Most vintage and antique jewelry is stamped or etched with a mark representing the metal content and may also show the manufacturer of the jewelry as well. The stamps, hallmarks, and trademarks are sometimes located in an inconspicuous area on the jewelry and other times, the mark is plainly visible.
The U.S. government, via the Gold and Silver Stamping Act of 1906, required that all jewelry and related items marked karat gold or sterling silver be accompanied by the manufacturer’s trademark.
Jewelry prior to 1906, however, is not always marked and will require a bit of investigation. Early gold or sterling lockets such as in the Victorian Era, in my experience, are generally unmarked as are the bracelets. The gold ones can be made from a lower karat; such as 9 kt. or they may be gold filled and when marked it is often shown as 1/20 12kt gf. A locket could easily be14 kt. or even 18 kt. gold. A helpful and easy trick my jeweler taught me to determine if a piece is gold filled is to examine the piece with a jeweler’s loupe. Under magnification when you scrutinize the piece, especially near the edges, if you can see brass coming through, then the piece is gold filled.
A loupe with high magnification is a great investment and invaluable tool to examine jewelry for hidden marks and reading them when they are miniscule!
When in doubt about a particular piece of older jewelry, it is always a good idea to get advice from an experienced and trustworthy jeweler. Seeking out a reputable jeweler in your community will be beneficial in many ways. They are not only a great resource for helping identify antique jewelry but a source for jewelry repairs as well.
Finding a concealed mark on antique and vintage jewelry certainly takes some experience! As a novice collector, I had been not been versed in locating the marks, but experience over the years has taught me to where to look on the particular jewelry piece.
For instance, an old brooch might have the mark on the pin. Examine and feel the pin to see if there is writing. On vintage sterling charms, companies utilized marks on the jump rings; Beau and Danecraft were known for this and in addition they also marked their charms. If the jump ring is gone on a vintage, you may wonder if the charm is sterling. On antique and vintage bracelets, the jump rings are often marked, so take a good look at both sides of the rings for any marks. Older Czech jewelry is generally marked on the jump rings or if the piece has a bezel, the mark can be on the side of the bezel, sometimes it is very tiny and that is where the loupe is important! Clasps are also marked with the metal content. If the clasp is a slide in, the bottom of the tongue may be the place to find a mark.
A locket often contains old photographs. If the bezel, photograph and cover are carefully removed, you may find the locket manufacturer hidden underneath as well as the metal content. Also, the bezels are sometimes marked. If the locket is square, sometimes the mark is on the side, rather than inside or one the back, perhaps not to distract from a lovely design. On a pendant, if the back is not marked, check the bail for any distinguishing marks.
Some vintage earrings that were part of a parure or demi are unmarked. Becoming familiar with the look and style of vintage jewelry can help identify those pieces; by such important designers as early Miriam Haskell pieces or Original by Robert Jewelry.
Online resources are available for those wanting to learn more about jewelry. The Vintage Village is a wonderful forum to discuss and learn about vintage items. And for Ruby Lane shop owners they have a “What’s This” and “What Was That? “ section on their website which is a valuable resource tool.
In conclusion, it pays to carefully examine any vintage or antique item carefully, learn the hidden areas for marks, invest in a good loupe and locate a respected jeweler to assist you when necessary.
Collecting antique and vintage jewelry is exciting, fun and definitely addicting! It is an investment in the past and is beautiful to wear and enjoy!
Karen Soldwisch of Synergy Jewelry and Collectibles