A jeweled hair ornament that resembles a spray of upright feathers, sometimes with an actual feather or tuft of feathers sprouting from the top. The feathers were often from the egret, which translates to aigrette in French. The jeweled portion could be fixed or "en trembleuse"/trembling, so that it trembled with movement.
From the 16th century through 19th century, aigrettes were most often worn on the top of the head, tiara, hat, etc. In the 1920's the placement moved slightly. They were usually pinned to a band that wrapped around the head. The aigrette was attached to the band at the center of the forehead or to the side of the head over the ear.
Albert Watch Chain:
A watch chain that was used to anchor a man’s watch to his coat/vest and to which other decorative items were also often attached. These chains are named after Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, who frequently wore pocket watches. They are found in both single and double chain configurations.
Single: A single has one swivel clip, often called a dog clip, and a T-bar which sometimes has an additional chain to which decorative items could be attached. The T-bar was inserted into the button hole to secure the chain and watch as a safeguard.
Double: A double has two dog clips, with a T-bar in the center. There is a watch on one end and sometimes a Vesta (silver or gold match case with a match strike built into the bottom), or decorative/functional item on the other such as a watch fob seal, watch key, compass or sovereign coin case. Today, more and more women are wearing them as necklaces and bracelets. However, this practice is not new. When husbands or boyfriends went off to the first World War, they would leave them behind to keep them out of harm’s way. Women would wear them around their necks to keep them safe and close to the heart. Pocket watches began to fade from use as wrist watches, more practical in the battle fields of WWI, became the standard.
The same as an Albert Chain, but tailored for a woman. Those worn by women were often more delicate and decorative.
Angel Skin Coral:
This term is used to describe coral that comes in hues of pale pink to shades bordering on white. It can be seen in antique and estate/vintage pieces of jewelry and in modern jewelry, although less frequently.
This term is often used incorrectly. For something to be labeled “antique,” it must be at least 100 years old. This is the definition used by United States customs agents in order to determine and assess taxes/duties. This is also the definition used by most antique dealers.
The time period considered representative of Art Deco is not clear cut. However, most agree that it begins in the 1920's and fades by 1940. Art Deco is known for its linear and geometric designs which are in stark contrast to the flowing curves found in the designs of the preceding stylistic movement, Art Nouveau. Some of the well-known jewelry designers during the Art Deco period included: Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Boucheron, Tiffany, and Harry Winston.
A stylistic movement that began in France during the Belle Époque period, it is associated with the span of years between 1895 and 1915. Artists, representative of the movement, thought the designs of the later part of the Victorian period to be repetitive and lacking innovation. Japanese art, natural influences such as insects, birds, plants, the female form etc. were prominent. Also highlighted, are materials not frequently used in jewelry in the previous period: glass, enamel, opals, amber, etc. Jewelry had round flowing outlines.
This movement shares some of the same principals with the English Aesthetic movement that started in England in the last part of the Victorian Era. Prominent examples of jewelers from the Art Nouveau period are Rene Jules Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany.
A round or oval bracelet, usually made of a stiff material that is either large enough to slip over the hand or that has a hinge mechanism to allow it to open and close around the wrist.
A chain with round links. The surface of the link is usually wide. Bookchain: A style of chain, popular in the Victorian era, which has wraparound links that are either square or rectangular in shape.
(La) Belle Époque:
The Belle Époque, the beautiful era, was known as the golden period of prosperity. There is disagreement as to when it began, but it is thought to have spread through Europe (London, Paris, Munich, Vienna) sometime around the 1880's and ended with the first world war in 1914. In the world of design, it partially overlaps with England's Edwardian period and ends around the time the world begins to transition towards Art Deco.
In jewelry, many of the same trends were prevalent in both the French Belle Époque and the English Edwardian period. Millegrain edges and pale colored gems such as diamonds, aquamarines, opals, and pearls were frequently used. Examples of popular motifs included garlands, swags, bows, flowers, lace, and tassels. The pieces created during this period utilized curving and flowing lines and gave the impression of lightness and femininity.
