Admiring Antique Jewelry: Authentic & Reproduction

by

Victoria Curry


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This webpage was created for a gemstones and gemology course in the 2008 spring semester at Emporia State University. The assignment was to learn webpage creation, as well as present a summary of antique-styled jewelry.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Jewelry comes in many styles and reflects the time it was made. However, many jewelry manufacturers and artisans create jewelry in antique flavors. This website will briefly review major eras of antique jewelry, a few items to consider when determining if a jewelry piece is authentic or a reproduction, and recommended sources to help you on your quest for antique-styled jewelry.

The information on jewelry periods given below has been adapted from www.ross-simons.com/Estate/Jewelry.html and jewelry.ha.com/overview.php?article=period. Visit these two websites for a thorough review.


Periods of Jewelry in Review

Georgian (1700-1837): During this era, usually the wealthy, aristocrats wore jewelry. The jewelry was rough, usually made of silver since major gold deposits were scarce. Gemstones were single cut or flat since cutting techniques had not been mastered. Use of gems with silver-foiled backings occurred to help add sparkle and improve color of the gemstone, and because lapidary and diamond cutters did not understand light transference properties (Heritage Auctions, 2008). Preferred gemstones included diamonds, topaz, garnet, coral and pearls.
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Victorian (1837-1901): This era of jewelry style was not only the longest jewelry era, but was filled with many exciting motifs. The designs that were included in the early part of the era included anything that was based on sentiment. For example, many natural subjects (i.e., snakes, flowers, hands holding) and hair (both human and horse) were used to express the sentiment. During the middle part of the era, jewelry design reflected other themes such as Etruscan, Moghul styles from India, Egyptian and other new interesting areas around the world. (Heritage Auctions, 2008). After the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria publicly mourned and expressed her sadness in her jewelry and clothes. The fashion was to wear black....black jewelry came in the form of jet, enamel, glass, and the like. Other preferred gemstones were garnet, amethyst, seed pearl, coral and opal. The favorite metal was rose and yellow gold (Ross-Simons, 2008). During the late Victorian era, also known as the Aesthetic Period (1880-1901), more refined pieces were in fashion and the preference became silver verses gold (Heritage Auctions, 2008).
Arts and Crafts (1890-1920): This movement was primarily in the U.S., Great Britain and France. During this period of jewelry design, one would see organic motifs, enameling, and work in silver vs. gold. Preferred jewelry was in small scale brooches, hatpins and pendants (Heritage Auctions, 2008).
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Art Nouveau (1890-1915): Influenced primarily from nature, Asian and mythical themes and reflected the elements of the Arts & Crafts Movement (Heritage Auctions, 2008). For example, the use of enameling and nature motifs was prevalent. Dragonflies, snakes, butterflies, and irises were plentiful; while the Art Nouveau icon was pendant or brooch with a female head adorned with flowing tresses (Ross-Simons, 2008). According to Ross-Simons, referred gems were moonstone, opal, citrine, peridot and freshwater pearls, as well as horn, bone, copper, shell and carved glass. This era was truly an incredible, yet short-lived period.
Edwardian (1901-1920): During this era, platinum was the metal of choice. Styles were scalloped and elegant. Introduction of several different cuts for gemstones was exciting for this era. Although diamonds and pearls set in white metal were favorites, other popular gemstones included sapphires, rubies, opal and garnets. Synthetic ruby and sapphire was developed during this time, and also white gold. This was another exciting jewelry period, one with high standards of craftsmanship (Ross-Simons, 2008).
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Art Deco (1920-1935): This is the time of the flapper girls with short hair styles and geometric, fine-lined jewelry. The jewelry was practical and functional. It was common to see a necklace to have the ability to change into two bracelets. This was also a time with commerce, cultural and archeological influences (ie, King Tut, trade with Orient), which brought color and introduction of new stones used in jewelry (Ross-Simons, 2008). Preferred gemstones included a mixture of turquoise and sapphire or coral and diamond, as well as jade, ivory, quartz, and onyx. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 obviously impacted jewelry and its designs and affordability. Jewelry became more geometric and clips, bandeaus, bracelets and pins were the most popular at the end of this period (Heritage Auctions, 2008).
Retro (1935-1950): This period was during World War II and would bring with it the patriotic theme. One would see plenty of eagles and flags to show support. Large cut stones would become more in fashion. The colors of gold also begin to rise in popularity. One would see rose, green, as well as yellow and white gold used in combinations and less platinum due to the wartime shortages (Heritage Auctions, 2008). Also charm bracelets become very popular as did pearl necklaces. The new favorite gemstones were citrine quartz and blue aquamarines from South America (Ross-Simons, 2008).
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A Look at Authentic and Reproduction


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There are many antique jewelry pieces available today. One must use extreme caution, however, when purchasing antique jewelry for a commanding price. If you are not knowledgeable on authentic jewelry pieces, do not buy it. There are some ways of determining if a piece is authentic, which are discussed in the following section of this website.

