Complete Guide to Authenticating Antique Jewelry

October 30, 2023 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Every piece of antique or vintage jewelry narrates a story engraved in precious metals and gemstones. Authenticating antique jewelry increases your appreciation of the craftsmanship of bygone eras, while also helping you make a well-informed purchase.

Anybody can authenticate antique and vintage jewelry without expert equipment or extensive knowledge, it’s simply a matter of learning how. If you’re interested, then continue reading, as we will teach you how to identify the origins and assess the value of antique rings, earrings, necklaces, and designer pieces.

How to Authenticate Antique Rings

Customer Looking At Large Diamond Ring With Halo

1. Hallmarks

Hallmarks on the band can indicate the metal content, country of origin, or the ring maker.

  • The maker’s mark depicts the unique symbol or initials of the craftsman.
  • The assay mark indicates the entity that certified the metal’s purity.
  • The metal and fineness stamp indicates the type and purity of the precious metal. For example, the stamp ‘925’ signifies 92.5% pure sterling silver. Gold-stamped with ‘375’, ‘585’, ‘750’, ‘916’, ‘990’, or ‘999’, represents purity in parts per thousand. Older rings tend to have higher weight and purity.
  • Roman numerals indicate the year of provenance.
  • Commemorative and personal messages can indicate age.
  • Import and export marks trace the country of origin and date.

Faking hallmarks is possible. If a mark becomes too worn to read, then it is advisable to seek the opinion of an expert.

2. Design Style

Each antique style hails from an era a century or more ago. Here’s a rundown of the historical design periods:

  • The Georgian Period (1714-1837) features natural motifs, seed pearls, intricate metalwork, and semi-precious gemstones.
  • The Victorian Romantic Period (1837-1888) features vines, snakes, semi-precious gems, and plastic ivory, turquoise, and coral.
  • The mid-Victorian Grand Period (1861-1800) features vulcanite and jet rings with sunbursts, stars, and flowers.
  • The Late Victorian Aesthetic Period (1880-1901) features florals, filagrees, and hand engravings.
  • The Art Nouveau Period (1890-1910) is known for colored metals natural motifs, and cameos set in enamel.
  • Edwardian (1901-1910) rings introduced platinum bands with intricate filigree work depicting scrolls, bows, and garlands.
  • Art Deco rings (1920-1940) featured geometric stone cuts accented with emeralds, sapphires, and rubies.
  • The Retro Period (1940-1950) is known for“cocktail rings” and acrylic Lucite creations.

3. Cut

Antique gem cuts reflect the technology and aesthetics of their time:

  • The Rose Cut has a flat base with a dome-shaped crown. Three to twenty-four faceted points symbolize rose petals. Rose cuts date back to the 1500s and were popular in the Georgian and Victorian eras.
  • The 18th-century Old Mine Cut is square with rounded corners, a high crown, and 58 facets.
  • The 19th-century Old European Cut is a round brilliant stone with a high crown and 58 facets.
  • The Briolette Cut, originating from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, features a teardrop-shaped gem with facets.
  • The Cabochon cut, characteristic of the Art Nouveau era, features a smooth, rounded top that highlights opaque stones such as opal, turquoise, and moonstone.

4. Patina

Patina is a film that develops on metals over time as a result of oxidation. Gold develops a soft and warm patina, while the platinum patina produces a frosted look. Lab-created patinas could also exist, so they cannot solely determine age.

5. Craftsmanship

Antique engravings show the brilliant craftsmanship of certain eras:

  • Scrollwork, creeping vines, and detailed floral patterns are Georgian, Victorian, and Art Nouveau.
  • Geometric patterns and pavé diamonds are Art Deco features.
  • Tiny metal beads called Milgrain are Georgian, Victorian, and Art Deco.
  • Relief engravings that create a 3D-raised effect are found on rings from 1788 onwards.
  • Intaglio, a hand-etched recessed effect, gained popularity from the 1500s to the 1930s.

6. Metal Type and Weight

A ring weighing more than 14 karats is likely antique because metals were abundant a hundred years ago. A ring’s metal type and weight may indicate the following:

  • A 24-karat ring is pure gold.
  • The more silver in a ring, the older it is likely to be.
  • Platinum and rose gold were popular during the Edwardian and Art Deco eras.
  • Palladium, being less dense than platinum, saw use during World War II when platinum was in short supply. Nowadays, this light metal is 30 times rarer than gold.
  • Copper was used as an alloy to create Victorian-era rose gold.
  • Nickel is an alloying metal in white gold, rarely used because it’s a common allergen.

