Jewellery tips

Some vintage jewellery contains lead – is it safe?

A reader raised an important question recently, asking whether their vintage Siam niello jewelry was safe, as the niello ‘enamel’ of it contained an alloy which included lead metal.

As far as I’m aware, lead absorption generally occurs via the mouth, ie, breathing in lead dust/ particles, handling of lead and then eating food without washing hands, or actually ingesting lead (eg a small child eating a clasp which contains lead, which may be potentially fatal). In my limited lay-person research, there seems to be a bit of a grey area regarding the absorption of lead via the skin itself. There was a study on niello artisans in Thailand, and in my limited understanding of interpreting research papers, the main issues seemed to be caused by a lack of basic health and safety in the workplace which led to workers accidentally ingesting lead via the mouth (ie, not washing hands after handling lead then eating food/smoking, no dust masks to prevent lead dust particle inhalation when sawing/filing niello etc) rather than touching/ absorption via the skin.

An example of a standard Siam silver nielloware brooch, in the popular design of Mekkelah Goddess of Lightning. Jewellery safety, lead advice etc.

An example of a standard Siam silver nielloware brooch, in the popular design of Mekkelah Goddess of Lightning. Niello enamel (the black part of the brooch) contains an alloy of sulphur, copper, silver, and lead.

If I know or suspect a piece of old jewellery contains lead, I personally choose not to wear it.  Anyone deciding to wear any type of vintage jewellery which contains lead can should take some precautions: immediately wash hands after handling it, wash the area it has touched on the skin when you take the piece off, don’t put it near your mouth, strictly keep it out of reach of children, never wear it around toddlers – they might grab / handle it and then put it or their fingers in their mouth.

Also, I’d advice against using nielloware (eg a Siam bowl) anywhere around food, or to contain food, or use nielloware cigarette cases to hold cigarettes. Like I say, my understanding of lead is that the issue of poisoning lies around the ingestion of it via mouth or inhalation to the lungs, rather than solely via the skin. So for example, occasionally wearing a niello necklace for a couple of hours to a special occasion may not be too much of an issue – but if you have a habit of playing with your necklace a lot and then smoke/ touch you mouth/ eat without washing your hands, then that’s when lead ingestion may occur.

I welcome further help, advice and discussion from readers regarding the safety issues surrounding vintage jewellery which contains lead, as I’m not a scientist and some of the research papers I looked at were beyond my full understanding. If you think your jewellery may contain lead, please keep it locked away from children.

An unusual Siam silver nielloware charm bracelet, with ringing bell charms

An unusual Siam silver nielloware charm bracelet, with ringing bell charms. A charm bracelet like this is not suitable to wear around toddlers and young children – they’ll be fascinated by the ringing, and may try to put the charms in their mouth.

 

Quick tips to identify lead in vintage costume jewellery:

  • Vintage jewellery containing lead is often unusually heavy for its size, or compared to similar non-lead jewels
  • Gold or silver plating wears off, to reveal dull matte dark silver underneath
  • The jewellery metal feels soft – lead is a soft and malleable metal.
  • The metal is movable/ easily breakable, even though it looks thick and solid to the eye.
  • The metal is soft and can be scratched easily.
  • Personally I would view any type of nielloware from around the world as suspect for containing lead. Ditto any type of metal – new or old – from countries which have poor health and safety laws or metal regulations.
  • Sometimes the back of the jewellery isn’t as ‘sharp’ or well defined appearance wise as other jewellery; some lead jewellery is quite thick and ‘blobby’ in appearance and texture (see photos below)
  • I once tried to solder a broken vintage rhinestone brooch, only for the lead levels to be so high that the metal immediately melted on touch!

Please note  that these tips used individually are not conclusive of lead containment, and should be used in conjunction with other the tips and advice. For example, if the gold plating has worn off to reveal dull silver-colour metal underneath, this on its own is not conclusive of lead indication – however, if it also feels soft and is easily malleable as well, then this points to potential lead alloys.

I strongly suspect this vintage 1960s pink enamel and thermoplastic brooch contained high levels of lead; the worn off gold plating revealed dull dark silver-colour metal underneath, and the metal was so soft and malleable it would have broken with the slightest of pressure.

I strongly suspected this vintage 1960s pink enamel and thermoplastic brooch contained high levels of lead; the worn off gold plating revealed dull dark silver-colour metal underneath, and the metal was so soft and malleable it would have broken with the slightest of pressure.

 

The back of a vintage 1960s lead-free brooch. Because it doesn't contain lead, the back of it is clear, well defined and 'sharp' in appearance.

The back of a vintage 1960s lead-free brooch. Because it doesn’t contain lead, the back of it is strong, clear, well defined and ‘sharp’ in appearance….

 

... Compare the above brooch back, to the back of this vintage necklace, and the vintage brooch in the photo below. I suspect both contained some lead due to them both being extremely soft and malleable, along with being heavy for their size & design. Note how blobby and undefined the back is, especially compared to the crisp metal work lead-free brooch above

… Compare the above brooch back, to the back of this gold-colour vintage necklace, and the vintage brooch in the photo below. I suspect each one contained some lead due to them both being extremely soft and malleable, along with being heavy for their size & design. Note how blobby and undefined the back is, especially compared to the crisp metal work lead-free brooch above

The blobby undefined bulky appearance of the back of this vintage brooch suggests it may have a high lead content. On it's own this isn't conclusive - plenty of lead-free jewellery is undefined and blobby - but coupled with the fact is was very heavy for its small size, and the metal was soft and malleable, led me to conclude it contained lead.

