When buying vintage and antique jewelry how do you determine the age of the piece? Dating jewelry is done through multiple methods – looking at stylistic clues, at techniques of construction, at hallmarks, and at patent numbers. However I’ve found that by remembering a few key dates can help in narrowing down the date of a lot of pieces, or at least eliminate some faulty attributions.
1915 – White Gold: The metal alloy for white gold was patented in 1915. Therefore, if a piece of jewelry contains white gold it cannot be earlier than 1915. Thus, no Victorian jewelry will have white gold since Queen Victoria died in 1901. Any white metal used in jewelry prior to 1915 will be either silver (most common), silver plate, platinum (which is and was expensive, used only in the finest jewelry, and wasn’t used until the 1870’s), steel, pot metal, or aluminum.
1918 – Made in Czechoslovakia: The country known as Czechoslovakia did not exist prior to the end of World War I in 1918. So, anything signed “Czechoslovakia” is post-1918 (and pre-1993 when Czechoslovakia’s dissolution occurred). I’ve seen many items marked Czechoslovakia described as “Victorian” which is impossible since, as mentioned above, Queen Victoria died in 1901 nearly a generation prior to the birth of Czechoslovakia. On the other side of the timeline, a lot of contemporary jewelry is being produced trying to deceptively pass itself off as early 20th Century Czech jewelry. There are several excellent articles in Ruby Lane’s “Modern Reproductions, Fakes, and Fantasies” section to help identify these fakes.
1955 – Aurora borealis rhinestones: The technology for depositing iridescent coating on rhinestones (seen below on the small stones) to create what is known as “aurora borealis” was developed in 1955. Therefore, any piece of jewelry with these stones will be from 1955 or later except for the rare case where someone used one for a repair. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen jewelry with aurora borealis stones attributed to the Art Deco period (roughly 1920-1940) and once was shown a pendant with aurora borealis stones by a high-end dealer who claimed it was Victorian!
1976 – Cubic Zirconia: The breakthrough in technology for producing commercially viable cubic zirconia was published in 1973 and commercial production began in 1976. If a piece has CZ stones, it’s post-1976.
1979 – Mexican Hallmarks: Since 1979 Mexican silver has been marked using a string of letters and numbers consisting of a pair of letters followed by a hyphen followed by two or three numbers. It will look something like this: TA-123. (the first letter is for place of manufacture, most commonly “T” for Taxco; the rest of the string signifies the makers name and the order in which they registered). So, if you have a piece of Mexican jewelry with this style of hallmark it is relatively new, post 1979.
Remember, the simple clues listed above will only tell you the oldest that a piece of jewelry can be; however, it could be newer. And, of course, occasionally a later-produced item will be used in a repair (for example, I have a pair of 1930s earrings in which someone used CZ’s instead of rhinestones as replacement stones). For more detailed information I recommend several excellent sources: Warman’s Jewelry, 3rd edition by Christie Romero, which contains a timeline of jewelry history and technology; the online “Antique Jewelry University” at http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Main_Page ; as well as Ruby Lane’s Real or Repro.
Lisa Kramer is the owner of Lisa Kramer Vintage on Ruby Lane and specializes in vintage and antique jewelry and accessories.