7. Wear and Tear

Signs of wear and tear reveal a ring’s history:

  • A scratched or scuffed band
  • Chips or scratches
  • A thinned or smoothed band
  • Empty prongs or loose stones
  • Tarnished silver, and yellow-white gold
  • Worn engravings or filigrees
  • Visible marks of ring resizing

8. Provenance

Checking the provenance of an antique ring requires a bit of detective work and patience. Here are some ways to trace a ring’s history:

  • Procuring the receipt or certificate of authenticity.
  • Inspecting the band for maker’s marks.
  • Researching the ring’s appearance and era online.
  • Perusing old family photos that might show it being worn in a certain decade by a relative.

9. Gemstone Settings

Certain antique gemstone settings can indicate an older ring:

  • The solitaire setting belongs to many eras but is mostly associated with the mid-century cocktail ring.
  • Bezel settings engulf the gemstone in metal and are typical of Edwardian-era school rings.
  • The Pave setting, (French for “paved”) is a glittering surface of tiny stones, popular in the Georgian and Art Deco eras.
  • The Art Deco Channel setting is a smooth continuous line of sparkling gems.
  • The Late Victorian Cluster ring tucks gemstones in a geometric setting to create flora or celestial designs.
  • The Late Victorian to Retro period Gypsy setting places the stone flush with the ring’s band.
  • The Art Deco Halo setting features a central gemstone surrounded by a ring of smaller stones.

10. Consult With an Antique Ring Expert

This final point should go without saying, but is worth touching on nonetheless. Authenticating antique rings certainly can be tricky since so many retro styles are replicated en masse. Of course, an antique ring expert should have the necessary experience in order to determine if your ring is truly as old as it looks.

How to Authenticate Antique Earrings

A Pair Of Antique Natural Pearl Earrings

Authenticating antique earrings is rather similar to authenticating rings, but there are still a few differences:

1. Backings

  • Examining an earring’s backing can reveal its history.
  • Kidney wires date back to the 1870s.
  • Threaded stud earrings are Victorian.
  • Screw-back earrings are pre-1950s.
  • Clip-on earrings were invented in the early Victorian era and persisted until the 70s.

2. Materials

The materials used in the earrings can identify the origins:

  • Earrings created from Jet, Bog Oak, or Onyx are typically Grand Victorian.
  • Earrings with plastic imitations of coral, ivory, or turquoise are typically Aesthetic Victorian.
  • Rhinestones substituted for diamonds can indicate Edwardian, Victorian, or Mid-Century pieces.
  • Bakelite, aka Catalin, was used for clip-on and screw-on pieces in the Art Deco and Retro eras.
  • Lucite is a clear acrylic typically used in button-style mid-century clip-ons and screw-backs.

3. Design Motifs

To authenticate earrings, look for motifs that match an era:

  • Neoclassical earrings (1800’s) boasted mosaics created from tiny stones pasted on polygons, ovals, and navettes.
  • The French Rococo style (1800s) featured dangling earrings with glass drops meant to represent dew or rain.
  • Georgian Girandoles are chandeliers for the ears with pear-shaped diamonds descending from a floral motif.
  • Pendoliques, from the Georgian era, are single pear-shaped gems dangling from bows.
  • Belle Epoch earrings (1871-1880) feature one large center stone circled by twenty smaller stones.
  • Long channel-set ropes of diamonds that loop like buckles and brush the shoulder are from the Art Deco era.
  • Geometric plastic clip-ons or screw-ons are from the Retro era.

4. Maker’s Mark

You can find a maker’s mark on the back or inside of the earring. Anything stamped 24K gold is likely antique. It’s important to note that marks may not always be present on both earrings.

5. Gemstone Cuts

As with rings, the gem’s cut can provide clues to the earring’s history.

  • Rose cut and Old Mine cuts date to the Georgian and Victorian Eras. Foil beneath the mounted stone made the earrings glitter.
  • The Old European cut, a round brilliant with 54-64 facets is late Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco.
  • If the gem is machine cut, then your earrings are likely not from 1953 or earlier.