C., Ca, or Circa:
A Latin word meaning around or approximately. Dating a piece of jewelry, that does not have a date mark or other identifying marks, is not an exact science. Different methodologies are employed utilizing a variety of techniques which take into consideration, history, experience, materials, construction and other factors in order to determine the period of time in which the object was created. The term is often used when describing an antique, or something historical.
A domed stone with a smooth surface and a flat bottom that is not faceted. The French word “caboche” means knob or small dome. Instead of a rounded top, the sugarloaf’s domed pyramid shape comes to a point in the center. Cabochon stones are more often seen in antique or estate jewelry although some modern designers still employ them from time to time.
A round, often oval, carved piece which is embedded in jewelry and other decorative items. Cameos are most often a raised carving whose color contrasts with its background. These carvings are made from shells, lava, and semi-precious stones. A person’s face, a Greek or Roman god, or a scene from nature, are common themes in cameos. Cameos date back to ancient Greece, but became extremely popular in the 19th century’s Victorian period. Here is an example of a shell cameo.
Carats (Ct) and Karats (Kt):
A unit of measure of the purity of gold. The word carat is also used to measure the weight of a gemstone. Carat, with a “C” is typically used in England while Karat, with a “K” is typically used in the US and Italy. Purity can also be expressed as a three digit number (parts per one thousand). For example, “375” represents 9 ct gold. See the entry under “Gold” for more information.
During the 18th and early part of the 19th century, women often had a chain that hung from their waist. A variety of useful items were often attached to the end of the chain(s). Items included: glasses, scissors, keys, a vinaigrette, a perfume flask, watch, etc. A Chatelaine could be fabricated from the most basic of metals or from sterling silver or solid gold set with jewels. It depended upon the status and wealth of the individual. They were practical items, but became personalized and more like a piece of jewelry.
A cipher is often mistakenly called a monogram and vice versa (see monogram). Like the monogram, a cipher is also the interlacing of two or more letters. However, the letters are merely interlaced and not dependent upon each other. A good way to test this is if you pulled all of the letters apart, would they stand on their own or would one or more pieces be missing?
Marie Antoinette's cipher, the combination of her initials M and A, is a one of the more famous examples of a cipher. It can be seen in many places at Versailles, carved into pieces of furniture, embedded in the iron work, and on pieces of hers that are now displayed in museums.
The Conch pearl is not technically a pearl, as it is not comprised of a nacreous compound nor is produced by a bi-valve mollusk. It comes from a giant sea snail called the Queen Conch which is found in the Caribbean and off the coast of Florida. The shell itself is beautiful and sold as a decorative object. From a distance, a conch pearl can look similar to a polished piece of gem-quality, angel skin coral. However, on closer inspection, you can often (although not always) see the “flame” pattern (or swirls) on the surface that is unique to a conch pearl. Conch pearls are typically pink (in a variety of shades) or pink-orange in color, but can also be found in white, gold, pale lavender or dark brown.
This beautiful gem of the sea is extremely rare since a commercial application for culturing them has not yet been developed. They can be seen in antique and estate jewelry, but have also been employed by modern jewelry designers.
The Queen March Conch Pearl Brooch is a famous example of a piece of jewelry (Edwardian Period) that contains two large pink conch pearls. Size, symmetry, color and shape all influence a conch pearl’s value.
The system was introduced in England in 1784. It established the year in which an item was tested and marked. Each major Assay Office in England, Ireland and Scotland (London, Birmingham, Chester, Exeter, Newcastle, Sheffield, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Glasgow) had a different date system. In order to interpret the date, one must first look at the city hallmark to know which date chart to use to translate the letter into a year. Date marks were changed once a year. The variants include the letter, the font, and the surrounding shape.
Day Night Earrings:
Popular in the Georgian and Victorian periods, earrings that were comprised of two pieces that could be joined together. The shorter earring, attached to the ear-wire was worn during the day. Another piece could be attached and worn to elongate the overall piece transforming it into more of a statement piece for evening.