The thick blobby undefined bulky appearance of the back of this vintage brooch may indicate it potentially could contain lead in its alloy. On it’s own this isn’t conclusive – plenty of lead-free jewellery is undefined and blobby – but coupled with the fact that this particular old brooch was very heavy for its small size, and the metal was soft and malleable, led me to conclude it probably contained lead.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist nor qualified health and safety professional, and this info is only based my limited research as a jewelry enthusiast. I encourage all readers to do their own research and make their own decisions. Keep all lead or potential lead items away from children. If anyone can add help, advice to lead metal safety in vintage jewellery, or has further information from a professional standpoint, please do leave a comment or get in touch 🙂

 

 

References and further reading:

An Examination of Blood Lead Levels in Thai Nielloware Workers:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3443697/
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2093791112330072

Survey of Siam Silver: http://www.siamman.com/ebookstores.html

Antique Jewellery University: http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Niello

Lead Toxicity – What Are Routes of Exposure to Lead?
https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=34&po=6

How Lead Exposures Can Happen:
https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/lead/exposure.html

Learn about lead:

https://www.epa.gov/lead/learn-about-lead

Lead hazards and vintage items:

http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/lead/vintage/

Frequently Asked Questions about Lead in Jewelry (California legislation)

https://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/Jewelry/leadinjewelry_faqs.cfm

Toxic Levels of Lead in Many Thrift, Antique, and Resale Items:

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2010/12/toxic-levels-of-lead-in-many-thrift-antique-and-resale-items.html

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Latest Jewellery Questions And Answers

Work has been pretty hectic over the past few months.  I’m in the process of finishing some new handmade jewellery collections, as well as bringing you a many more lovely pieces of vintage and antique jewels; I’ve had boxes of old costume jewellery in storage for a while now, and have finally got round to sorting through them all. They’ll be ready to be put in my shop in the coming weeks.

A tiny handful of the vintage jewellery I've been going through and sorting, ready for sale soon.

A small handful of the piles of vintage jewellery I’ve been going through and sorting.

 

In the meantime, it’s been a while since we’ve had a Q & A session! So here are the latest jewel queries and questions that have been asked (and if you’d like to ask a question please get in touch or leave a message in the comment section below – no question is too small or far out 🙂

 

Readers Q & A:

 

Can you share any tips to find beaded necklaces on Ebay?

My first tip would be to write in the search box both ‘bead’ and ‘beaded’, as they’ll bring up more results. Also, do use the ‘Item Specifics’ area on the left hand side of the page – there are tick box lists to help narrow down your search and help filter out 1000s of unhelpful listings, including excluding International sellers (eg, if you need a necklace quickly and can’t wait for longer shipping from overseas).

Be as detailed and specific as you can; what is it that you’re looking for? Glass beads? Plastic? Faux pearl or cultured? Gold colour or bronze metal? Long or choker? Write it in the search box, don’t be afraid to use lots of words – sometimes I’ll type in a long sentence that over fills the box! If listing results are coming up that are no good for you (eg, you are searching for sparkling crystal beaded necklaces, but you’re having to go through hundreds of adverts for wooden religious rosary’s), simply put a dash mark: minus mark directly in front of the exact word you wish to remove; so if I wanted to search for a white glass bead necklace but didn’t want to see any wooden rosary’s, I would type in the search bar:

White bead glass necklace rosary rosary’s wood wooden

and this should remove all wood rosary listings from your search. Finally, some people swear by searching for miss-spelt listings, so in your case try “knecklace” “neckless” or “necklese” to perhaps strike it lucky and find the stuff no one else can see.  Hope this helps 🙂

 

What does the lion and anchor on jewellery mean?

A lion signifies that the piece is sterling 925 silver, and the anchor means is was tested and passed as genuine sterling silver (correctly called ‘Assaying’) in the city of Birmingham Assay Office in the United Kingdom. This beginner’s article on How To Read A British Hallmark should help you further.

identifying hallmarks UK British help and tips

A sterling silver 925 ingot pendant, with good large clear hallmarks. From the top: a leopard’s head, which tells us it was tested at London Assay Office, a lion ‘passant’ which confirms the silver is genuine 925 sterling, a ‘c’ (1977) which tell us the year it was tested/ made, and on this particular piece a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, as it was the Silver Jubilee 1977 celebration year.

 

Is there a fast way of dating cameo jewelry?

Generally speaking, the quickest way is to look at the quality of the carving. Smooth and beautifully detailed cameo’s tend to be pre-1920s, whilst ‘sharper’ crudely carved cameos are post 1940s. Roman mythology cameos are usually 18th to 19th Century, while pretty side profile portraits of young women with shorter or ponytail hair tend to be 1960s onward (though any type of male portrait tend to be 18th to 19th Century, just to confuse things). Pictorial / rural picture scenes are generally 19th to early 20th Century. Please note these are general guidance only, and not hard rules (eg, there are some modern cameos which are so well carved they look Victorian). If it’s a cameo brooch, I’ve written a photo guide on How To Date A Vintage Brooch, which may help.

