How To Identify Vintage Jewelry

Have you ever wanted to learn more about how to identify and understand the vintage jewelry business more like an expert, but didn’t know where to begin? Learn how to identify vintage jewelry by fasteners, clasps and hooks; styles; designers; hallmarks; material and more. 

This article is for beginner to intermediate vintage resellers and collectors who are looking to gain a base of knowledge to help improve their vintage jewelry expertise. Vintage jewelry is a quickly growing industry with more and more resellers turning to it because it’s size free, easy to photograph, and oftentimes collectible, therefore increasing in value. Plus: Jewelry rarely gets “damaged,” while vintage clothing can oftentimes disintegrate over time. 

Learn the foundational principles to identifying vintage jewelry and recognizing potential vintage jewelry value. Click here to join our community’s quickly growing vintage jewelry marketplace and to join as a seller with a 30-day free trial. 

Editor’s note: This content was inspired by a 2-hour video masterclass on identifying and authenticating vintage jewelry. The masterclass was first hosted September 2023 and was sold alongside this glossary as a Black Friday educational product. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to purchase the PDF version of this content as well as the 2-hour masterclass for just $17 (originally $47!).

Fasteners, Clasps & Hooks

Simple Hook

When prevalent: 1970s – 1980s

J Clasp

When prevalent: Mid century – 1970s

C Clasp

When prevalent: Early 20th century

Box Spring Clasp

When prevalent: Mid-century

Fancy Pullover Clasp

When prevalent: 1980s

Filigree Box Clasp

When prevalent: Victorian – Art Deco

Modern Pullover Clasp

When prevalent: Mid Century – 1970s

Simple Shepard’s Clasp

When prevalent: Edwardian

Art Deco Box Clasp

When prevalent: Used since the Victorian era

Push in Clasp

When prevalent: 1920s-1930s

Toggle Clasp

When prevalent: 1990s - contemporary

Foldover Clasp

When prevalent: Art Deco 1920s-1930s

Push in Bracelet Clasp

When prevalent: Mid-century

Barrel Clasp

When prevalent: Invented 1930s; popular again 1960s

Simple Spring Clasp

When prevalent: Victorian era through today - differing only in size - and seemed to make its debut on 1900 bracelets.

Thumbless Clasp

When prevalent: Czech Glass - Art Deco movement and is one of the elements of designers like Haskell and Neiger.

Jewelry Styles & Modern Revival Styles

Victorian

Dating from: 1800s - 1900

Mimicked the Queen’s jewelry – from snake pieces to orange blossoms to mourning jewelry. Often in real gold and silver; technology made jewelry more accessible to the masses.

Edwardian

Dating from: 1901-1914

Jewelry and style was light and airy and feminine – think swirls and ornate lines. Technology was allowing for more detailed intricate pieces. If a piece has a platinum or ornate frame you can usually assume it is Edwardian or earlier.

Art Nouveau

Dating from: 1895 - 1915

Spans both Victorian and Edwardian eras, focused on more organic elements such as insects, flowers and the female form. Jewelry and accessories featuring “risque” nude females proliferated this era.

Art Deco

Dating from: 1919 - 1939

The most defining characteristic of the Deco period was geometric shapes – rectangles, triangles, octagons – representing the modern and streamlined spirit of the era.

Retro Mid Century

Dating from: 1935-1950s

Expressive and innovative costume jewelry was the hallmark here; it was feminine and cost-conscious during the war years. Popular motifs were embellished brooches, statement bracelets and necklaces, gemstone pendants, birds, ballerinas and nature.

Mid Century

1950s - 1960s

Salvador Dali, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau were among the artists who inspired American Studio Jewelers to create “Jewelry as Art” or “Wearable Art. Drawing their inspiration from the philosophies of Bauhaus, Dadaism, Surrealism, Isomorphism and Cubism, the modernist‘s work was characterized by abstract and non-objective form. Creations by Mid-Century American Studio Jewelers were often one-of-a-kind and totally hand fabricated.

1960s

1960s embraced bold designs mixed with the femininity of the 1950s. Large hoop earrings, medallion necklaces, bangle bracelets, Victorian “Revival” pieces mimicking the queen’s pieces at costume level, Egyptian Revival, chunky chains, love beads and peace signs were de rigueur.

1970s

1970s were a time of increased connection with nature, apparent in the jewelry materials of the day. Bone, shell, wood, stone were common in this natural “hippie” time! Turquoise made its first huge insurgence and the most common metal was gold – used in chunky bracelets, rings, chains and layering necklaces.

1980s

1980s were characterized by chunky gold jewelry, plastics, hoop earrings. However, more traditional costume jewelry like pearls and rhinestone brooches were still embraced – often in much bigger sizes.