Dendritic Agate (Also Known as Moss Agate, Mocha Stone, Tree Agate):
An gemstone agate typically cut as a cabochon with a background color ranging from colorless to milky white. It is cut to feature its inclusions of manganese (deep green to black), iron (red/brown), or chlorite (gray/green/black). The inclusions typically form in branch like patterns known as "dendrites" (from the Greek meaning tree like). They are described as resembling moss, tree branches, or fern tendrils. Other moss agates have inclusions that look like ink droplets in pools of liquid, said to resemble a Rorschach pattern or in the case of black inclusions, or a tortoise shell pattern in the case of brown and red inclusions.
Dendritic Agates were popular in Antique and Vintage Jewelry (Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco periods) and are making a comeback with jewelry designers today. They can be found set simply in sterling silver or elaborately in platinum with diamonds. Often a favorite because of the stark contrast between the dark dendrites and white background that can be found in some of the rarer stones. Stone cutters attempt to feature a prominent mossy branch or a grouping that resemble a landscape.
Dendtritic Agate is a form of Chalcedony. Chalcedony may bring to mind an opaque pale, blue-grey stone, but it occurs in a wide range of colors. Banded agates, onyx, and carnelian are also part of the Chalcedony family.
Chemical Formula: SiO2
Refractive Index: 1.53 - 1.54
Hardness, Moh's Scale: 6.5 - 7
Symbolism: Thought to bring abundance and wealth.
Mythology: Used as a talisman or amulet against evil.
Diamonds in Antique Jewelry:
Throughout history diamonds have been used as decoration, a symbol of status and luxury, and a token of love. From this perspective, little has changed from Ancient Rome to modern times. However, with regard to their shape and cut, much has changed even over the past two hundred years. As diamond cutting tools, philosophies, and techniques evolved so did the diamond’s appearance.
You will find other cuts and shapes, but the following is the evolution from the first standard cut to today's brilliant cut: Table Cut; Rose Cuts; the beginning of the brilliant cut, the Mazarin Cur or Double Cut; the Peruzzi Cut, Triple Cut or more commonly known as Old Mine Cut, European Cut; Early Modern Brilliant, the Tollkowsky Cut, today's Modern Brilliant Cut. )Source Information: A Faceting History, Glenn Klein)
What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of a “Rose Cut”? They are dome shaped. Some have called them a faceted cabochon. The rose cut has evolved from 3 triangular facets to 24.
What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of an “Old Mine Cut”? One of the easiest things to spot on an Old Mine Cut is its shape. It can have a square shape with rounded corners, similar in outline to what we call the cushion cut today or it can be somewhere slightly in between a round and a square. It has 33 facets and while they do not demonstrate the fire or brilliance of a modern brilliant cut, they have a lot of sparkle and are still quite beautiful.
What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of a “European Cut”? European cuts are round. They have 58 facets and an open cutlet. Instead of coming to a point at the bottom, it is faceted with the smallest portion of the point cut off.
The name is also used to refer to the swivel clasp on the end of a watch chain. It is similar in design to the swivel clasp found on most dog leashes, although much smaller and more delicate. Dog Collar: The name given to a necklace that is choker length and comprised of multiple rows of beads. The style was popularized by Queen Alexandra during the Edwardian period. The “collier de chien” is characterized by its height and its multiple of rows of beads (diamonds, pearls, rubies etc.) interspersed with metal bars to keep the rows of beads from sagging. Here is an example of a dog clip.
A type of earring whose wires are hinged in the back, go through the ear and fasten/unfasten in the front. This is the converse of most modern earrings.
The literal definition of this word is simply: jewelry sold as part of someone’s estate after death. It is often used to convey quality or age (vintage or antique).
Just as the Victorian period ended with Queen Victoria’s death, the Edwardian period began with the succession of her son, Edward, to the throne of England in 1901. Experts disagree as to the exact span of this period. As is often the case with periods of design, there is always some overlap in style, shapes and taste. The end of the period is viewed by some to coincide with his death in 1910 while others claim that it lasted until 1918. Edwardian jewelry is generally characterized by designs that are elegant, delicate, light, open and feminine. Pale or white upon white looks, such as diamonds and pastel gems set in platinum, were favored. Sautoirs, Lavalieres, and Dog Collars came into fashion and motifs of garlands, ribbons and bows, lace, feathers, laurel leaves and flowering vines were prevalent. Like Queen Victoria, Princess Alexandra (Edward’s wife) had a strong impact on fashion of the day.
