As seen on BBC TV's 'Great Antiques Hunt'
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HISTORY & ART TO
GLITZQUEEN HOLDS COURT ON CIRCA DATING
TO CIRCA DATING
A few types of
jewelry are so closely associated with particular eras that you
hardly have to think about it, beyond checking fabrication
details to confirm they're *right* for the period and seeking
signs of wear to ensure they aren't reproductions. For
instance, genuine lavaliere necklaces that finish with baroque pearl
drops originated circa 1890-1910; earrings with (original) screw-on
backs can't be older than
Edwardian; and dress clips, 9
chances out of 10, will
date between the 1920s and 1940s, when they were most popular.
Materials can provide a similarly solid framework for dating. You won't
see a stamped setting or chain segment older than around 1835, when the
process was introduced, or cultured
pearls older than 1912, when they were developed, and you'll see the
little dots of black pitch by which paste stones were mounted, if you're
looking at a rhinestone-type piece from the 18th century.
In most cases,
though, a great deal more investigation is involved -- and it takes
a 10X loupe or at least a good
magnifying glass to get started. If you haven't done much of
this before, it's a good idea to examine several jewels that have
already been evaluated for date and quality by someone whose judgment
you trust. Begin at
home, assuming your collection encompasses various periods and both fine
and costume jewels. To branch out, take your magnifying equipment
and visit a local shop or two.
Most dealers will be more than happy to help you, and nothing beats
Handling the Goods to get a proper feel for them.
by searching each piece
closely for markings and make careful note of them (before you forget
and must keep looking
over and over, which gets to be a
bore. Next hunt for
signs of wear on high points and edges, determine whether a metal of a
different color lies beneath the surface and generally study the
construction (how stones are set, for example, and whether there's
evidence of hand-craftsmanship vs stamping or casting).
The real fun
begins when you turn the piece over, because you can learn an enormous
amount from findings (called fittings, if they're custom-made for the
jewel); often you can discover more from the back than the front.
It's crucial to determine whether clasps, hinges, wires and so forth
are original. Are they of same material? Do they show at
least as much wear? Is there clear evidence of replacement
(blobs of solder or a soldering pad, obvious regilding, etc.)?
It's pretty hard to disguise a change of clasp or hinge on a brooch,
and you can generally tell a pinstem has been shortened if it's
slightly ragged, blunt or bent at the "pointy" end.
Necklaces and bracelets can be harder to judge, unless the catch is of
a different color (and not simply worn through in places).
you find the fittings are original or not, the next thing you
need to know is when they were made. Fortunately there are a lot
of great clues.
with a matter of complexity: dating brooches. They (and
earrings) are the most frequent victims of Finding-Tinkering.
It was all in a good cause -- making them more secure and
comfortable in use -- but the result has been, in most people's minds,
looking at a pinstem
long enough to stick you when the brooch is worn, extending beyond the
jewel's edges, congratulations. You're looking at a piece of
If you're looking at a pinstem that appears to have been snipped, you're
probably looking at a piece of antique jewelry.
looking at a pinstem that's of modern length and apparently *hasn't*
been snipped, the piece can't be older than the 1920s -- unless there
are other indications of age and the pinstem has been replaced
looking at a hinge that's familiar from all your modern jewelry and is
original, that doesn't mean a lot, actually. Hinges of this type
have been in use since the 1890s, so you'll have to rely on other
clues to get a more precise dating than 1890s to now.
looking at such a hinge
and it isn't original, congratulations; the jewel is at least somewhat
older than the 1890s.
looking at a T-shaped hinge, likewise you know the piece is
older than the 1890s (unless the
jewel was hugely expensive and could be forged).
And yet a fully hallmarked Edwardian exception to that rule
is here: http://pages.tias.com/7225/PictPage/1921801236.html
examples of what this type of clasp looks like,
check these out:
at the last two URLs
unquestionably date to 1886 and 1830,
respectively. Take note of their
clasps while you're there; both
are the good old-fashioned "open C" type -- and,
whenever you see these two elements in combination, you've hit Pay
Dirt. The piece can't be younger than the 1890s
and may be centuries older. You will absolutely find
that its pinstem is elongated, unless it's been snipped
or replaced (rather commonplace, since those extra-long pins can
oldest to newest, the open C clasp has been around for a lonnnnng
time. However, it's still used occasionally (these days usually
on inexpensive jewelry). Evaluating it in concert with the hinge
and pinstem is essential. Assuming the hinge is a T, as you've seen
above, the jewel can't be younger than 1890s and may be
a great deal older. If the hinge is modern (and original),
dating is somewhere between 1890s and now.