6. Weight

Antique earrings are heavy due to the thick metal in the posts, threads, and screws. Post-war platinum earrings were significantly lighter.

7. Craftsmanship

Antique earrings often have mismatched stones, uneven settings, and other subtle flaws.

  • Fish hook earrings are from the Etruscan period of the Early Victorian age
  • Diamond stud earrings with hand-casted prongs are Georgian and became fashionable again in the Retro era.
  • If a stud has bolt-and-screw style backing it’s Georgian.
  • Chandelier earrings hand-threaded with gold or silver are from the Georgian or Victorian era.

8. Patina

Silver and gold earrings develop a gleaming patina over time. An aging pearl develops a sheen. Older quartz stones become milky from exposure to UV rays.

9. Condition

Earrings adapted from clip-ons to pierced may be older. Inspect the backing for signs of soldering. Items over a century old usually show signs of repair and grime. If cleaned, the maker’s mark may be revealed.

10. Consult an Expert

If the earrings have no marks or decipherable stamps, then seeking advice from an antique earring professional may be your next best option, as they will likely be able to identify the piece by eye.

How to Authenticate Antique Necklaces

Customer Holding Vintage Necklace in Estate Diamond Jewelry Showroom

1. Clasp Style

Older necklaces have a “hook and eye” clasp. A hook with a V-shape is from the Georgian Era. A T-shape that interlocks through a circular loop is also Georgian, and so is the “tongue in clasp” style of fastener.

Victorian necklaces with two loops at the end were tied with ribbons. Some Victorian necklaces were even fastened with padlocks.

Box clasps, barrel-and-tongue clasps, sliding bolt rings, and thin-side sliding tube clasps can be Victorian, Art Noveau, or Art Deco.

2. Necklace Length

Chokers and collars were worn through the Georgian, Romantic, and Grand Victorian periods. Necklaces temporarily became longer during the Victorian Aesthetic Period, but by the Art Deco period, 3-foot long necklaces were worn “flapper style.”

The Retro-Modern period repopularized collar styles with multiple strands of pearls and rhinestones.

3. Necklace Materials

Antique necklaces contain rare materials not found in modern pieces. Victorian Grand pendants were made from bog oak (fossilized peat), vulcanite (hardened rubber), and jet (fossilized coal).

Pendants made of celluloid, a brightly-hued lightweight plastic, are from the Georgian, Victorian, and Art Nouveau Eras. Bakelite necklaces date back to the 1930s and imitate Mother-of-Pearl and Jet.

4. Antique Necklace Design

Antique necklaces have distinctive designs that belong to different eras.

  • The Georgian Riviere necklace features unbacked equally-sized gemstones that circle the neck.
  • The Victorian-era festoon necklace is a garland with a dangling pearl or gem.
  • The Bayadere is a twisted braid of three strings of seed pearls fastened by a Victorian-era barrel or box clasp.
  • The 18th-century gem or pearl choker fits like a dog collar around the neck.
  • The Lavalier style, associated with the Victorian and Art Deco eras, is a long chain with links that terminates in a large dangling pendant or tassel.
  • The Edwardian-era Sautoir pearl or glass stone necklace is 2 to 4 feet long and doubled around the neck “flapper style.”

5. Maker’s Mark

The maker’s mark is usually found on the thickest part of the clasp, although sometimes there is a hallmark on the back of a pendant. Note that the pendant and the chain can have different makers.

6. Craftsmanship

Antique necklaces exhibit hand-knotted strands, unusual materials, or hand-engraved pendants:

7. Gemstone Cuts

As is true of antique rings, gemstone cuts provide clues to the necklace’s age. The Rose, Old Mine, Old European, and Briolette Cuts date back to the Georgian and Victorian Eras. The cabochon is associated with early Georgian, Art Nouveau, and modern retro styles. Geometrical cuts indicate Art Deco.

8. Chain Weight

Antique chains are heavy. Thick 24K gold chains with hand-hammered links are Georgian. Daintier versions in silver typically come from the Georgian Era as well. The lighter the chain, the more modern it tends to be.

9. Condition

Signs of repair may provide clues as to the necklace’s origin. Missing stones, tarnish, and broken clasps typically indicate an older piece.

