Adding an earlier post on vintage Siam Silver jewellery from Thailand, here are my favourite coloured enamel pieces that I’ve been lucky enough to own ..
Your latest quick Q & As about jewellery ..
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.
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.
Check out my guide here.
Check out my guide here.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Ask away 🙂
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!
Some gorgeous vintage French Jet jewellery ..
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.
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
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.
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 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.
Most cameos are portraits. Right facing is most common, then left facing after that, and very occasionally you may see a forward facing portrait.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Bored of bling?
Fed up with playing it safe?
If it’s amazing character and a touch of the unusual you’re after in your jewellery, then check out these eye-catching stones ..
More info about butterfly farming and conservation:
A blog post I wrote about about butterfly jewellery can be found here
The Blue John from Derbyshire, England:
Here’s a past blog post I wrote about Blue John.
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!
I love traveling around searching for the latest bargains, and if I can combine this with a beautiful walk in the outdoors then all the better! Last week I took a trip over to the gorgeous Wirral coast around the Dee Estuary – if you’re a nature lover it’s a must see. Anyway, not much jewellery was found this particular day, but I did bag the possible bargain book of the year, called ‘7000 Years Of Jewellery’ for the grand price of £3.50 in a second hand shop (that’s my bedtime reading sorted for the next two years!)
Here’s a tip – if you’re planning to go to the Merseyside area then take advantage of the Merseyrail Day Saver ticket – less than a fiver will let you hop on and off trains all day – and yes, in the whole area (which covers Chester up to Southport, all round the Wirral and of course Liverpool. I’ve been known to visit 5 places in one day on that ticket!)