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:
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!
As you learn more about vintage jewellery, there are a few tools that can really help you develop your knowledge and make identifying your jewelry a lot easier (I call them my basic essentials). Most of the following are inexpensive, and can be easily purchased over online..
1. Jeweller’s loupe. Aim for either x20 or x30 magnification. Not just for reading hallmarks, these mega magnifiers can help you identify materials such as coral or bog oak, inclusions in gemstones, and damage that wouldn’t be seen with the naked eye.
2. Book of gold and silver hallmarks. Beginners to United Kingdom gold and silver identification can’t go wrong with Bradburys Book of Hallmarks. An easy to use pocket size booklet, yet very concise and in-depth.
3. Diamond tester. If you want to start collecting fine jewellery a diamond tester is an absolute must. These are quite expensive to buy but are an essential investment, especially as there are so many fake diamonds around. A good quality basic one is between £50 – £80, with specialist Moissanite/ diamond testers going into £100s of pounds (Moissanites are the best quality imitation diamonds).
4. UV torch light. Some glass stones and natural gemstones will glow under ultra violet light, so this special type of torch can really help you on the way to identifying objects. Prices start from as little as £5.
5. An unglazed white tile. Certain materials such as jet will stain the tile when gently rubbed on it, helping you in identification.
6. A pure wool garment/ strip. Organic materials, such as amber will often create static electricity when rubbed on wool; rub the amber on the wool vigorously, then hold a human air to it – real amber attracts the hair to it like a magnet.
Buying and collecting vintage jewellery can be so addictive once you get started, so it pays to make sure what you’ve bought is the genuine article. Here are some tricks of the trade to help you get started! Though these tests aren’t 100% conclusive, they can guide you in the right direction when investigating what a material is.
***WARNING:The tests marked ‘invasive’ are here for historical information only – do not use them – they can seriously damage jewellery. ***
Tests for antique mourning jewellerymaterials such as Whitby Jet can be found at the very bottom of the page.
Amber is fossilized tree resin which is millions of years old. It can come in a variety of colours, from light yellow and green to dark brown-red and even rare glowing blue amber from the Dominican Republic. One of the first items used to make jewellery thousands of years ago, Amber has captivated us ever since. Unfortunately fake amber and the real thing can feel and look the exactly same, and your best bet is to get it tested by a proper expert, such as a long time amber collector (online gemology/ mineral forums are a good place to find some), registered auctioneers or fully qualified gemologist.
Test 1: There’s a lot of fake amber around the internet at the moment. The safest and least invasive test is the static test. Rub the amber vigorously against wool for a few seconds, then place next to a piece of paper, or a strand of hair. Real amber creates static electricity, and should gently pull the paper or hair towards it.
Test 2: Genuine amber usually floats in sea water, so try the salt water test (only works on amber without settings ie plain loose pieces or beads). Mix about 20-25 grams of salt into 200ml of water until it’s dissolved. Real amber generally floats, imitations tend to sink to the bottom.
Test 3: Invasive: The acetone test (try some brands of nail polish remover). Put some acetone on a tiny bit of cotton wool and rub it in an tiny inconspicuous area of the amber – acetone should not affect it. Copal or some plastics become slightly tacky. This test can massively decrease the value of you copal or plastic jewellery.
Test 4: Invasive: Hot needle test. Heat a fine sewing needle and gently pierce the amber with it (in an inconspicuous place so it will not be seen). Plastics will emit a chemical smell, amber will emit a sooty pine smell, with white smoke.This test can massively decrease the value of you amber jewellery.
Some amber will glow gently under UV light – but this isn’t a good test, as some plastic fake amber glows under UV light too.
This organic material comes in a variety of colours, though mainly red and sought after salmon pink. It can be carved into cameos or polished into beads, and has a long and distinguished history in jewellery. It was poular in Victorian jewellery as it was thought to ward off illness and disease. Coral is still popular today, and good quality vintage coral jewellery always demands a high price.
Test 1: You’ll need a good jewellers loupe. Inspect the coral closely with the loupe – it should have tiny ‘grains’ to it, similar to a grain of wood.
Test 2: Invasive: Take some lemon juice and a good magnifying glass/ jewellers loupe for this. In an inconspicuous place, place a tiny pin-head sized drop of lemon juice on the coral. Look at the area with a magnifying glass – tiny little bubbles should start to form from the coral if it is genuine. Thoroughly wash the item immediately after it happens to remove all traces of lemon juice – if you don’t this test will completely ruin the coral. This test can massively decrease the value of you coral jewellery.
