variety of collectible antique jewelry

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, September, 2005


Victorian 18k gold, enamel and seed pearl brooch. Polychrome enamel depiction of a Raphaelite cherub. sold at auction for $1,410. Photo courtesy of Skinner Galleries, Boston, MA

 The fascination with antique and costume vintage jewelry just keeps on growing. Auction prices are all over the map. Even more unusual pieces of Victorian jewelry can sell for under $1,500. Such was the case at a September jewelry auction at Skinner Galleries. A charming Victorian 18Kt gold, enamel and seed pearl brooch with a Raphaelite cherub motif sold over an estimate of $800/1,200 for $1,410.

A novel Edwardian hat pin designed as a whale with freshwater pearls and diamonds fetched $999 over it’s estimate of $400/600. Probably feeding the frenzy are the several new books on the subject. A real beauty, identifying and pricing costume jewelry  is “Costume Jewelry, Identification and Price Guide by Leigh Leshner, published by Krause. It covers Victorian to the designer costume jewelry of the 1950s and 1960s. Eat your hearts out if you gave away or threw away your mother’s sterling silver pins marked Georg Jensen. Or, rhinestone clips , marked Trifari. You tossed several hundred dollars.     

Costume jewelry designs follow the trends of their era. Art Nouveau pieces used floral and nature themes in flowing lines. Most popular, women with flowing hair. The Art Deco costume jewelry can be recognized by zigzag designs, geometric shapes and stylized subjects. It introduced the use of new materials including rhodium, chrome, celluloid and Bakelite.

The other book in Warman’s Field Guide series, “Warman’s Antique Jewelry” by C. Jeanenne Bell, G.G., easily fits into purse or pocket. It covers almost everything a collector needs to know. With all the faking going on I found the information on how to test gems, metals and materials invaluable. For example a needle heated over a candle and inserted into what looks like tortoise, bakelite, and amber will give off an identifying scent. Amber will smell like pine; bakelite like carbolic acid and tortoiseshell like burning hair.     

Reminds me of an experience a collector told me about. She bought what she thought were real lapis lazuli beads at a fancy antique show. Later, when she accidentally spilled water on them the blue coloring dripped off.     

In their book, “Understanding Jewelry” author-experts David Bennett and Daniela Mascetti point out coral is often faked using glass and porcelain. Application of a small drop of hydrochloric acid will cause authentic coral, a carbonate, to effervesce.     

All of the books discuss the many materials used during different time periods. For instance shells were turned into cameo works of carved art from the Victorian period into the early 20th century. They have been faked ever since. Now they are mass produced in plastic. Cut steel was used to make costume jewelry in England. It is still being reproduced with the same riveted rosettes of thin metal. Other materials turned into jewelry were human hair (hairworm) and decorative garters worn on the arm.     

One clue to authenticity of supposedly old gems is the cutting technique. The European cut, for example, was used till advances in 19th century cutting techniques. And, they were not set in white gold. This is a good way to decide on old diamond jewelry.     

Don’t buy old jewelry if you can’t see the back of the stones...especially emeralds. A trick of the trade is putting green reflective foil behind a pale opaque emerald...since color enhances the value.

 Among the many helpful hints in the Bell book are terms, such as “gold filled “. It can confuse collectors when they see a Karat mark , with G. F. beside it. When it comes to buying jewelry with precious gems the authors advise getting an appraisal from a graduate gemologist who is a member of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at

The Antique Shoppe
"Florida's Best Newspaper for Antiques and Collectibles

PO Box 2175, Keystone Heights, FL 32656-2175
Phone: (352)475-1679 Fax: (352)475-5326

[Top of Page | Editorial Archives | Home]
Copyright © 2006, Antique Shoppe Newspaper