A circa 1950s shell cameo pendant, quite crudely carved.

A circa 1950s shell cameo pendant, quite crudely carved.

A Victorian nicely carved shell cameo brooch, depicting Hebe and Zeus as an eagle, from Roman mythology.

A Victorian circa 1880s carved shell cameo brooch, depicting Hebe and Zeus as an eagle, from Roman mythology.

Thank you so much for this question, it’s given me a good blog post inspiration to do a quick-glance photo guide to dating cameos 🙂

 

How do you make micro mosaic jewellery?

Very briefly, tiny tiles (or tiny uniform pieces snapped off thin lampwork glass rods), are placed in a setting that has a strong glue or cement base in it, to form a picture such as flowers. Once everything is set and the glue/cement has dried, a type of grouting is placed over the tiles to secure them in. Unlike most other jewellery, micro mosaic making processes tend to be close guarded secrets, though these Youtube videos here and here may hopefully help further.

How to make micro mosaic jewellery tips help

A standard mosaic brooch, made from tiny glass tiles (approx 2mm to 4mm) set in cement and a gold plated frame.

Proper supplies are almost impossible to get hold of  – I’ve found that searches for micro mosaic tiles only bring up ‘small’ tiles, not the proper tinier micro mosaic jewellery ones. When I was planning on having a go at making micro mosaic jewellery myself a few years ago, the nearest tiles I could find were sold by this supplier who offers a range of Smalti tiles, (I planned use glass nippers to try and cut them even smaller).  I never ended up getting round to making traditional micro mosaic jewellery as I didn’t have the time, but if anyone does, please do let us know how you get on, I’d certainly be fascinated 🙂

If you’re not too concerned about keeping to the ‘traditional’ methods of using glass tiles, but are more interested in the final effect of micro mosaic jewellery, I’ve seen some absolutely stunning examples people have made from polymer clay. Glass seed beads set sideways (so you can’t see the hole) may also be an alternative to experiment with.

 

What does a 1/5 9ct.r.g .. m.k&co ..  stamp on my gold bracelet mean?
Any time you see a math fraction mark on gold-looking jewellery, it usually indicates a type of “gold filled” or “rolled gold” metal finish. Rolled gold is a sort of thicker gold-plating on base metal; it’s better than standard gold plating, but not as good as proper 9k/10k gold. The marks on your particular piece of jewellery mean it’s made from rolled gold, while the “m.k&co” stamp is likely to be the jewelry makers initials. You can discover more about the world of gold plating and the strange letter stamps on gold-looking jewellery here (reading it may also save you from getting ripped off by dodgy jewelry dealers!)
Helpful jewellers stamping "rolled gold" on the bangle rather than confusing us with mysterious fractions and letters.

This helpful jeweler stamped “rolled gold” on the bangle rather than confusing us with mysterious math fractions and letters.

 

How can you tell if jet is genuine?
Surprisingly, real jet feels more like plastic than like glass or gemstone – it’s lightweight, warm and has a slightly ‘oily’ texture (rather than heavy, cold and hard like glass or onyx). Looking at it through a strong magnifying glass or jewellers loupe will reveal some surface texture, not a glass like smoothness. Many people like to use a tile test – ie, scraping a piece of jet lightly on the rough unglazed underside on a tile to see if it leaves dark brown streak, but it’s not something I would personally recommend; it can badly damage the polished surface of the jet, and some materials that look like jet but aren’t, can stain the tile in a similar way too.
Close up detail of genuine Victorian Whitby Jet beads. Whilst the surface is shiny, it's nowhere near as glossy as onyx or glass jewellery. When held, it was also quite light in weight.

Close up detail of genuine Victorian jet gemstone beads, made with jet found at Whitby Bay in England. Whilst the surface is quite shiny, it’s nowhere near the mirror-like glossiness of onyx or black glass. When held, it’s also quite light in weight.

 

how to id identify genuine real jet and glass onyx photos

This is a close up of black glass beads – note how shinier and more sparkling it is than the above picture of the genuine jet gemstone (onyx is very similar looking to black glass as well). Just to really confuse things, black glass is sometimes called ‘French Jet’ by jewelers to make it sound more fancy.

I have a vintage Delft brooch, is it worth anything?

Whilst a lot of people do collect Delftware, the jewellery has unfortunately never really been worth that much, which is as shame because it’s really pretty. Generally speaking, I’ve found that vintage Delft brooches sell for between £3 and £10 ($5 to $12 USD), though once or twice I’ve seen them sell for around the £20 mark ($25 USD) – this is not a valuation, just what I’ve personally seen them sell for over the years.

A pair of pretty blue and white Delft earrings, with distinctive Dutch windmill detail.

A pair of pretty blue and white Delft earrings, with distinctive Dutch windmill detail.