10. Consult an Expert

As with rings and earrings, necklaces can be complicated and difficult to assess. The chain can be from one era, and the pendant from another. If you’re unsure, then seek advice from a professional.

How to Authenticate Designer and Signed Jewelry

Boucheron Designer Brooch In A Box

Do you suspect you have an authentic designer piece on your hands? Verify the following details:

1. Signature or Logo

The designer’s signature or logo is typically on the back of the piece. Some designers, like Chanel or Versace, make their initials a component of their necklaces. If the signature is absent, then it’s possibly counterfeit.

2. Design Style

Unfortunately, each designer’s unique style can be counterfeited. Research the designer’s signature elements to determine if a piece is real. For instance, vintage Bulgari rings often have a gem inset into a gold or silver dome like this Bulgari Dome Ring. Circa 1965. Both Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton stamp their initials on a padlock pendant. Vintage Chanel boasts the famous double-inversed “C”s.

3. Materials

High-quality unique materials characterize designer jewelry. Pearls, wood, and precious metals combine with beach glass, leather, and recycled plastic. Sought-after modern designers upcycle vintage gems and jewelry parts.

4. Craftsmanship

Designer pieces reflect the culture of the era. For instance, Bulgari was known for his heavy gold and diamond chains that replicated ancient Roman coins. The 60’s Scandinavian designer Henning Koppel created brushed silver necklaces that resembled animal vertebrae. Mid-century modern designer David Webb crafted necklaces with African animal themes.

5. Provenance

Original boxes, receipts, or certificates authenticate the designer’s work. Many designer pieces have an etched logo or attached charm.

6. Condition

Check for irregularities in the metal such as a faked stamp or wear that could indicate a plastic gem or plated metal.

7. Weight

Designer pieces tend to have more heft as precious metals were cheaper in the past.

8. Wordmarks

Check for the authenticity of wordmarks on boxes or on the jewelry itself. Here are some examples of famous wordmarks:

  • Bulgari is spelled all in caps with V where the U should be.
  • Cartier is in cursive writing with a huge C.
  • Chanel is a sans-serif all-capitals font with balanced spacing.
  • Dior features an enormous capital D followed by lowercase letters.
  • Tiffany & Co. is a simple serif with Tiffany in capitals.

9. Gemstone Quality

Well-matched gemstones are typical of designer jewelry. Designers such as Tiffany, Cartier, or Bulgari opt for the highest quality hand-cut “legacy” gems such as rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds.

10. Consult an Expert

According to the World Trademark Review, the most counterfeited luxury jewelry brands include Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Prada If fake designer jewelry is a concern, seek advice from a professional.

The Difference Between Vintage and Antique

Vintage And Antique Sapphire And Diamond Rings

1. Age

To be considered an antique piece, the item must be at least 100 years old. On the other hand, vintage items are between 20 and 100 years old.

2. Condition

Vintage items tend to be in better condition than antique items, as pieces over 100 years old often have missing parts or signs of repair.

3. Research Vintage Styles

Since the “vintage” classification is based on years away from our current year, every year a new batch of rings becomes vintage. Furthermore, design styles recycle every few decades, making “everything old new again”. Recent vintage trends include Vivienne Westwood’s coronation orbs, Alexander McQueen’s silver skulls, and Betsy Johnson’s retro-Victorian heart-shaped lockets.

4. Materials

Antique styles have genuine gemstones and precious metals, whereas vintage jewelry includes less expensive lab-made gems, glass, stainless steel, titanium, and acrylic.

5. Craftsmanship

Antique items from a century exhibit superior craftsmanship because gems were hand-hewn and metalworks were forged from scratch. Vintage collections now include mass-produced jewelry such as the plastic earrings of Coro or Monet.

6. Provenance

A verified antique is 100 years or older. The verified vintage is 20 to 100 years old.

7. Consult With a Vintage Collector

Mass-produced vintage pieces can be harder to authenticate, as they don’t always come with certificates. A professional can tell the difference between an authentic vintage piece, and a replica.

Talk to a Diamond Expert

Afshin Examining Diamond Ring with UGL Certificate inside Showroom

To get your vintage or antique jewelry verified, contact Estate Diamond Jewelry. EDJ’s team of experts authenticate, evaluate, and appraise pieces from any era; simply complete the contact form below to get started.