The only real way to test diamonds yourself is to purchase a top quality diamond tester, which includes the Moissanite test (moissanite is a type of imitation diamond). It’s always best to take possible diamonds to your local jeweller or auctioneers for proper appraisal,because even if your jewellery is made from diamonds it can vary widely in price. The following are only stepping stones, and must not to be used as conclusive tests.
Test 1: Breath on the stone. A real diamond disperses the ‘breath’ mist immediately, while fakes usually remain misty for a few seconds
Test 2: Diamonds will scratch glass (though many other gemstones will too!)
Test 3: If the stone is loose (ie, not in a setting) then try reading a word in a newspaper through it – it should be impossible to make out.
Test 4: The cost – real diamonds are not cheap! If the price is too good to be true it usually is.
Test 5: Colour. Fakes such as Cubic Ziconias, Diamoniques(TM) and glass are usually much ‘whiter’ in appearance than a diamond, especially when they catch the light. Diamonds can vary in colour – some being an almost almost translucent grey.
Test 6: Some diamonds glow when held under black light (also known as UV or ultra violet light).
Genuine pearls feel slightly gritty when rubbed lightly against your teeth, while glass pearls or plastic pearls always feel smooth. Plastic pearls are light to the touch. Both glass and plastic pearls have a pearl coating which scratches or chips off – this cannot happen with real pearls. Real pearls are often slightly mis-shapen (unless very expensive).
The best way to see if gold is real is to find its hallmarks. However, some antique gold isn’t hallmarked, and you can buy cheap testing kits which use a special acid to test and grade the gold. Please use these kits with extreme caution – I’ve seen dreadful damage done to antiques by well meaning people trying to test their gold. Take your jewellery to a local jewelers or auction house for proper appraisal without damaging potentially valuable items.
Test 1: With a strong magnifying glass or jewelers loupe study the gold. Look at its edges, and the parts that come into direct contact with the skin closely. What kind of wear can you see? Can you see any fading, or another colour showing through underneath? If the item is scratched, can you see the colour of the metal inside the scratch – is it the same colour? Gold is always uniform throughout its depth ie any scratches or dents to gold should only reveal more gold underneath – never another colour.
Test 2: Grab a magnet, and hold it to the item. Precious metals are not magnetic.
As you become used to handling a lot of gold, you’ll develop a ‘feel’ for it. Many professionals can privately tell a good quality gold plated piece from a solid gold piece just by looking and briefly holding it, though this takes a time and practice!
Glass has been used as an imitation for gemstones and in costume jewellery for hundreds of years. It is always cold and hard to the touch. It can be opaque or clear, and molded into impressive shapes and designs. A hot pin test will never damage glass. When rhinestones (also called ‘pastes’) are used to imitate gemstones, they have often been coated at the back with a gold or silver coloured foil, and have a more ‘flat colour’ compared to the real thing. Glass can also be scratched, cracked and chipped quite easily.
The term ‘paste’ or ‘glass paste’ is the correct term used to describe any imitation stones made from glass. French Jet is another term you may often hear- this is simply fancy name for black glass.
Plastic is softer and warmer to touch than glass or gemstones. It is a specialist collectors area in its own right, with Bakelite in particular attracting a huge following and prices to match. Plastics come under ‘costume jewellery’, though many plastic Bakelite pieces can fetch over a thousand pounds at auction.
Plastics are most commonly used to imitate Amber, Jet or Tortoise Shell. It often has ‘seams’ where it has been joined or molded together during manufacture, where as genuine items don’t have these seams.
Bakelite jewellery in particular is flooded with fakes, and many sellers don’t know how to test for it properly. If you see an item of vintage Bakelite for sale always ask the seller how they know it’s genuine Bakelite. I always use the respected Simichrome test (along with my sense of smell) to make sure any Bakelite I have is genuine.
Testing Bakelite: Try and get hold of some Simichrome Polish, which is the easiest way to test for Bakelite. Put a dab of the polish onto cotton wool and rub the item. The cotton wool should turn a yellow colour. If you can’t get hold of any Simichrome, simply rub the item vigorously until hot – it should emit a distinctive chemical odour. Bakelite should never have any mold seams, and is very hard to the touch.