 

Does sterling silver from England always have a lion imprinted on it?
No, a full lion hallmark is only legally needed on British sterling silver that weighs over 7.78g 🙂
What does a crown 585 symbol on my gold jewellery mean?
A crown symbol means it’s genuine gold, and the 585 mark means it’s 14ct gold. Birmingham Assay Office has a helpful guide to hallmarks here.
In old Victorian morning jewelry what do grapes mean?
They were often to do with Jesus Christ; representing the wine of Eucharist and the ‘blood’ of Christ. However, grapes could also symbolize fertility and hospitality, whilst vines and grapes together were a symbol of deep intimate bonds.
I struggle putting on necklaces and bracelets because of the fiddly clasps. Is there anything I can do?
It sounds like magnetic clasps may be your answer. You can buy plain one’s which attach to the clasps already fitted on your jewellery, or if you are buying handmade, many artisans have really pretty one’s that they can fit instead on normal clasps (on bracelets also ask for a safety chain to be fitted, for extra security – any decent jeweler will be happy to do this for you).  Magnetic clasps are stronger than people realize, and I’m a great fan of them.
If for any reason you can’t be wear magnets, a shepherds hook clasp and chain can be a secure alternative both on necklaces and bracelets, and for bracelets why not look out for wrap bangles – these are made from memory wire which is strong, flexible and permanently keeps its shape – it literally wraps around your wrist to create a bangle, no clasp needed.
A fancy diamante studded magnetic copper clasp fitted to a glass bead bracelet.

A fancy diamante studded magnetic copper clasp fitted to a glass bead bracelet.

Handmade nature ladybird lampwork glass bracelet stylish bronze colour magnetic clasp, with a safety chain for added security

Handmade nature ladybird lampwork glass bracelet stylish bronze colour magnetic clasp, with a safety chain for added security

types of clasp alternative to lobster in jewellery making

This long turquoise Czech bead necklace was decorated with huge focal wedding cake glass beads, which made the necklace very heavy. A normal lobster clasp wouldn’t have lasted very long with such weight, so I made a bronze shepherds hook clasp instead, which was both easier to use for the client, and will last for years without breaking.

 

Handmade memory wire wrap bridal bracelet, made with vintage ab crystal beads.

This sparkling bridal bracelet was created using aurora borealis glass beads, threaded onto memory wire, which is strong yet flexible. To put it on, the strand is simply pulled straight, and then wrapped around the wrist- it will quickly snap back into place.

French jet black glass torque bracelet, made from memory wire

A different way of using memory wire is to cut it into a torque design, and then thread beads onto it, as seen in this black glass bracelet; the wire is flexible enough to pull open, yet strong enough to securely flip back into shape once on the wrist.

I hope you have found these months Q and A helpful, and as always please do get in touch if you have any jewellery queries, need help or just want to say hi! Many thanks for stopping by 🙂

 

References and further reading:

Language of Flowers lists:

http://www.daleharvey.com/Directory/articles-of-interest/LANGUAGE+OF+FLOWERS/Meaning+of+Flowers.html

https://artofmourning.com/2010/12/26/symbolism-sunday-the-grape/

http://www.langantiques.com/university/Symbolism_in_Jewelry

Antique mythology cameos ID and information:

(Scroll down) http://www.langantiques.com/university/Symbolism_in_Jewelry

Making micro mosaic jewellery

Tile supplies: http://www.mosaicsupplies.co.uk/product-category/micro-tiles/

Making a micro mosaic pendant (using Fimo clay to set the glass tiles): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDYPe07LIHU

Examples of some fabulous modern micro mosaic fine jewellery: https://4cs.gia.edu/en-us/blog/magic-micro-mosaic-jewelry/

 

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).

 

 

 

What is French Jet jewellery made from? Info and guide here!

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:

vintage french jet glass large earrings glass 60s

French Jet = made from glass, feels cold, hard to touch. Can be quite heavy. Shiny and reflective. Will warm up when held in you hand. Makes a distinctive high pitched ‘chink’ sound if gently tapped on teeth.

 

antique vintage victorian whitby jet two row bead necklace jewellery mourning

Genuine Jet gemstone (eg Whitby Jet) = feels warm, quite soft to the touch, with an almost plastic/ oily feeling. Makes a much duller ‘chink’ when held.

 

Onyx vintage sterling silver brooch jewellery

Onyx = very cold, hard to touch. Heavy to hold. Shiny and reflective. Will not warm up when held in you hand and will remain cold ( here’s a tip – many natural gemstones won’t warm up when held). Makes a distinctive high pitched ‘chink’ sound if gently tapped on teeth. Easily mistaken for glass – if in doubt get it looked at by an expert.

Bog Oak = usually only seen in brooches. Look under a magnifying glass to see wood grain texture. Often depicts Irish scenes, castles and motifs.

Antique Victorian Vulcanite Ivy leaves brooch jewellery mourning

Vulcanite = warm and soft like plastic. Originally black like jet, it often fades with age to a brown colour. Rub Vulcanite and you’ll smell rubber.

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 ..

Antique Victorian French Jet bar mourning brooch jewellery

Antique Victorian French Jet bar mourning brooch jewellery, circa 1880s.

