How to Spot Good Antique Jewelry

antique necklace image by Lucy Cherniak from

As the popularity of all things vintage and antique increases, determining the difference between reproductions and real antique jewelry has become an important skill for collectors, investors and the fashion conscious. Even some true antique pieces retain their luster and value better than others. By noting a few key traits, even the novice can spot a fine quality antique ring, brooch, pin or other type of jewelry.

Check the jewelry’s construction. The artisans who crafted antique rings, brooches and other older pieces tended to place pearls, rhinestones and other gems together in tight formations. Reproductions use inferior materials (lightweight counterfeit pearls, for instance), glued to the metal or base. Test the clasp on a necklace or pin. Well-made antique jewelry often includes a catch that secures it to the wearer. A good quality piece will have a cameo, photo, or other inlay fashioned into the frame, while cheaper jewelry contains separate pieces glued into place.

Look for common materials used in antique jewelry. Early brooches, pendants and other pieces were made with ivory, coral or shell. Georgian and Victorian jewelry were often crafted out of silver and yellow gold. Check for enamel, mosaics, and human or horse hair embellishments. Jewelry made in the 1700s and 1800s used bulging, uneven diamonds with a bright sheen.

Look for the carat mark on the back of the pin or brooch. Use a jeweler's loupe to locate these small symbols. They may be faint due to years of wear and tear. Look for other markings that indicate the company or artisan.

Rule out jewelry as reproductions or modern pieces by the backings and clasps. Clip back and barrel clasps indicate jewelry from the 1920s or later. Fold over latches were used after 1900, as were earrings with lever backs.

Compare the item with photographs of genuine antique jewelry. Find detailed color photos of costume and fine jewelry in books like the Antique Trader’s Jewelry Price Guide. By studying several pictures of Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco and other types of antique jewelry, you’ll learn to spot characteristics of each style by sight.

Look at the stone’s setting. Antique jewelry contains hand-cut diamonds and other gems. Baguettes and invisible settings were first used in the 1920s. The more uniform the cut, shape, or style, the more likely that it’s a vintage reproduction

Learn about the designs, symbols and terminology used with different eras of antique jewelry. Bookchain refers to rectangular book-shaped charms, often used in lockets during the Victorian era. Ladies used lace pins to hold scarves in place during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Early Victorian jewelry often sported filigree designs of gold or silver wire. By combining these attributes with the other traits listed above, you can come close to pinpointing the era, quality and age of a piece of antique or vintage jewelry. Always consult an appraiser before selling estate jewelry or a piece that appears to be rare or valuable.