of rainbow lustre found coated on glass stones and beads, and was invented in the 1950s; therefore it’s never found on art deco nor antique jewellery.
5. Try not to buy vintage jewelry which is damaged– things like flaking pearls and damaged enamel are not fixable and will only get worse, and definitely avoid metal that has little green patches (called verdigris) which will only get worse no matter how you try and clean it, and it will spread to other jewellery it touches too).
6. You may hear people talking about ‘signed jewellery’. This means that the company which made the piece has had it’s name stamped on the back (eg Trifari, Napier, Hollywood, Exquisite). Unless you specifically collect vintage costume jewellery (which is a big passion for many people, but a subject for a different blog post), I wouldn’t be too concerned about this, and certainly don’t pay over the odds for something your not 100% in love with just because it has a stamped ‘name’ on it. Some of the most stunning vintage jewellery I’ve come across has been ‘unsigned’ (ie, no stamp), and it’s been whole lot cheaper too (WINS all round :))
7. If you fall in love with jewellery which is damaged and you know how fix it (eg, replace missing stones) then have a go at (nicely and respectfully) haggling the price down if you feel it’s too high. While vintage will show signs of light wear (eg, gold tone metal fading, slightly dull rhinestones), don’t fall for some dealers sale speak of damage being a ‘natural’ part of owning a piece of vintage – it isn’t. If you want your items to last (or sell on at a later date) then the jewellery should be good condition.
8. You can find some real bargains at auctioneers – not the famous Internet ones, I mean the real life ones, with humans and hammers and dodgy winks and head shakes. In my experience, they’re great for buying vintage costume jewellery in bulk, or individual items of vintage fine jewellery (ie gold or gemstones) at a bargain.
9. You never know what lies inside that town or small city your innocently passing through. My best finds have been: a pile of art deco Bohemian glass necklaces in Accrington (£1 each), a huge 1950s rhinestone brooch from Carlisle (£3), an antique Victorian Whitby Jet necklace from Knutsford (£4), a carved 1950s mother of pearl powder compact from Kendal (£5), a carved art deco Bakelite bangle from Chorley (£1), some 1940s reverse carved Lucite jewellery from Altringham (£3 each), and an art deco glass paste bracelet from Caernarfon (£4). BTW, in the interest of balance and honesty, I usually don’t find one single thing when I’m out on a treasure hunt!
10. It’s what you’ve been hoping for all blog post – where to shop (ie, outside London, as that’s a blog post for someone who actually knows London well and who isn’t an odd day tripper like me). I’m not going to give away all my favourite places, but here’s a random 5 to get you started. In no particular order:
Glasgow: Byres Road area, which is near Glasgow University. A treasure trove of good quality vintage shops at proper prices (hint – don’t forget to investigate the cobbled side streets off it too – some of the best shops are found down there).
The cities of York and Chester – different counties but similar in enchanting olde world feel, and both a treasure trove of good quality second hand shops that don’t overcharge. If in Chester and you’ve got time, nip over to Wrexham too.
If you want proper couture and luxury designers such as Chanel, then head over to Alderley Edge in Cheshire (apparently the town with the highest concentration of millionaires or something). As seen with my very own eyes when I decided to have a quick nosy in while passing through on other business, the charity shops there are rightly the stuff of legend.
Ramsbottom in Lancashire has some great charity shops, and for the full vintage experience you can even catch an old vintage train there too. It’s also home to the incredible ‘Memories Antiques’ vintage emporium centre, which is bursting at the seams with stalls selling vintage clothes and vintage jewellery from floor to ceiling, all at very reasonable prices too. Even thinking about it brings a warm smile to my face and song to my heart.
And last but not least, take a day out along the lovely North Wales coast, from Prestatyn to Colwyn Bay and ending in Llandudno. All three are packed with charity shops and the odd old fashioned antique curiosity shop (the one in Prestatyn is legendary), and what the heck, ambling along these neighbouring seaside towns is just lovely way to spend a day.
Stuck for jewellery ideas regarding your Xmas and New Year party outfit? Don’t want to be caught out wearing the same accessories as everyone else? Let this mass of sparkling authentic vintage beauties give you some ideas ..
As you learn more about vintage jewellery, there are a few tools that can really help you develop your knowledge and make identifying your jewelry a lot easier (I call them my basic essentials). Most of the following are inexpensive, and can be easily purchased over online..
1. Jeweller’s loupe. Aim for either x20 or x30 magnification. Not just for reading hallmarks, these mega magnifiers can help you identify materials such as coral or bog oak, inclusions in gemstones, and damage that wouldn’t be seen with the naked eye.
2. Book of gold and silver hallmarks. Beginners to United Kingdom gold and silver identification can’t go wrong with Bradburys Book of Hallmarks. An easy to use pocket size booklet, yet very concise and in-depth.