Vulcanite and French jet Victorian pendant

Vulcanite and French jet Victorian mourning pendant jewelry circa 1880s – an unusual mix!

vintage 1980s french jet glass clamper black bangle jewellery

vintage 1980s French jet glass clamper black bangle jewellery

vintage 1970s french jet glass diamante black tassel drop brooch (2)

vintage 1970s French jet glass diamante black tassel drop brooch jewellery

 

french jet oval faceted pendant glass bead necklace (2)

Modern French jet oval faceted pendant glass bead necklace

vintage exquisite signed french jet 2 row necklace 60s

Vintage 2 row French Jet necklace with stunning diamante clasp, signed Exquisite, circa 1960s.

 

What’s in the Jewellery Muse’s box of tools?

 

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 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, gold plating, inclusions in gemstones, and damage that wouldn’t be seen with the naked eye.  

My jewellery loupes, of various magnification, from x 10 to x 30. Personally, my x20 magnification loupe is the one I use most.

My jewellery loupes, of various magnification. My x20 magnification loupe is the one I use most.

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 can be purchased for less than £20, though specialist Moissanite/ diamond testers cost more  (Moissanites are the best quality imitation diamonds).

Diamond gemstone tester

Though a more expensive outlay, a good quality diamond tester could end up saving you a lot of money if you want to venture down the gemstone and diamond jewellery path; there are lots of fakes stones out there!

4. UV torch light.  Some glass stones and occasional natural gemstones will glow under ultra violet light, so this special type of torch can really help you on the way to identifying objects. Also known a s a black light torch, prices start from as little as £3.

UV torch jewelry

Small palm sized UV torch glowing the distinctive purple-blue colour of ultra violet light. This one cost me about £3 on Ebay and has helped to identify Uranium glass and even gemstones, many times.

5. An unglazed white tile.  Certain gemstones and 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.

7. Simichrome polish. A type of old plastic called Bakelite is highly collectable and was used to make costume jewellery during the earlier part of the 20th Century. Identifying Bakelite can be tricky, but rubbing Bakelite with a small dot of Simichrome polish will normally produce a yellow stain on the cloth (check out my post Identifying jewellery materials for more tips on how to ID Bakelite).

Using Simichrome polish to positively identify an Art Deco Cherry amber colour Bakelite necklace. Simichrome paste is actually pink, but rub it on Bakelite and it will turn the pink paste a yellow colour (varies from mustard yellow to pinky-yellow).

Using Simichrome polish to positively identify an Art Deco Cherry amber colour Bakelite necklace. Simichrome paste is actually pink, but rub it on Bakelite and it will turn the pink paste a yellow colour (varies from mustard yellow to pinky-yellow).

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, very 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, speckles and thin to thick parts in the patterns, and dark to light-green hues.
  • Fake malachite comes in many forms.  Plastic fake malachite is easy to spot as it’s lightweight and warm to the touch.  However, fake-malachite made from glass, is cold and hard to the touch like genuine malachite, but because it’s glass it will warm up in your hand much quicker (real malachite won’t warm up much at all; it remains cold – this applies to a lot of gemstones by the way).
  • Beware new malachite pendants! The area I’ve seen the most fakes in is the ‘Choose Your Stone’ type pendants (such as dagger shapes, moon shapes, silver-set cabochon stones, angel shapes, heart shapes etc), where you can choose from a variety of gemstones; I’ve never seen a real malachite stone in those pendants yet.
  • Genuine pure Malachite is always green.  So called ‘red malachite’ is simply a fancy name for a type of red jasper. Multi coloured ‘malachite’ is cheap dyed Howlite. However, malachite does occur naturally with a rich blue mineral called Azurite, which can create a stunning mix of azure and green colours; these genuine gemstones will be labelled as ‘Azurite malachite’ and are quite collectable.

Here are some examples of FAKE malachite:

FAKE: This is a coral and malachite mix stamped 925 sterling silver pendant - but it is in fact a fake - both the coral and malachite are made from glass. Coral and malachite mix jewellery is notorious for being fake - in fact the only real one I've ever come across was an antique bangle from about 100 years ago.

FAKE: This seems to be a coral and malachite stamped 925 sterling silver pendant, but it is in fact a fake – both the coral and malachite are made from glass. Beautiful coral and malachite mix jewellery has been made  around the world for many years, but is unfortunately flooded with fakes at the moment. My best advice would probably be to buy direct from the artisan themselves, or buy from a proper dealer who specializes in this type of jewellery (not a general jewellery or antiques dealer whom I’ve seen offer fake malachite/ coral Scottish Celtic style brooches genuinely convinced they were real) unless they can offer a full-guarantee of the authenticity of the stones.

 

Above: a fake malachite costume jewellery brooch. The centre faux-malachite is made from plastic, and the surrounding rhinestones are glass.

FAKE: a faux-malachite costume jewellery brooch. The centre faux-malachite is made from plastic, and the surrounding rhinestones are glass.

 

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 non 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, as seen in the above green glass imitation  vintage 1970s bracelet, is 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. This is re-processed or reconstituted malachite, and is made from crushed leftovers of the gemstone, mixed with dyes and resins. It still feels cold like genuine malachite would, but is lighter in weight and doesn’t feel as solid.

