Dating Jewelry - Some Helpful Hints for Determining Age
inFebruary 22, 2012 - 4:13pm
Vintage and antique jewelry can be hard to date accurately. Certain styles have been produced, perhaps with some minor variation, over long periods of time. We are aware of manufacturers that use metal dies in ring production that actually date back to the 19th Century. However, a careful examination may reveal some hints.
What is it made from?
Silver and yellow gold have been used from the earliest times of jewelry production. Platinum saw very little use until the late 19th Century. White gold did not come into any widespread use until the 1920s.
Is it marked?
Manufacturers or assay offices have often marked pieces. A maker’s mark or quality mark may be present. If the maker’s mark can be identified, a little research may reveal when that manufacturer was in business. The actual style of the mark used may give more precise dating information. Quality marks may have changed over the years, or the actual standards applied may have changed.
For example a French Platinum piece may be marked with a Dog Head mark. This mark was only mandated in 1912, so a date of 1912 or later can be assumed when you see this mark. An item with this mark would never be considered Victorian or Edwardian. Ruby Lane allows the use of the term Victorian for items made from 1837 to 1901, and allows Edwardian for items produced from 1901 to 1910.
British hallmarks on jewelry and silver can be most helpful, as the often include a date stamp, indicating a year of production, or a possibility of 2 years.
The actual quality marks used, in the case of some stylized marks, may vary. A little research may help establish a date for some of these items, like Russian and Austro-Hungarian items.
What date are the components from?
The design of some components may give a good hint as to the age of an item. Most brooches and pins used simple c-catches until the late 19th Century. Several changes in the actual catches used from the late 19th Century on may provide some specific dating information. Remember that an older pin may have had a more secure catch added at a later date, or had the entire catch assembly replaced. It is also possible for a new piece to be created with the classic 19th Century c-catch.
The style of a pierced earring post, or the presence of a non-pierced screw-back or clip-back finding can also help date a piece. Clip-backs date from around WWII. However, earring findings may also be changed, long after the original creation of a piece.
The components provide some great hints, but sometimes do not provide definitive dating for an item.
What stones are used?
The type of stone used, or the style of cutting can also give some clues about age of a piece.
Tsavorite Garnet and Tanzanite are relative newcomers to the world of gemstones. While some vintage pieces may contain these stones, many more pieces date to the last 20 years. These stones will not be seen in antique pieces, unless the stone was actually set into the piece at a later date. Replacement of a damaged stone is one reason for replacement, and a number of people may have an original stone removed for use in a different piece, and then have a new stone set into the old piece for re-use. A similar situation exists with Blue Topaz. Most Blue Topaz jewelry dates from the 1980s or later, when the treatments used to induce this color were perfected.
Some cutting styles, such as the Princess and Radiant cuts used in diamonds, also help date an item as a more contemporary style.
Was the style made at different periods?
Many styles have had revivals. Styles of the Renaissance were imitated in mid-Victorian times, and some costume jewelry of the mid-20th Century has a Renaissance feel. Egyptian revivals occur regularly, it seems. Some elements of Victorian style were incorporated into jewelry creations of the 1930s and 1940s. Contemporary diamond mountings may resemble pieces from the late 19th and early 20th century, and may feature diamonds cut in styles that had almost disappeared, such as Ascher cuts and Antique Cushion Cuts. We know of particular styles that are being produced today that have been in continuous production for over 90 years.
These factors contribute to the confusion of dating jewelry items accurately.
Look at the entire piece. Do not make a determination of age based on only one factor, but only in light of all factors.