Invasive: Bakelite does not accept a hot needle (though a hot needle will badly damage the Bakelite by leaving a brown permanant scorch mark which decreases its value massively). Using this test will massively decrease the value of your jewellery.
MATERIAL USED IN MOURNING JEWELLERY:
Mourning jewellery has been around for centuries and was created and worn in remembrance of loved ones. It became hugely fashionable during the reign of Queen Victoria. Mourning jewellery often had hidden meaning in it’s symbols (such as flowers or objects) – it could even reveal a Victorian woman’s status in life. Many pieces were typically made from black coloured materials, such as Whitby Jet, Onyx and glass. The richer members of society wore solid gold, sometimes decorated with fine black enamel and detailed with the loved ones woven hair.
This is a type of beautifully carved peat, and was used mainly by the people of Ireland for creating imitation Whitby Jet. It is usually very dark brown in colour.
Test 1: Will leave a brown streak on a white unglazed tile.
Test 2: Feels warm and lightweight (like wood) when held. If you hold a magnifying glass up to it you should see grains, like grains and patterns in a plank of wood. Will not usually be highly polished and shiny like Jet is.
Test 3: The actual design of the item can give bog oak away. Mourning/ Victorian era bog oak jewellery mostly came from Ireland, and usually has shamrocks, castles and harps carved into it.
This fossilized coal-like material was soft to work with, could be intricately carved, and was polished to a shiny finish. Antique Whitby Jet jewellery is today highly prized and desired. It is black in colour, and is prone to cracking and chipping with age.
Test 1: Will leave a dark brown streak on a white unglazed tile.
Test 2: Feels warm and lightweight to touch, similar to black plastic (never feels cold or heavy to hold like black glass). Usually has a good polish and an almost oily in texture like amber. Never truly reflective.
Test 3: Some jet creates static electricity when rubbed against wool. Do this, and then place the jet near a strand of hair or a piece of paper – the jet should pull it slightly towards it.
Test 4:Invasive; Hot pin test. Heat a needle and gently pierce an inconspicuous area of jet. It should not take a needle well, and emit a coal like odour (jet is fossilized coal). Using this test will decrease the value of your jewellery.
One of the earliest forms of ‘plastic’, Vulcanite was invented in the 1840s by combining certain types of tree sap with sulpher. It is usually black to mid-brown in colour, and is often in near perfect condition due to its durability (other than fading to a brown colour).
Test 1: A simple and very reliable rub test. Holding the jewellery, rub a part of the vulcanite vigorously until its quite hot and then smell. It should emit a rubber like (and sometimes slightly sulfuric) odour.
Test 2: Will leave a brown powdery streak on an unglazed white tile.
Never get Vulcanite wet – water will damage it.
Again, another rubber type material used, and is not commonly seen. Tests as for Vulcanite, though with one important and unmistakable addition – the taste test! Touch the Gutta Percha in a tiny inconspicuous area with the tip if the (dry) tongue – it will taste incredibly salty. Never get Gutta Percha damp nor wet as water stains and damages it.
A fancy name for black glass. Cold and hard to touch, and will not be damaged by a hot pin test.
Another material used to imitate Whitby Jet, horn was molded into desired shapes, and then dyed black.
Test 1: Will sometimes leave a grey powdery streak when rubbed on an unglazed white tile.
Test 2: When held to the light the edges are often translucent.
Test 3:Invasive: When gently pierced with a hot needle in an inconspicuous place horn will emit an odour of burning hair. Using this test will damage and massively decrease the value of your jewellery.
One of the most popular gemstones is malachite. With its beautiful green colour, wonderful patterns and heavy, quality feel, its no wonder!
Like all popular gemstones though, there are now increasing amounts of fake malachite flooding the market, especially over the internet. Here are some tips to help you avoid these imitations:
Genuine malachite is very cold, heavy and feels hard. It is heavier than solid glass or plastic, and feels ‘dense’ and ice cold when held and touched. The striped patterns are called ‘banding’. Genuine malachite is not uniform in its patterns and colours; you’ll find circles and thin to thick parts in the patterns, and dark to mid-green hues.
Fake malachite comes in many forms. Plastic fake malachite is lightweight and warm to the touch. Glass fake malachite tends is cold to the touch like genuine malachite, but because it’s glass it will warm up in your hand much quicker, where as real malachite won’t warm up much at all; it remains cold (this applies to a lot of gemstones btw).