3. Diamond tester. If you want to start collecting fine jewellery a diamond tester is an absolute must. These are quite expensive to buy but are an essential investment, especially as there are so many fake diamonds around. A good quality basic one is between £50 – £80, with specialist Moissanite/ diamond testers going into £100s of pounds (Moissanites are the best quality imitation diamonds).
4. UV torch light. Some glass stones and natural gemstones will glow under ultra violet light, so this special type of torch can really help you on the way to identifying objects. Prices start from as little as £5.
5. An unglazed white tile. Certain materials such as jet will stain the tile when gently rubbed on it, helping you in identification.
6. A pure wool garment/ strip. Organic materials, such as amber will often create static electricity when rubbed on wool; rub the amber on the wool vigorously, then hold a human air to it – real amber attracts the hair to it like a magnet.
If any type of jewellery could call itself a true work of art it would be the micro mosaic. Tiny glass tiles (called tesserae) are crafted together and placed carefully into cement to produce incredible ‘micro mosaic’ pictures, which are then set into jewellery. Micro mosaic work date back over 2000 years, and usually originates from Europe – Italy being its most famous producer. Micro mosaic work also has an established history in the Middle East too, but for this guide I’ll be concentrating on Italian mosaic work.
A Brief History of Mosaics
The height of popularity for the micro mosaic was in the 17th to 19th Century, during a period of time called the Grand Tour era. Men and women of rich European families would travel around Europe, taking in the sights and cultures of different countries. Italy was a very popular tourist spot as it had a long and prestigious history in arts and culture – a favourite subject in aristocratic circles. It was also a famous glass wear producer, and canny Italian craftsmen quickly turned their glass making skills into making stunning miniature pictures out of glass tiles for their rich tourists.
Micro mosaic work jewellery of this period usually depicted famous Italian landmarks such as Vatican Square or the Collusium, though occasionally Roman mythology was a subject too. The richest tourists would even commission their own mosaics, with flowers, animals or famous works of art being a favourite subject. The small size of the micro mosaic was particularly appealing; they could be worn on the Grand Tourists continuing journey, or sent back home to loved ones as a kind of fore-runner to our modern postcards. By the early 20th Century the micro mosaic heyday was nearing its end, with the higher quality jewellery ceasing to be made. Micro mosaics still continue to be produced, though usually in much cruder forms which normally depict simple flowers.
Types of Micro Mosaic
Mosaic:Also known as standard mosaic, it dates from the late 19th Century to today. These are the items of mosaic jewellery you normally see. Glass tiles are quite large and chunky, often resembling millefiori glass cabochons rather than actual individual tile pictures. Oval or round brooches are common, as are bold bracelets and simple earrings. Sometimes brooches are in the shape of guitars or crucifixes. Most people start their collection with this type of jewellery, as it is more affordable and durable enough to wear everyday.
ABOVE: A crucifix standard mosaic pendant, made in the year 2000 in celebration of Christ’s birth.
Micro Mosaic: Also known as Roman or true micro mosaic, these are much finer quality than Standard Mosaics, sometimes having many tiny tiles per inch. The finished micro mosaic was fixed into a setting such as French Jet or Aventurine Goldstone, and would sometimes be of such high quality it could pass as a painted picture. Because of its delicate nature very few true micro mosaics are nowadays in perfect condition – small chips, cracks or odd missing tiles are quite normal. Be prepared to pay a lot of money for a high quality and good condition micro mosaic if you find one!
Pietra Dura: Also known as Florentine (Florence was a major producer of this type of mosaic work). This craft is slightly different than the others. Small and very thin slices of genuine stone (such as marble, agate or lapis lazuli) were inlaid into a larger flat stone to create a simple yet contrasting coloured design. Flowers were the most common subject, with light coloured petals contrasting with a black stone background being a particular favourite. Again, this was highly skilled work, and good quality pietra dura brooches command a high price today.
ABOVE: An antique Victorian pietra dura brooch. Note how the slithers of green gemstone and marble have been carefully chosen for there colour gradient, which gives a natural appearance to the leaves.
Micro mosaics are most often made into brooches, though occasionally you’ll find mosaic earrings and bracelets too. Rare micro mosaic work can be found on rings, and micro mosaic necklaces are the most sought after. When choosing a micro mosaic to buy, always check to see if the tiles are all present; missing pieces can affect the price and desirability of an item. Also, study the metal – vintage micro mosaics are notorious for being infected with verdigris, which is a chemical reaction between the atmospheric conditions and copper metals in the jewellery. If you can see even the tiniest of green marks anywhere on the metal of the mosaic then you may have the dreaded verdigris, and it’s best to avoid the item. Verdigris is corrosive, will eventually eat away at and destroy your item, and may even infect any other items of jewellery that come into contact with it.
Looking After Your Micro Mosaic Jewellery
Never soak your jewellery in water as this can damage the cement holding the tiles in place. If you mosaic is very dirty and needs cleaning, quickly scrub it very gently for a few seconds using diluted washing up liquid and a soft toothbrush. Rinse and dry immediately.