The time honored method of learning how to identify antique jewelry is by handling a lot of it, learning from knowledgeable experts, and by studying it in books and museums. But especially with older pieces like Georgian and early Victorian, how do you learn to distinguish the real stuff from fakes – also known as “reproductions” – when you don’t have a mentor and/or are in a market where genuine pieces may not be readily available to study? None of us wants to make an expensive mistake and those of us who are dealers don’t want our credibility damaged by offering fake pieces as genuine.
One approach is to familiarize yourself with reproductions that are widely available for sale online and at jewelry and gem shows. While these pieces are being sold as “reproductions” by their manufacturers, they rapidly hit the secondary market as genuine antiques, sometimes by unscrupulous dealers and sometimes by people who genuinely believe they are old. This approach won’t necessarily teach you how to spot genuine antiques but it will help you learn to spot fakes.
I recently checked several online sources to see what is being offered for sale as reproductions. I first checked eBay where, under the category of “Vintage Reproductions”, there are hundreds of pieces for sale. There is one particular “Victorian Reproduction Rose Cut Diamond Georgian Flower Brooch” manufactured in India that has become ubiquitous on the secondary market. Due to copyright laws I cannot include a photo of this brooch but you should be able to find it by doing an online search.
The design consists of a central motif of a flower flanked by two leaves; there are smaller leaves below the flower, and small rosettes framing the top of the flower and forming a dangling swag at the bottom. The brooch is constructed primarily of silver and is set with low-grade rose-cut diamond chips.
On a recent buying trip to London I saw this exact brooch being sold as genuine Georgian in a high-end antique shop; at the Portobello Road market I saw a variant that consisted of the central flower and leaf motif mounted on a silver bracelet. Online I’ve seen a brooch consisting of the central motif surrounded by rosettes; earrings consisting of a pair of the leaves; a single leaf hung as a pendant; and the central flower mounted on a ring shank. All were being represented as genuine Georgian pieces.
While there is no photo of the back of this brooch included in the eBay listing, I examined the piece on my buying trip and noticed that most of the components were attached to each other with wires, and that globs of soft solder were used to attach the wires to the back of the leaves and central flower. While soft solder is often used for repairs to antique jewelry it would not have been used in their original construction. It appears that the manufacturer of these pieces churns out leaves and flowers with the stones already set, and then assembles them in various configurations using soft solder so as not to damage the already-set stones. This is an economical way for them to produce the jewelry but it also can fool people into thinking that these are old pieces with repairs.
There are also some stand-alone websites selling reproductions. Just Google “Georgian repro jewelry”, “Victorian repro jewelry”, “Antique repro jewelry” or some variation of those words and several sites turn up. While they often have very pretty pieces, look closely and you’ll notice clunky castings and settings, and poor quality diamonds.
Of course there are many other manufacturers making reproductions and what’s available on the market at any given time will change, but a general lesson to take away from this study is that if you start to see a lot of examples of the same piece – or its components – purporting to be Georgian it’s a red flag that they may be fake. Georgian jewelry was hand made by individual silversmiths and while there are stylistic similarities between genuine pieces from the era, it’s very rare to find a lot of identical pieces (sometimes you will find a few identical pieces, for example when a set of buttons or a riviere necklace has been converted into several pairs of earrings). In addition, authentic Georgian pieces usually have beautiful craftsmanship: skilled labor was cheap back then and a great deal of care was taken to set stones tightly to prevent air from darkening their foils, the backs of pieces were usually smoothly and simply finished, and there’s a delicacy to the originals that is missing from the repros.
If you devote some time to studying these fakes you will begin to get a sense of how these reproductions/fakes are designed and constructed and start to recognize them as you come across them online and in shops and markets. Then, when you come across genuine Georgian pieces you will notice their differences and will be on the road to becoming an expert.
Next up in Part 2 – My visit to the bead and gem show.
Lisa Kramer of Lisa Kramer Vintage on Ruby Lane