The Importance of Manufacturers’ Marks on Jewelry

A few weeks ago, we commented on the importance of true hallmarks on jewelry items. In addition to assay related hallmarks, and often in the absence of true hallmarks, any other identifying marks placed on an item by a manufacturer may be helpful in identifying and dating an item.

In some cases, a manufacturer is required to place an identifying mark on an item. In the United States, when a manufacturer marks an item as being composed of precious metal, such as a ‘14k’ mark, they are required to place a mark on the item which identifies them as the manufacturer. This actually provides a certain assurance of quality. Some years ago, jewelry trade organizations worked together to measure and address the issue of “underkarated” jewelry items. These are items that bear a mark indicating a certain fineness or quality, but which are actually of a lower quality. The Jewelers Vigilance Committee bought and tested pieces of jewelry from major cities throughpout the United States. They found that “66 percent of all items without trademarks, but with quality marks, were below the quality marked. Every item...purchased with a trademark was of the marked quality.” A Washington, D.C. Television station did a similar sampling and found that 75 percent of the items they purchased with quality marks, but no trademark, were underkarated.

In addition to being an assurance of quality, a manufacturer’s mark may help date an item. If you know a firm only started manufacturing jewelry in 1937, you also know that an item bearing their mark could not be made before that date. So while it may have the look of a Victorian piece, you know it is not truly Victorian, or Antique, due to the presence of the mark. Some manufacturers used different marks at different times, so the specific mark used may give you rather precise dating.

Additional marks may be added to a piece, such as patent registration numbers or copyrights. Please keep in mind that several different types of patents are available, and the actual patent date only establishes an earliest possible date for manufacture. A patent is in force for years after being issued, and manufacturers may use parts with that patent number even after the patent has expired. These situations could mean that the piece was made years, or decades, after the actual patent date. Copyright marks were seldom used on American jewelry pieces before the mid-1950s, although several exceptions to this rule exist.

Not all jewelry items were marked, when originally made, and original marks can be worn away through the years, or removed during normal repair or sizing processes. However, when present, they can tell you some important things about your jewelry.

By researching a mark fully, and clearly showing that mark on any items offered for sale, sellers can offer a buyer a great deal of helpful information, and offer them assurance that the item is accurately dated and represented.

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