Just because a piece of jewelry may be a reproduction does not mean it is worthless. If you are interested in the style but not paying the price or worrying about the fragility of a piece, it may be a good idea to purchase a reproduction. Also, if you are fond of a certain era of jewelry design and you are not able to find any antique pieces, try a reproduction. You can get the same pleasure from wearing a reproduction as if it were antique. Here are examples of Victorian and Art Deco period reproductions I have purchased.

I also admire the styles of the Georgian Moghul period. (Well, actually I admire all jewelry periods!) The diamond jewelry pictured below are examples of Georgian Moghul diamond jewelry that would not only be extremely expensive to purchase, but quite fragile to wear. This is a situation where I have purchased reproductions so that I may still enjoy the beautiful pieces from that era at more affordable prices and I am able to wear them on a daily basis if I choose.
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Hallmarks are pictures, letters, or numerals stamped into metal that are required in some countries to identify the type of metal, location, date made and maker. These hallmarks can prove to be a good source for determining authenticity of jewelry pieces. However, remember they can also be forged. Be sure to look for the wear signs on the piece of jewelry and be sure they seem to match up with the wear around the hallmarks. There are many sources available to look up the hallmarks and see what they represent. It can actually turn into a fun hobby, although an expensive one as well! One of my favorite hallmark websites to determine English dates is: The Birmingham Assay Office. Another resource is the Jackson's Hallmarks guide which can help locate more info from various countries and it is small enough to take to an antique show!

Gemstones were used in the past as they are used today in modern jewelry. However, the cut of the gemstone or the type of gemstone may give away that a piece is actually an authentic antique. To better prepare yourself, purchase a diamond tester, which are available online from jewelry supply companies such as Rio Grande. Also, be sure to learn your gemstones. There are classes at universities such as this one, GO340 Gemstones and Gemology at Emporia State University and The Gemological Institute of America, where you can take classes either in person or through distant learning.

Also, be sure to learn about gemstones that were popular from a particular era so that you may recognize if a piece is authentic. I recently purchased a rose gold ring that was said to have been set with an onyx stone in the center. Interested in the style and identifying the setting as late 1800's, I quickly corrected the store keeper and mentioned this appeared to be jet.


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During the late 1800's it would be very common for a ring as this one to be set with jet. Mourning jewelry was all the rage and had been since 1861 after Prince Albert died and Queen Victoria publicly mourned until her death (Finlay, 2006, p. 46). Jet, an organic anthracite coal, can be tested by heating a needle and placing it on the back of the stone inside the mounting to protect the top. If it was jet, it would feel warm to the touch; while, onyx, an inorganic microcrystalline material, would feel cold to the touch. After purchasing the ring, I took it home and heated a needle and touched the back and it did test as jet. Thank goodness!

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Metal used in the jewelry can also show if it is authentic or a reproduction. Again hallmarking of the metal can come in handy, but so is testing it. You can purchase metal testers online or through Rio Grande, for example, that determine if the piece is gold, silver or platinum.

Settings or mountings can also give away the age of a piece of jewelry. Studying the different eras can give you insight to jewelry you are considering buying. For example, a ring with seed pearls and enameling of flowers set with an inexpensive stone is a fine example of Art Nouveau era jewelry.

Price should not fool you. Just because a piece of jewelry may not be expensive does not mean it is not authentic. And the other way around...if a piece is pricey doesn't mean it is not a reproduction. As usual, buyers beware!


References and Recommended Resources

The following sources were used to write this webpage and are also handy guides to learning about antiques and reproductions. It is a fun hobby! Enjoy!!

Image References

  1. Image A. Opal enameled white gold ring from author's personal collection.
  2. Image B. Moghul style diamond ring gold & silver from author's personal collection.
  3. Image C. Ross-Simons. http://www.ross-simons.com/Estate/Jewelry.htm [retrieved April 27, 2008].
  4. Image D. Ross-Simons. www.ross-simons.com/Estate/Edwardian/Jewelry.html [retrieved April 27, 2008].
  5. Image E. Mel's Antiques. http://www.stores.ebay.com/Mels-Antique-Jewelry [retrieved April 27, 2008].
  6. Image F. Ross-Simons. www.ross-simons.com/Estate/Edwardian/Jewelry.html [retrieved April 27, 2008].
  7. Image G. Ross-Simons. www.ross-simons.com/ [retrieved April 27, 2008].
  8. Image H. Ross-Simons. http://www.ross-simons.com/Estate/Retro/Jewelry.html [retrieved April 27, 2008].
  9. Image I. Victorian and Art Deco reproductions from author's personal collection.
  10. Image J. Moghul style diamond reproductions from author's personal collection.
  11. Image K. Victorian English silver hallmarked jewelry from author's personal collection.
  12. Image L. Victorian jet rings from author's personal collection.
  13. Recommended Links

    Gemstones Syllabus WebPage Assignment
    Past Student WebPages Gemstone Links


    Comments or concerns? Email the author, vcurry@emporia.edu. Webpage creation, May 5, 2008; latest update May 6, 2008.