If it isn't original, you know when it was
added to an older jewel.
If you see a "safety pin" type
clasp, the jewel could conceivably be as old as its invention
(mid-19th c., but general use of this clasp in jewelry wasn't
made until the
1880s, continuing in the
1890s as the form of a small extra pin on a chain). If you're
sure it's original, you can be confident the jewel is Late
Victorian. Take a bow.
you aren't sure what this type of clasp looks like, an original is
here: http://pages.tias.com/7225/PictPage/1921804829.html (sorry
for the glare) ... and a later addition is
If you see a C-shaped clasp that seems to have two extra prongs
functioning as a safety, this is the earliest type of safety clasp,
used between the 1890s and about 1910. If you're sure
it's original, you've achieved tight circa dating already. *crashing applause*
Its scale and design will easily indicate whether
the jewel should be termed Victorian, Edwardian or the era-spanning
Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts.
If it isn't original, you know when it was added to an older jewel.
Look further for signs of a snipped pinstem; it should be extra-long
If you aren't
sure what this type of clasp looks like, you'll find an example here:
If you see a C-shaped clasp with
a straight top latch and are sure it's original, the jewel
could be as early as the late 1890s (if European; as
early as Edwardian (if American); or as late as the 1920s. If
you're sure it's original, its scale and design will easily
indicate whether the jewel should be termed Victorian, Edwardian,
the era-spanning Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts or, if it has
elements of Art Deco, transitional or Early Deco..
If it isn't original, you know it
was added in this time period to an older jewel. Look
further at style and for signs of a snipped pinstem, to rule out
you aren't sure what this type of clasp looks like, you'll find an
example here (of one added later,
when the pinstem got snipped): http://pages.tias.com/7225/PictPage/1921683184.html
If you see a tube or "trombone"
closure and are sure it's original, the jewel could be as early as
the late 19th century or as recent as the 1940s, since these
continued in occasional European
use until then.
If it isn't original, same deal as above. If
you aren't sure what this type of clasp looks like, you'll find an
example here: http://pages.tias.com/7225/PictPage/1921710371.html
If you see the
"modern" safety clasp in widespread use today and are
sure it's original, the piece could date
from the 1920s, when this form of clasp became the standard.
The piece can't be any older than the finding, but you'll need further
clues to date the jewel more precisely than 1920s to
If you see one
of these and it isn't original, you know the piece is at least
somewhat older -- and *many* are; people added them like crazy
to their heirlooms, for the simple reason that they work
so well. An
example of an old one with a T hinge, but a modern safety clasp
If you see some
sort of *really weird* safety mechanism, perhaps even
challenging to operate, chances are it dates from the 1930s,
when an amazing amount of clasp experimentation went on. If
you're sure this is original, you have great "circa"
dating to the Late Deco/Early Retro
If it isn't original, of course the
piece is at least somewhat older.
BITS OF HARDWARE ON BROOCHES
If you see a
little ring on the back that fastens to nothing, it once fastened to a
chain. This is marvelous; it reliably dates the jewel to
before safety clasps existed. The lost chain connected to a
stickpin or safety pin. If it's still connected, you have
*really* hit Pay Dirt. Such
duos are rare.
If you see a
hook on the back, it was once used to suspend a watch, another jewel
or chatelaine items. If the dangling bits are still around,
you're in clover. Almost none survive in this condition.
established reliably that your brooch is at least 19th century,
you want to look very hard at its fabrication. The more
"architectural" this is -- in other words, built up in layers,
the older the jewel is. A couple of useful examples
I don't want to
strain your patience, so we'll wait to discuss dating other types
of jewelry until next time. In the meantime, you might want to
enrich your knowledge of brooch styles by visiting local
shops and cruising brooch departments online. Ours
are found here:
There are many
wonderful online resources for interpreting the markings on
your jewelry, too. I recommend these two
for a start. Obviously
if a mark has been in use only since "x" date, your jewel
can't be any older.
And a fabulous
little book called "How to be a Jewelry Detective" by C. J.
Bell belongs in any serious collector's library.
design and content are Copyright 2001-2005, Katherine Anne
Harris. All rights reserved.