 

Here are some examples of REAL malachite:

 

Genuine real solid malachite gemstone cufflinks. Notice the sheer variety of colourization and patterns, from standard stripes to waves and unusual speckles.

REAL: Genuine real solid malachite gemstone cuff links. Notice the sheer variety of colourization and patterns, from standard stripes to waves and unusual speckles.

     

    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 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. To help you get started, why not visit some museums, which often have large chunks of the real stuff in gemology displays, or visit antique fairs and handle it. Reputable jewelers and gemologists should be happy to help you buy an affordable beginners piece, and why not also buy some properly labeled imitations so you can compare the two (ie, reconstituted malachite, plastic, glass).

    REAL: These are very old vintage malachites, very dark green, very heavy, and knotted in between for security (in fact knotting can be a good (but not 100%) sign of genuine gemstones, as knotting is a laborious process and it's not particularly cost effective to do it on faux stones.

    REAL: These are very old malachites from a vintage 1950s flapper necklace –  very dark green, very heavy, and knotted in between for security. Knotting can be a good (but not 100%) sign of genuine gemstones, as it is a laborious process and it’s not particularly cost effective to do it on faux gemstones.

     

    REAL: Genuine malachite beads. Note how the beads aren't perfectly round; this is because they have been hand cut and finished - a sure sign of genuine malachite beads.

    REAL: Genuine malachite beads. Note how the beads aren’t perfectly round; this is because they have been hand cut and finished – a good sign of genuine malachite beads.

     

    10 Do’s and Don’t Tips For Budding New Vintage Sellers

    The vintage scene is really blossoming at the moment, and with this has come budding entrepreneurs wanting to open their own vintage shops.   Recently a few people who want to do this have asked me for some tips, so here they are…

    1. Do borrow the antiques dealers trade mantra of ‘CONDITION, CONDITION, CONDITION’. Buy the best condition you can, and in most cases try and avoid any vintage items that are damaged. While vintage items rarely look brand new, I personally believe they shouldn’t show too many signs of damage either. I can often spot a new vintage seller a mile off because they sell ripped, stained or bad quality vintage items as ‘good condition’, claiming that this is normal wear and tear of vintage items. In my opinion, it’s not.  If you do have poor condition everyday vintage clothing/ jewellery etc items in stock (which are not sought after collectables btw) there are a number of things you might want to consider doing, like having a bargain bucket corner or selling them as job lots (there’s a good market for this). You absolutely do not want a reputation for selling shoddy goods.

    Tips on how to sell vintage jewellery jewelry and vintage retro fashion ideas

    Look closely and you’ll see that there’s some damage to the coating of these old 1950s glass pearls; most dealers would offer these in a discounted vintage jewelry sale section of a shop.


    art deco blue glass paste brooch rhinestone silver (2)

    When I sell my own vintage jewellery online, I rarely offer broken items. However, there are exceptions. For example, I know this damaged collectable vintage 1930s art deco brooch will be a good repair project for one of my talented customers. I always state any defects clearly in the advertisement, along with good photos of the damage. There is a growing niche market which is specifically for broken jewellery, which buyers like to use for their own projects.

    2.Do enjoy researching your items.  If you don’t like investigating and research, do not become a vintage seller. Research is a massive part of a dealers work, and can takes many hours just on one item.There’s just no getting around this one, you have to love learning about your vintage subject all the time.

    3. Do give the best service you can.  My tips?  Give detailed, honest descriptions, with the best photos you can from multiple angles.  Ship within 48 hours, and keep a customer informed of their order status and shipping times, especially if there is an emergency delay or you are posting overseas.  If there are any problems, always offer a no-quibble refund.  Never take things too personally, and always be polite and professional. Make sure you have friendly (and legal) terms and conditions – aggressive one’s are a sure way to put off your potential customers.

    Tips on how to sell vintage jewellery jewelry and vintage retro fashion ideas
    Taking photos from different angles is a must. Vintage collectors can find out so much from something as simple as a brooch fitting. For example, at first glance these two vintage brooch backs (above and below) look identical, but notice the different clasps in use; the brooch above has a c-clasp, while the brooch below has a roll-over clasp. This indicates to a collector that the above brooch is much older than the one below.

    Tips on how to sell vintage jewellery jewelry and vintage retro fashion ideas

    4.  Do visit as many antiques events and vintage shops as you can.  Literally feel your way around your chosen subject!  If you love vintage clothes, touch the fabrics, examine the sewing and seams, take note of how things were printed, and learn the old clothes companies names.  With vintage jewellery, hold the beads, study how things were made, feel the weight of the metals,  notice the different types of clasps used. Compare all your discoveries with modern items, and see how they differ.

    5. Do give a little back, and share what you learn. Not only is this a lot of fun, but the antique and vintage trade would grind to a halt if we didn’t share our knowledge. I wouldn’t be doing this job now if it weren’t for kind experts writing vintage jewellery articles which helped me so much in my early days of selling. It’s feels really good to give back now I’ve acquired some knowledge of my own.

