vintage brooches

Five tips on how to date a vintage brooch…. with pictures to help!

 

Many people want to know about dating vintage and antique brooches, and how they can tell if a brooch is old. As with anything to do with jewellery, things can get complex pretty quick, but here are 5 simple beginner’s tips for dating vintage brooches  – please note these are general guides only for people new to the vintage jewellery world.

  • If you see a brooch, the first thing to do is to check out its clasp mechanisms. The ‘T-bar hinge and c-clasp’ types (see photos below) were generally used from the 19th Century up until the around 1920s. Some modern artisans still prefer to use a c-clasp – but on modern brooches you’ll probably never see a T-bar hinge.
  • Check the length of the pin itself – generally speaking, 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 1930s 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 common in this period too). This is general age dating only, and trombones can occasionally be seen on pre-1910s jewellery up to the 1960s in my personal experience.
  • Generally speaking you tend to only find the roll-over clasps on brooches made from around the 1960s onward. (Note: Early experimental prototype roll-over ‘safety’ clasps can be seen as early as the 1900s, though these are uncommon – 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 must be taken into account,such as design, metal type, glass/ enamel/ stone cuts and types etc; 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 1990s jewellery (eg, so though I’ve personally never found the T-bar hinges on post 1930s jewellery, it’s doesn’t mean it won’t happen!).

Below, you can see some photo examples of the age and types of brooch clasps, starting from the earliest.  Remember, the key words here are **general speaking** and not hard rules (there are c-clasps you may find on modern jewellery, and rollover clasps you may find on very early 20th Century jewellery):

antique scottish agate victorian banded agate brooch jewellery dating tips

VICTORIAN T -BAR HINGES: A typical antique T-bar hinge and C-clasp shown on a brooch dating circa 1880s. The T-bar is named after the T shape of the hinge (left of picture), while the C-clasp is named after the c shaped hook catch the pin fits into (right). This type of brooch fixing was generally used throughout the Victorian period and up until around the Art Deco era.

antique scottish agate banded brooch 1a close up T- bar hinge jewelry dating

VICTORIAN T -BAR HINGES: Close up of an antique t-bar hinge, used on circa pre-1920s jewellery, with the blue ring circling a good example of a hinge.

whitby jet brooch jewelry

VICTORIAN T -BAR HINGES: The back of a circa 1880s Victorian Whitby Jet mourning brooch shows a tiny crude T-bar hinge and c-clasp.  Note the long pin, which stretches way over the brooch itself.

antique edwardian glass paste rhinestone brooch vintage dating jewelry tips

EDWARDIAN HINGES: In the early 20th Century the T-bar hinge was gradually replaced with a smaller rounded hinge, as seen on this circa Edwardian / early 20th Century paste brooch (and like on the brooches we see nowadays). Note that the long pin was still popular.

vintage 1950s brown banded glass agate brooch green pearl rhinestones dating help jewellery

20TH CENTURY TROMBONE CLASPS: The trombone tube clasp never really became that commonly used, and was generally seen on brooches from around the 1910s up to the 1950s. It consists of a cylinder tube within a cylinder – you pull the inner cylinder out to release the pin.

vintage 1970s rolled gold shell cameo brooch pendant (3)

A standard roll-over pin and clasp, as seen on this vintage crude shell cameo, Roll overs generally became the most popular brooch fitting from around the 1960s onward to today. Note how short the pin itself has become, especially when compared to the long Victorian pins.

victorian vintage antique etruscan gold emerald green brooch glass

ROLL-OVER SAFETY CLASP:  A good close up of a roll over clasp. Just to confuse things, this is actually a repair job – a more modern clasp has been soldered onto a much older antique Victorian mourning brooch. Note the silver soldering, which gives the repair away  (the roll-over clasp has been put on there, as the original c-clasp had broken off).  Dating old jewellery can be complicated!

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. And remember – as pointed out previously, these are general guidelines only – you may find c-clasps on modern brooches, and early types of rollovers on pre-1950s jewellery. Get advise and guidance from as many different people and sources as possible 🙂