1990s

1990s were a time of bold and eclectic pieces like chokers, bangle bracelets and hoop earrings. At the same time, more delicate pendant necklaces and softer lines were also popular – a throwback to the Edwardian/Nouveau eras.

Victorian Revival

1960s-1970s

Victorian Revival (1960s, 1970s) Jewelry copied the chunky, Egyptian, big stones and ornate frames of the original, using plastics and glass rather than fine stones.

Edwardian Revival

Full of beautiful details and very delicate. This period marked the transition from Victorian jewelry to more modern jewelry.

Art Nouveau Revival

1960s

Jewelry used delicate scrolls, leaves, ribbon bows, hearts, circles, swooping swags (or garlands as they were later called) to mimic the romance of the original period.

Art Deco Revival

Featuring the geometry and straight lines of the original Deco, often using glass or similar lucite stones to mimic the glass.

Egyptian Revival

Egyptian revival jewelry (1920s and then again 1960s/70s) was a renewed interest in ancient Egyptian jewelry styles. Featuring hieroglyphics, scarabs, reeds and lotus flowers, Egyptian revival jewelry was spurred by the discovery of ancient Egyptian tombs, notably the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Jewelry Hallmarks to Look For

Hallmarks are small symbols or words stamped on jewelry, accessories, and other precious metal items. They can provide information about the item’s:

  • Country of origin 
  • Artist Date of creation 
  • Metal content
  •  The manufacturer’s name
  • The designer’s name or initials
  •  A symbol Date of creation

Costume Jewelry Designers

Miriam Haskell

Napier

Trifari

Monet

Eisenberg

Albert Weiss

Hattie Carnegie

Ciner

Vendome

Kramer

Sarah Coventry

Hobe

Schiaparelli

Kenneth Lane

Whiting & Davis

Coro

Avon

Vintage Jewelry Materials

Celluloid

Victorian Era through 1940s

Bakelite (or Catalin)

Art Deco through Mid-Century

Resin

Popular in pricier chunky jewelry, 1980s through present

Lucite

Mid-century thru 1980s

Czech / Bohemia Glass

Produced in the regions of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. It’s remarkable strength and stability made it perfect for cutting and engraving, and the varied colors made it perfect for jewelry

Vintage Costume Jewelry Stones

Vintage Costume Jewelry stones are usually paste stones, Rhinestones, glass, lucite and gemstones such as Turquoise, Quartz, Mother of Pearl and Citrine. These stones “resemble” the real deal, i.e. quartz looks like diamonds and gemstones look like rubies and sapphires and emeralds.

Vintage Sterling Silver

Quick Facts

Beginning in the 1970S, a law was passed requiring silver jewelry to be marked with “925” or “958” to indicate the percentage of silver content “European 800″ silver jewelry is often British, French, German, or Austria German silver is an alloy of copper and nickel valued for craftsmanship The “800” in Art Deco refers to 80% silver content Silver: An oval stamp indicates the item is silver Sterling: The phrase “sterling” is stamped on many post-1870 USA pieces

Vintage Golds

Any jewelry marked with initials like EPG or EGP is likely gold plated Italian gold is often marked with 585 Gold made in other European countries may be marked with 750 585 indicates 14 karat gold 750 indicates 18 karat gold

Testing Your Jewelry Content

Presidium Tester

Presidium Tester: Gem testers are available in all varieties – some only test for diamonds, etc, but the majority of them use thermal wands to detect the heat in a stone to tell you if it is real or glass.

Acid Tests

Acid Tests: Acid tests include a testing stone and acids that react to Sterling, and Golds of different karats. Used by sellers and jewelers everywhere. Haven’t changed much in the last 20 years. You simply scratch the item on the stone and see which acid reacts.

Bakelite Tests

Bakelite Test: Simichrome is actually a benign Jewelry Polish that just happens to change color when it reacts with the chemicals in Bakelite. You just take a Qtip with a bit of Simichrome on it and gently rub the surface of the item. Bakelite will turn the pinkish Simichrome to a rust color.

More Ways to Learn from Study Books

Costume Jewelry

The Great Pretenders

The Buyer's Guide to Affordable Antique Jewelry

The Art of Juliana Jewelry

Collectible Costume Jewelry

Identification and Values

Hattie Carnegie

Next Steps to Leveling Up Your Vintage Jewelry Mastery

In the world of vintage resale, understanding how to date vintage jewelry is becoming more important to take advantage and profit from this growing industry. Not looking to make money by selling vintage jewelry? Having the foundational knowledge to date vintage jewelry helps all collectors to know exactly what they’re buying! 

Love vintage jewelry buying, selling and collecting and want to take it to the next level? 

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