    6.Don’t ask other vintage sellers to do the hard work for you. While sellers usually do help each other out, they also know when they’re being sneakily tapped up for a valuation by a lazy vintage newbie who can’t be bothered to do some simple two minute Google search of their own.  I’ll say it again – if you don’t like research, you won’t like being a vintage seller.

    7. Don’t expect to sell your item straight away. While occasionally you do sell items within minutes of being put on sale, it’s not unusual to have jewellery in stock for months, and even years.

    antique scottish agate buckle brooch victorian jewellery

    I fell in love with this stunning antique Victorian Scottish agate articulated buckle brooch, and when I put it in my shop I thought it would sell within weeks. Oh how wrong I was – took nearly five years!

    vintage cherub angel gold tone earrings clip (2)

    At the other end of the time scale, I added these these cute vintage 1980s cherub angel earrings to a shop I had and they sold within. … 6 minutes!

    8. Don’t give descriptions of your item based on a guess – chances are you’ll be wrong, and your customer won’t be happy.  There are a lot of knowledgeable collectors out there who have loved vintage fashion long before it became on trend, and boy do they know their stuff! If you have a vintage item in stock which you honestly don’t know much about, then don’t be afraid to say so – just give a detailed description of it’s condition, measurements, and lots of photos!  Encourage your customers to ask questions too.

    9. Don’t under-charge, nor over-charge for your vintage item.  Finding the right prices to sell at is a constant struggle, because there is no concrete-set industry standard for vintage fashion. Just because something is old doesn’t automatically make it valuable, yet under-charge and your item won’t sell as customers will think it’s a fake or damaged. Again, do your research and investigate what prices similar things are selling for in other outlets.

    10.  Finally, enjoy what you do!  There’s a world of difference between loving something as a hobby, and doing it full-time, and I have personal experience of this. You see,  I never set out to be in the jewellery trade – my childhood dream was to be an artist.  However, when I finally got the courage to quit my job and do that, I slowly realised I’d made a huge mistake; I loved painting, I just wasn’t enjoying it as a full-time ‘job’.  It was a humbling experience, and it was hard to admit both to myself and to others that my dream was becoming a boring nightmare.  I’d always liked buying vintage jewellery to wear for myself, and I fell into it quite by accident as a way to suppliment my income during this transitioning and painful time. I had no idea at that time I would end up a become a complete jewellery enthusiast! Life works out strangely (and for the best), when we are honest and open, especially to ourselves.

    Tips on how to identify genuine Lapis Lazuli gemstone (and avoid the fakes!)

    vintage lapis lazuli nugget chip bead necklace long (1)

    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.

    Lapis lazuli silver bracelet identify info how to test lapis lazuli for fakes genuine real gemstones tips

    A blue-dyed lapis lazuli braclet – parts of the rock are far too dark blue (a good giveaway) of over dye. There’s also a lot of ‘fools gold’ glitter flecks in the stones – this isn’t desirable, and good quality lazuli has very little in it.

    • 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.
    vintage lazuli faux lapis glass gold brooch jewellery

    A faux lapis lazuli vintage costume jewellery brooch circa 1970s, made with glass stones. Notice how the faux lapis lazuli  is quite artificially blue and too perfectly ‘dappled’. The gold-flecks are overly perfect and uniform as well.

    vintage gold lapis lazuli faux fake glass paste clip on earrings jewellery

    Vintage circa 1970s clip on costume jewellery earrings, made with faux lapis lazuli stones (actually made from glass). The blue markings are giveaway – no graduation of colours, too ‘hard’ an edges, and only 2 colours (light blue and dark blue). Handle and look at as much natural undyed lapis lazuli as possible – go to proper antiques fairs and jewellers, study gemstone books and magazines. I’ve often found museums can unexpectedly turn up great examples of gemstones and jewellery – check out the one’s near to you (or venture out further and make a day of it) – they are often literally hiding hidden gems in there, waiting for you to discover them*.

    • lapis lazuli necklace

      A nice average quality undyed lapis lazuli gemstone bead necklace – note that a couple of the beads show white calcite; more expensive lazuli beads would not have this.

    • ‘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.
    1. Lapis lazuli bracelet gemstone identify info how to test lapis lazuli for fakes genuine real gemstones tips

      Vintage genuine lapis lazuli bracelet.

    • 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).
    Lapis Lazuli 925 silver earrings

    Lapis Lazuli should be a lovely rich blue colour, as in these fine earrings.

     

    Hope these tips help 🙂

    How to read a British hallmark stamp on gold and silver jewellery

    How to read a British hallmark  – an info guide:

    Reading British hallmarks on gold jewellery isn’t as difficult as it first appears. Firstly, you’ll need a couple items.

    • A jewellers loupe. This is a type of hand-held powerful magnifying glass. Nowadays you can pick these up for under £3 off Ebay, and it’s worth its weight in gold (pardon the pun). Don’t bother with other types of magnifying glass as they can’t get into those nooks and crannies, nor are they really powerful enough. Aim for between 20x to 30x magnification – any higher and the hallmark starts to distort and blur.
    • A proper British hallmarks book. This is a must, and my personal preference is for Bradburys Book Of Hallmarks, which is pocket size and easy to use.

    Info guide and tips on how to identify gold and silver jewellery jewelry hallmarks

    ABOVE: types of jewelers loupes.