Etruscan Revival Style:
The Etruscans (500 B.C. - 300 B.C.) were famous for their gold working skills. They were known for their ability to manipulate metals, gold etc. into intricate patterns without modern goldsmithing tools and conveniences. Granulated gold is one such technique which is often associated with the Etruscan period. The Etruscans were able to make and attach minute gold balls in order to create detailed and complex patterns, fusing them to another gold surface, without the use of a controlled torch or modern solder.
In the mid 1800's, archaeological discoveries inspired jewelers and artisans to revive and borrow from the designs of ancient civilizations. One jeweler in particular, Fortunato Pio Castellani, is thought to be largely responsible for the re-popularization of "Archaeological Jewels" across Europe and Great Britain. He created jeweled masterpieces based upon classical design. He was a lifelong student of ancient civilizations, who studied their metalworking techniques, visited archaeological excavations, and collected their treasures. His pieces are known for his exquisite craftsmanship.
See Mexican Fire Opal or Opals for more information of other types of opals.
Foil-Backed or Foiled Stones:
A technique used in jewelry to give a stone (usually in a completely closed-back setting) more sparkle or intensity of color. It was used prior to the development of modern day stone cutting techniques. While it might be perceived by some as a negative, foil can be seen in antique pieces where the metalwork and other gems are of high quality. Some antique Georgian and Victorian pieces that contain foiled stones are highly sought after and have prices to match.
Garnets can be found in a variety of colors (including red, orange, green, purple, and pink). The color most often associated with this gem is deep red. There are five types of gem-stone garnets: Pyrope, Almadite (“Almadine”), Grossularite (Tsavorite and Hessonite), Spessartite (“Mandarin Garnet”), and Andradite (Demantoid).
The Pyrope and Almandite garnets come in hues from purple-red, to a deep red and even orange-red. Many garnets are a mix of species. Rhodolite is a mix between Pyrope and Almadite. Pyrope and Almadite were popular in pieces of antique jewelry dating back to the Egyptians and are often found in Georgian and Victorian pieces. However, the garnet also comes in other colors. Tsavorite and Demantoid are the names for garnets that are green. The emerald-green hue is very desirable. The Demantoid was discovered in the mid-1800's, while the Tsavorite is a more recent discovery (1960's). Hessonite comes in shades of orange (orange-red to brown-red). Spessartite also comes in hues of orange.
In antique pieces, the term “Bohemian” garnet is sometimes used. These garnets were mined during the 19th century in Czechoslovakia. “Carbuncle” is another term used by some in the antique jewelry trade. In many cases, it is used to mean a cabochon cut with a portion of the dome underneath carved out to lighten the deep red. As with many stones the saturation, clarity, and size/weight (among other factors) impact the value. Certain species, while somewhat abundant in smaller sized stones, are less available in larger sizes and thus the price per carat can increase exponentially.
The Georgian period spans the rule of the four King Georges (I-IV) from 1714 to 1837. In the beginning of the period, diamonds were very popular. In order to keep up with the demand, other white stones such as rock crystal, cut steel, pale aquamarines, and other diamond substitutes were used.
Jewelry during this period was handmade by craftsman. This was prior to the industrial revolution which resulted in the introduction of some machine made jewelry toward the end of the Victorian Period. Georgian jewelry is becoming more difficult to find. Many pieces containing valuable gems have been broken up and/or re-set by the next generation to fit newer aesthetics.
A gold wash over a base metal, sometimes silver. Also see “Vermeil”.
Gold, used in jewelry, comes in many levels of purity. Pure gold (24 kt) is too soft to use for jewelry and is made stronger by blending in additional metal elements such as copper, silver, nickel, etc. Together they form gold alloys differing hue, strength, and purity. Yellow gold is made with silver and copper, white gold with zinc, nickel, and sometimes palladium. Rose gold is made with copper and silver in different proportions from the yellow gold alloy.