*Check out the museums in your area – even the smallest ones can often throw up some big surprises!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lapis lazuli has been sought after and used in jewellery for thousands of years. It’s rich blue colour, along with those sparkling flecks of fools gold iron pyrites make it truly irresistible! Unfortunately, lapis lazuli has also become one of the most faked gemstones in the world. It’s not easy to tell the difference between fake lazuli and the real gemstone. Many cheap minerals and gemstones (such as poor quality jasper, white howlite, spinel, sodalite or calcite) can be dyed to imitate it, while glass and plastic can been used to copy lapis lazuli too. Here are some quick tips to hopefully help you spot genuine good quality lapis Lazuli (and avoid the fakes) …….
Firstly, look at the price. The best lapis lazuli commands very high prices, and tends to be set in gold. So if you see a string of lapis lazuli beads for only a couple of pounds/dollers, they could be fakes or very poor quality dyed stones. In my own personal experience, a standard nice quality lapis lazuli undyed natural bead necklace tends to cost from around £30 upwards.
Poor quality Lapis lazuli can be dyed. Lapis lazuli is made up of a mix of minerals: lazurite (which gives it that distinctive blue colour), white calcite, dark grey-blue sodalite and golden ‘fools gold’ flecks of iron pyrites. Too much white in the gemstone means it classed as a cheaper calcite, too much dark blue-grey means it’s a cheaper sodalite. Poor quality lapis lazuli can be dyed to make it appear more desirable (see below photo).
To test if your lapis lazuli has been dyed, simply wipe your stone with acetone or alcohol. If it loses its colour it’s either a fake, or a poor quality lazuli dyed to imitate better quality lazuli.
Genuine lapis lazuli is around 5.5 on the MOHS gemstone hardness scale (diamonds are 10) which means it will just about scratch glass, though can itself be scratched with a knife.
Look for the ‘fool’s gold’ (a.k.a iron pyrites) in your lazuli. These are little random golden flecks and tiny lines of dark metallic gold in the gemstone. Genuine ‘fools gold’ is surprisingly difficult to imitate – it usually ends up looking far too uniform and ‘perfect’ for it to be real.
‘Reconstructed Lapis Lazuli means that bits of the leftover lazuli gemstone have been ground up and then binded together to make a new stone or bead. It’s not really a fake as it does contain lazuli… but then it’s not the true real thing either. Re-constituted lapis lazuli often has an unatural pebble dash feel and look to it.
If the Lapis Lazuli is simply too uniformly blue, and is cheap to buy, then it’s probably fake. Only the very best top quality Lazuli is a uniform blue colour, with virtually no fools gold. It is incredibly rare, deeply sought after and costs an absolute fortune; this is the type of lazuli you only see set into the finest 18k or 22k gold settings.
Plastic faux Lapis Lazuli can be identified by holding it and tapping it on your teeth. Plastics will feel almost ‘warm’ (ie not cold like glass or gemstone), and will make a dull quiet clink when gently tapped against your teeth (gemstones and glass make a cold hard higher pitched ‘clink’ on the teeth).
As with a lot of gemstones, lapis lazuli can be very cold to the touch. Although glass imitations are cold as well, they will quickly warm up when held – real gemstones often remain cool even after fairly prolonged holding.
Glass faux Lapis Lazuli often has no gold specks in it, although some top quality imitations do. However, the flecks are too smooth and uniformly patterned to be real, and the blue colour is too ‘blue’, shiny and even.
Real lapis lazuli will leave a blue-ish mark on a rough surface, such as an unglazed tile. When it’s cut in half, lazuli emits a foul odour; it contains sulfur, and this oxides (and smells foul) on reaction to the air. Both of these tests will of course completely ruin your stone, so I don’t recommend them! (Dyed inferior lapis lazuli will also stain a rough surface).
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.
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!
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!
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).
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.
Many people want to know about dating vintage and antique brooches, and how they can tell if a brooch is old. Here are a five tips to help you find out…
If you see a brooch, the first thing to do is to check out its clasp mechanisms. The ‘T-bar pins and c-clasp’ types were used from the 18th Century up until the around 1910s, after which they fell out of favour.