    Once you have your jewellers loupe and book of hallmarks (I use Bradbury’s so will go according to this) you can start to identify your jewellery. Let‘s go!

    1. Hallmarks on jewellery are tiny, and because they aren’t meant to be seen easily (so they don’t detract from the jewellery), they are stamped in an unobtrusive places. Be prepared to do some searching for them! In general, a ring is usually hallmarked on the inside of the band. Necklaces are normally stamped on or near the clasp, or on the pendant part if it has one. Earring hallmarks are often stamped on the piercing wire part, but this isn’t a rule and they can be marked anywhere. On charms they can absolutely anywhere, and it can take some deep investigation to find them; I once came across a highly detailed motorbike charm, and eventually found the hallmark on its license plate!

    Info guide and tips on how to identify gold and silver jewellery jewelry hallmarks

    ABOVE: a set of tiny British hallmarks on the clasp of a 9k rose gold bracelet.

    2.Once you’ve found what looks like your hallmark, hold the jewellers loupe up to you eye, along with the jewellery in your other hand. It will need a bit of practice to get the image clear, and may mean twisting your arms and head to get the magnified vision clear enough to see. Good lighting is a must too.

    3. Once you can see your hallmarks, try and work out what they look like. This is the part that takes a lot practice, and can be done in a variety of ways. My advise would to be to firstly figure out the Assay Office stamp. The Assay Office is the institution which ‘Assayed’ (ie hallmarked) the precious metal, and is represented by a simple symbol. The most common ones are:

    • Sheffield (a round rose symbol)
    • London ( a leopards face symbol)
    • Birmingham (an anchor)
    • Edinburgh (a castle)

    (There are many other British Assay Office stamps/ symbols which can be found on antique jewellery. These offices no longer exist but are still recognized by UK Law, including Chester, York and Glasgow. Bradburys Hallmark book has much more info about all British hallmarks, along with detailed images and symbols of all the Assay hallmarks).

    You can see what hallmarks look like on this latest Jewellers Dealers Notice (this link opens a PDF file and is from the Sheffield Assay Office).


    4. Say for example, you see an anchor symbol – this is the Assay Office mark for Birmingham. Look in your Bradbury hallmarks book and find the chapter headed ‘Birmingham‘. You’ll see pages of hallmark lists that look bewildering, but trust me, they’re easy to use with a bit of practice.

    5. Now you’ve found the Birmingham section, bookmark this, go back to your jewellery and take a look at the letter stamp. Memorize this as much as possible, and go back to the Birmingham section of your hallmark book and search through the hallmarks, seeing which typeset letter looks like the one on your jewellery. As a general rule, work backwards from modern times to older. To find out the finesse (ie type of gold) of the jewellery, look for a stamp with numbers in it. In this rings case, it’s ’375′, meaning the ring is 9ct (9k) gold.

    Gold finesses on British gold jewellery are:

    9ct gold: 375

    14ct gold: 585

    18ct gold: 750

    22ct gold: 916

    You may occasionally come across 12ct and 15ct British hallmarks on genuine antique jewellery; this is where hallmarks can get complicated, so for the beginner it’s best to get proper advise concerning this from a professional such as an auctioneers.

    6. Finally, you’ll always see some kind of initials on a proper British hallmark. These are the Makers Marks, which means the person or company who actually made the jewellery, and is a requirement of British Law. There are now many websites dedicated to exploring Makers Marks, so a quick Google should help you on your way in this area.

    (On some older gold jewellery, you may also come across a crown symbol, called the Crown Standard. This stamp meant that the item was gold, though along with the date letter, it’s now optional on modern jewellery).

    And that’s how you read a basic gold British hallmark. You can use this exact method given here for reading silver, the only differences being that the Standards are different:

    • Gold is represented by a crown
    • Platinum is represented by an Orb 
    • Sterling Silver(925) is represented by a lion
    • Britannia Silver (958) is rare, and is represented by the lady ‘Britannia
    • Palladium is represented by Pallas Athene’ ie, the head of Athene, the Greek Goddess of War (whom palladium was named after).
    Info guide and tips on how to identify gold and silver jewellery jewelry hallmarks

    ABOVE: A well detailed set of Sterling silver British hallmarks on a silver pendant. From the top; the makers initials, below this is a leopards head (meaning it was tested/ assayed in London), then below is the Lion Passant (meaning the item is 925 Sterling Silver), then the italic letter ‘C’, meaning the year it was made was 1977, and finally a special mark bearing the Queen’s head; 1977 was the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, so Assay Office’s created a special stamp to celebrate this. Please always confirm with any business, jewellers or pawnbrokers (both real world and internet) that the item you wish to purchase is fully British hallmarked.


    Avoid sellers who refuse to do this, or claim a UK hallmark isn’t necessary. Also avoid shops that claim 10K gold is legally recognized in the UK – it isn’t, and if you decide to sell your 10K stamped jewellery item at a later date you will legally have to describe as either white or yellow metal, not gold. You’d be surprised how many sellers and shops don’t know or care about hallmarking law, and will tell you anything so they can simply sell the item. This goes for for both ‘real life’ shops and internet shops.