Antique jewelry from the Victorian periods can range anywhere from 9 ct to 18 ct and sometimes 22 ct. Lower carat gold, e.g. 9 ct gold was sometimes used in jewelry (in England) for items such as rings and watch chains that needed to be harder and more durable than earrings or necklaces. Of course, as the carat weight or purity decreased so did the cost. While current gold prices can be an influence, other factors are involved in arriving at the value of an antique piece. Age, provenance, rarity, craftsmanship, the quality/type/size of the gems, among other factors, may also impact the value.
The information below translates carat into percentage of gold or purity:
9ct Gold=37.5% gold
12ct Gold=50.0% gold
14ct Gold=58.5% gold
18ct Gold=75.0% gold
22ct Gold=91.6% gold
24ct Gold=100% gold
The color of gold is somewhat standardized today, but the color of old gold can vary from piece to piece. This is because the jeweler often blended the gold alloy himself, which is uncommon today, not to mention the patina that may have developed on the piece over time. Antique yellow gold may be slightly warmer or border on pink, but it may not quite reach what is considered “rose-gold” today. Modern rose-gold is considerably more “pink”. The other names for rose gold are red gold or Russian Gold. The warm pink hue of rose gold makes it popular among many antique jewelry collectors and connoisseurs. White gold is a mixture of gold and at least one white metal: silver, nickel, manganese, or palladium. Copper is sometimes added to the mix as well. By most reports, it was introduced to the jewelry market in the 1920’s as a less expensive replacement for platinum.
Gold Filled vs. Rolled Gold vs. Gold Plated Gold Filled: A sheet of gold is bonded to a brass center through extreme heat and pressure. It is a complicated process and only a few specialized mills do the work. The minimum amount of gold must be 1/20 of the total weight of the item. You should not mistake this process for gold plating. There is a substantial difference. The end result is a gold (14 ct for example) tube which is strong, durable, and resistant to tarnish because of its 14 ct gold covering. There is a notable difference between a piece that is gold filled and a piece that is gold plated. An item that is gold filled is meant to last a lifetime (or longer). The gold is thick enough so it should not wear through.
Rolled gold: It is the same as gold filled except that it does not have to meet the 1/20th requirement. It is thicker than gold plating but NOT as thick as gold filled.
Gold Plated: Gold plating involves an electrochemical process that applies an extremely thin layer (a few microns thick) of gold to a base metal such as copper or nickel. The thin layer of gold can wear through, exposing the base metal underneath. There is no legal requirement for the amount of gold that is ‘plated’ over the base metal.
Gypsy Set or Setting:
The stone is dropped into a hole cut specifically to fit the dimensions of the stone, and pushed into place. The stone sits flush with the surface. It is held in place by the tension between the metal and the stone. This setting is popular because of its clean, minimalist look. This setting was used during the Victorian Period as well as today. See also: Stone Settings.
Half Hoop Ring:
The name for a style of ring popular during the late 19th century (late Victorian Period) into the early 20th century (Edwardian period). Typically, a gem set ring (five to seven gems) with stones set half-way around the band/finger. It could be worn by itself as a betrothal ring or stacked on one finger with multiple rings
Hallmarks (Great Britain):
The Assay Offices test the metal content of certain objects to assess the purity of the silver, gold, and platinum. According to the Assay Office of Great Britain: “Hallmarks are small markings stamped on gold, silver, and platinum articles. A hallmark means that the article has been independently tested and guarantees that it conforms to all legal standards of purity (fineness).” In England, Ireland and Scotland there were originally nine assay offices. Now there are only five. The hallmarks and date marks differ by office and year. Many pieces of antique jewelry are not hallmarked. This means that for whatever reason they did not make it to the Assay’s Office. See “Makers Mark” for more information on marks related to the maker or manufacturer of an item. Here is an example of a set of hallmarks on an 18 ct gold ring.
