Antique jewellery is wonderful for many reasons; the provenance behind everything from the stones, the cuts and the styles that the pieces are created in is a fascinating insight into the history of human civilization.
Any jewellery which was created before 1930 is considered to be antique, generally the benchmark used for considering an item to be an antique is when the piece over a century old, however with antique jewellery many of the techniques and materials available have changed so vastly that jewellery pre-1930 can be considered antique.
The most common antique items to find are undoubtedly rings, this is because it is common practice for larger pieces; such as tiaras, necklaces, bracelets and earrings to be broken down into smaller items of jewellery, either to be sold on or so that the larger items were divided into smaller, more every day and wearable pieces.
At AC Silver we have an extraordinary range of antique jewellery from all over the world and dating as early as 1820, with some fine examples of archetypal Georgian jewellery, Victorian and Regency jewellery as well as Art Nouveau and Art Deco antique jewellery.
Where Are The Hallmarks On Antique Jewellery?
There are numerous factors to be considered when examining the hallmarks, stamping (or lack thereof) on any item of antique jewellery. From the country the piece was created in, the conditions and circumstances that the jewellery was produced in, and the person who crafted the item.
Antique jewellery is very different to antique silverware in that hallmarking did not become compulsory until 1975, when European regulation was created to align all European countries in having the same standards for precious metals and gemstones. Before this, all countries had different systems and purity, and people were often fraudulently using gold and silver plating to cover other, less valuable metals.
Antique Georgian jewellery will not be stamped because gold assaying wasn’t enforced until the 1900s. Using maker’s marks was another practice which wasn’t enforced until the 1900s, although even then it was not a strict enforcement, and was instead just considered to be more ethical and legitimate practice.
Furthermore, countries were trading in jewellery with different standards for gold , silver and gemstones, resulting in some being of vastly inferior quality, and creating great difficulty for the consumer in purchasing pieces from outside their own country and being able to establish worth or value.
Another reason that antique jewellery may not feature any hallmarks is that often the jewellery is incredibly delicate and fine, and because of this frequently there was nowhere to fit any kind of hallmark. Especially since the practice was not compulsory, it was not a priority to leave space for hallmarking if it was seen to be to the detriment of or affecting the style that the jeweller wanted to achieve.
Regarding antique rings in particular, often the interior hallmarks become so worn they are illegible – so there may be makers marks or other signifiers, however we cannot interpret them.
Antique jewellery was not always crafted or created on a large scale, and frequently these artisan craftsmen who were making the pieces did not have access to the equipment necessary for hallmarking, especially if having a hallmark or mark of any kind stamped on the jewellery meant the maker incurring costs and risking the safety of the item. Due to this, many chose to leave their work without any hallmarks rather than allow the opportunity for theft or damage.
One of the most common reasons as to why we rarely find hallmarks on antique jewellery in the present day is that frequently, much older pieces will have been resized, and with rings, bracelets or other smaller pieces of antique jewellery, this can result in the hallmarks being lost with the metal that is removed.
Without forced regulation, hallmarking and stamping was only a priority to those who made especially wonderful pieces or were part of large jewellery houses – such as Cartier or Liberty. Even then, only the maker may be inscribed rather than emphasising the purity of the gold or the origin of the ring.
Without Hallmarks, How Do We Know The Age Of The Jewellery?
Experts (including a few here at AC Silver!) are able to verify the age of pieces without use of hallmarks and stamping by examining the style of the jewellery, as this is the most obvious and apparent signifier to the provenance of any piece of antique jewellery.
We are also able to date the gemstones, especially diamonds, by the cut and the setting which they have been affixed with. Specific styles are very typical of certain ages and eras, and these are wonderful indicators in the absence of any hallmarking and stamping.
When it comes to the carat weight of the metal used in antique jewellery, we are able to use the Niton XL2 Series Analyzers to enable the exact elemental analysis of precious metal content in jewellery, coins, and other valuable products.The analyser simultaneously measures the content of all precious metals present – e.g., gold (Au), silver (Ag), platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd) as a percentage of the total item content. The analyser permits precise determination of the presence and concentration of other trace alloying elements.