How to Tell If Jewelry Is an Antique

Written by kent page mcgroarty
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How to Tell If Jewelry Is an Antique
How jewellery is set helps determine its value and age. (antique necklace image by Lucy Cherniak from

Know what to look for when trying to determine if a piece of jewellery is an antique. This helps you get the best possible price for your piece if you are selling, and it can save you money if you are buying. Examine these features as indicators of antique value: the materials used; intricacy of the clasp; gem cut and style; and the craftsmanship of the piece. Knowing what styles of jewellery were popular in different eras is also important when identifying genuine antique jewellery.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Identify the materials used in the piece of jewellery. For example, jewellery made in the 18th and 19th centuries (from the late Georgian to the Victorian era) was often made out of silver, which has a metallic, earthy scent. Yellow gold and pinchbeck pieces were also made during this time. Semiprecious stones and enamel were frequently used during the Art Nouveau period (1890-1915) and non-traditional materials such as bone, horn, copper, shell, ivory and carved glass were also popular. Diamonds and pearls set in platinum were popular during the Edwardian era (early 1900s), and platinum and precious stones were used during the Art Deco period (1920-1935). Gold, semiprecious and synthetic stones characterised Retro jewellery (1935-1950).

  2. 2

    Look at the type of fastener used on the piece. Brooches made in the 1800s generally have "C" catches on the back, while screw-back earrings came about in the 1890s. Riveted hinges on pins and lever-back earrings were not developed until 1900. Tongue-in-groove clasps were designed in 1910 and barrel clasps came along in the 1930s.

  3. 3

    Study the cut of the gem, if applicable. For example, old mine cut diamonds are irregularly shaped and appear lumpy, but are brilliant under low lighting, and were very popular during the 18th and 19th centuries. European and rose-cut gems are often seen in antique pieces. Gems were hand-cut until the 1800s, when machines were invented to do the cutting. A modern cut is a reliable indicator that a piece of jewellery is not an antique piece.

  4. 4

    Look at the style and craftsmanship of the piece. Jewellery was handmade until the mid-19th century, and the sides of jewellery pieces made during that period are not generally identical. The back of a piece of antique jewellery is just as intricate and ornate as the front of the piece, and antique jewellery that is a well-made piece is smoothly finished on the front and the back. You should be able to run your fingers over the front and back of a piece without feeling your fingers "catch" on anything.

Tips and warnings

  • Colourful and intricate enamelling surrounding gems on a jewellery piece is a characteristic of jewelty made during the 16th and 17th centuries.
  • Necklaces that could be converted into earrings and bracelets as well as mourning pieces were popular during the Victorian era. Animals and symbolic themes were also popular during this time, such as lizards and snakes as symbols of love.

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