There is a good chance that many of your necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and other knick-knacks lying around the home or stashed away in your bank’s locker are vintage material worth millions. And it is equally possible that you may not have any idea or inkling about the actual monetary value of your antique jewelry. If the Britain-based auction house, Bonhams, is to be believed, vintage jewelry worth approximately £60 million is locked up in British homes.
A good proportion of these jewelry pieces are hand-me-downs, having been passed from one generation to another. You may have attended numerous wedding receptions and anniversary events bedecked in these vintage fine jewelry without ever realizing their antique value. Jewelry, for long, has been a testimony to the advancement of civilizations and marker of shared social values down the ages.
Age-old ornaments and embellishments come with findings and fittings that embody their roots. Jewelers, lapidaries, and gemologists are the right professionals who’re best placed to determine the age of antique jewelry and assign a valuation to them. There are specific telltale markers and indicators that enable these professionals in deciphering the age and real worth of vintage jewelry.
How can you tell whether you own vintage or antique jewelry?
The market value of jewelry has witnessed a steady rise in the past few years. No wonder then investors and capitalists, over the last one and a half decade, have invested heavily in collectible American antique jewelry, gemstones, pearls, and other knick-knacks deemed vintage. So, if you’re a proud owner of a cache of jewelry, find out what proportion of the same can be regarded as highly-treasured collectors’ items.
Collate as much info as you can
If you’ve a hunch that a specific item is very old, possibly dating back centuries, you could browse the net for collecting information about the same. You can show around to it your family jeweler who might have some clues about its pedigree. Go through receipts if you bought those or rummage through the notes or messages if you received these as heirlooms.
However, the best way would be to visit one or more of the renowned jewelry houses and auctioneers. Well-known jewelers like Cartier, De Beers, Chopard, Piaget and Bvlgari will surely be able to find out for you if the items are vintage fine jewelry. And if you own ornaments crafted by these celebrated houses that date back to the early 20th cent, you could be laughing your way to the bank.
Look closely at custom-made parts and findings
Findings are off the rack components including hinges and clasps that help in keeping the jewelry piece such as necklace or earring as one piece. Fittings, on the other hand, are tailor-made parts that are specially crafted for a commissioned piece. More often than not, these cogs have date markings inscribed in them which evidently are the manufacturing dates.
In case the hooks and clasps can be classified as ‘kidney wire’, ‘shepherd hook’, ‘omega back’, and ‘spring clip’, then there is a good possibility that the items carrying these attachments are antique jewelry. Many of these components are still in vogue.
Findings and fittings with respect to brooches
Undersides and backsides of many items of ornaments have brooches (a hinged pin and catch for fastening to clothing) that date back to nothing less than a couple hundred years. If you care to take a close look, you could chance upon valuable information which in turn could help you to ascertain its date (of manufacture). Check out the soldering marks or stains-there’d be soldering marks only on those pieces that broke and had to be repaired or altered.
Also, watch out for circular or ovate metallic padding-the junction where the pin clasp is tethered to the brooch’s back. This is another revealing sign that the item was either repaired or modified.
Study the marks
Many American antique jewelry pieces and items have markings, usually signatures and trademark impressions that could go a long way in establishing their antiquity. More often, these indentations are concealed inside a ring’s shank or cocooned inside the earring. A loupe, a tiny magnifying glass used by jewelers, could help you in scanning the manufacturer or designer markings.
To confirm your findings you can take the items to a professional who will definitely have the right tools to decode the impressions. If you spot the head of an eagle on a gold piece, you can safely conclude that the same was crafted by a French jeweler. Gold and platinum jewelry with markings of eagle’s or canine’s head are solid proof that these pieces are antique jewelry worth at least thousands of pounds or dollars if not millions.
How to tell the gems apart from the pearls
To find out whether the pearled piece you own is authentic that is it has been crafted out of natural pearls which have evolved over centuries, you simply need t to subject them to an X-ray assay. However, a hardcore lapidary would be able to tell you whether the pearls are genuine or farmed (cultured) simply by reviewing their patina and shape.
The authenticity and intrinsic value of gemstones can be establishing their color. If the hues are garish and flashy, you could infer that these were chiseled during the Renaissance; colors predominant in the Victorian Era were somewhat darker and grave, and in the post-Victoria phase, soft hues were trendy. Talking about the colorless gems, they have been in use since the past 600-700 years, and haven’t evolved as much as their colored siblings.
Take rubies and sapphires for instance-the diamond cuts dating back to the yesteryears were not as accurate as the modern-day editions but they were not found wanting in terms of workmanship.
Examine the craftsmanship as well
A piece of bracelet or anklet that has exquisite finishes and cuttings all around is a glaring embodiment of the fact that it has been created by a master jeweler.
Do not bank overly on your instincts
Just because a piece looks out of the ordinary or unusual, does not mean it is an antique item. Instincts do work but not always, especially when it comes to determining the genuineness or age of a jewelry piece. Take the item to an experienced gemologist to be on the safe side.