Check the length of the pin itself – the longer the pin, the older the brooch (this was perhaps due to clothing being much thicker and heavier in the old days, so a long pin was needed to keep it in place securely).
From around the 1910s to 1950s we occasionally see what we call in the trade ‘trombone’ clasps, which are tubular cylinders used to keep the pin itself in place rather than a c-clasp (though c-clasps were still very common in this period too).
Generally speaking you tend to only find roll-over clasps on brooches made from the 1960s onwards. (Note: Early experimental prototype roll-over ‘safety’ clasps can be seen as early as the 1910s, though these are exceptionally rare – I’ve only ever seen a small handful made before the 1940s in the last 10 years).
There are no hard and fast rules to dating a brooch – things other than a pin and clasp are taken into account; the tips given here are general tips only for general guidance, and you may occasionally find a crude c-clasp on a piece of 1970s jewellery, or a long pin on 1980s jewellery (though T-bar hinges are never found in post 1930s jewellery, so that’s a help anyway!).
Picture time! You can see some examples of these types of brooch clasps below, starting from the earliest type:
Finally, the most important tip when learning to date vintage jewellery is to handle as many pieces as possible. Go to auctions, antique fairs and proper vintage shops and have a really good look at what genuine vintage jewellery looks and feel like.
Genuine vintage jewellery is in massive demand at the moment, and rightly so. It’s got character, is often amazingly beautiful and well made, and of course almost no one else will own your unique piece!
As with anything that becomes fashionable, you’ll always get sellers and store owners trying to cash in on the trend. While there is of course nothing wrong with this, it can become a problem if they describe their jewellery as vintage when it isn’t. In fact at the moment I’m really disappointed at the amount of jewellery I’m seeing online that is being described as simply ‘vintage’, when on closer inspection it is modern ‘vintage style’ or a marriage of new jewellery with salvaged vintage bits and pieces attached to it.
Here are my tips to make sure you’re buying genuine, real vintage jewellery.
1. ‘Antiqued’ gold tone is usually modern. You know the colour I mean – that bronzed and slightly dappled dark gold plating that’s really popular at the moment. Dark antiqued gold plating has been used in the past (especially on circa 1920s to 1940s Czechslovakian/ Bohemia region jewellery though this isn’t very commonly seen). If you’re not sure then email the seller for clarification of age.
2. Plastic rhinestones are cheap modern alternatives to glass, and have been used in jewellery since the 1980s. Tap rhinestones on your teeth to see what they are made from. Glass has a cold hard high pitched clink, while plastic is warm and soft, and makes a much duller sounding click.
3. Gunmetal colour, ie dark shiny pewter colour metal is generally modern, though absolute matte black metal was occasionally used in vintage jewellery.
4. Cute kitsch pendants on simple chains are very popular at the moment,and are sometimes advertised as simply ‘vintage’. These are usually modernmade, not proper genuine vintage jewellery. A seller may be using old parts taken from vintage jewellery (which is fine and can be really beautifully done), but they should make this clear in both the title and description of the jewellery. Jewellery like this is correctly called ‘vintage inspired‘…’vintage recycled‘ ….’vintage reworked‘ or ‘vintage style‘ etc…..not just ‘vintage’.
I’ve actually seen a seller describe their modern jewellery (which happens to have a little piece of vintage jewellery stuck onto it) as simply ” ‘vintage handmade necklace”. I understand completely that sellers need to make money, and want to get to the top of jewellery searches in Google search engine for vintage jewellerty. However, surely this kind of description can’t be right? How would this seller feel if they’d bought a ‘vintage handmade’ Art Deco wardrobe, only to find out it’s a modern wardrobe with Art Deco handles stuck on it?
5. Genuine vintage jewellery is generally unique, which is why it is so sought after. If you see words such as ‘limited stock on this item‘ it will not be authentic vintage jewellery.
6. Always read the ‘about me’ or ‘about us’ page of a website. Who is it that you are buying from? Are they experienced vintage jewellery dealers? Do you get a feel for their love of genuine vintage jewellery?
7. If the description of a jewellery item only says ‘vintage’ and doesn’t give an actual approximate date to the item (eg made circa 1950-60s, or made circa late 19th century) then be a little wary, and email the seller for a date to the item.
Hope this helps you find your perfect piece of real vintage jewellery.
If you’re a real vintage seller, what are your tips for buying vintage jewellery? (other than shopping at your fabulous shop of course 🙂