An intaglio is similar to a Cameo in that it is a carved piece. However, a Cameo is carved down to leave an object in relief, showing the various colors through the multiple layers. An intaglio is carved into the stone (carnelian, amethyst, citrine, chalcedony, etc.) making a pattern from the carved grooves. An intaglio was often set into a ring or a watch fob seal to press into melted wax in order to leave an imprint with the individual’s initials, motto, family crest, etc. Intaglio rings and watch fob seals are sought by collectors.
Jet is a black, hard, carbonized substance formed through a treatment of ancient (fossilized) driftwood. Mined from the cliffs in a town named Whitby in England, the black jewelry reached the height of its popularity during England’s period of national mourning after the death of Queen Victoria’s Husband, Prince Albert. In order to feed the demand, other substances that resembled jet were used to produce mourning jewelry: dyed horn, French jet (black glass), onyx (stone), vulcanite (rubber), obsidian (black volcanic glass), oak bog, and Gutta Percha (a hard substance made from the sap of a tree). Jewelry from the Victorian period incorporated these materials into necklaces, bracelets, watch chains, brooches, etc.
This pink gemstone was discovered in California in 1902. The Kunzite gemstone is part of the spodumene mineral family. It is most well known for its pale pink to deep pink-purple range of color. In addition to parts of the US, Kunzite can also be found in deposits in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Brazil, Madagascar, and Mozambique.
A deep, vivid blue, opaque stone, which is considered to be semi-precious. Lapis has a long and varied history. Used in jewelry that dates back to ancient civilizations prior to the birth of Christ and ground down into a fine powdered pigment for paint used in some of the world's most famous masterpieces from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. You can find Lapis in antique jewelry (think Archaeological Revival from the Victorian and Art Deco periods) and in modern pieces created today.
A type of lidded and hinged decorative piece most often in the form of a pendant that is suspended from a necklace or bracelet though it can be embedded on the top of a ring or bracelet. It is typically made of metal (silver, gold, platinum, etc.) and is comprised of two lids that are hinged. The two lids form a compartment for holding some sort of keepsake. Often the lids have metal rims with which to secure a picture. Although less common, lockets can have multiple compartments.
A mark imprinted into an item to reflect the person or company that manufactured or produced that particular piece.
Mexican Fire Opal:
The Fire Opal’s characteristics are different from what is thought of when hearing the word opal. It is can be transparent or translucent and range in color from yellow to red. The most valuable are clear, bright vibrant oranges and reds. The cherry opal, named for its red hue, can range from orange-red to red. It is the only Opal that is cut into faceted stones. The stone is primarily sourced from Mexico.
See Stone Settings
The monogram (see related term Cipher) is the combination of two or more letters, intertwined and interdependent such that a portion(s) of one letter is part of another letter. It can be tested by visually separating the letters from one another. Do they form independent whole letters or are lines from one needed to complete another? Interdependence indicates a monogram.
The letters or initials can represent one's first name, last name, and middle name (in that order with the surname in the middle) or one's first name, one's last name, and one's spouse's first name (in that order).
A good example of a monogram is the one created for Sweden's Royal couple Princess Victoria and Mr. Daniel Westling prior to their wedding. It is an intertwining of two Ds, a V, and a W in the center. The back of the D's also serve as the outermost sides of the W.
A member of the Beryl family of gem stones. The Beryl family also includes emeralds, aquamarines and green beryl. Morganite, discovered in Mozambique in 1911, is a pink gemstone that ranges in shades of pink, from pale peach, pink-brown, medium-pink, to pink-orange. As with many gemstones, the saturation impacts the value. This gem was named by Tiffany’s stone specialist in honor of J.P. Morgan, one of Tiffany’s biggest clients at the time.
Moss Agate (see Dendritic Agate)
A process utilizing chemicals and heat to generate a dark metallic grey onto silver items. A popular technique used in the Victorian period. Copper, lead, sulfur and silver are heated to extreme temperatures and applied to a pattern cut into a piece of silver jewelry (ring, bracelet, and watch fob). Sometimes touches of gold were applied via a wash.
A type of chalcedony quartz which typically has with alternating layers of black and white. It is a semi-precious stone used in jewelry. The black and white layers of Onyx can be seen, for example, in Victorian cameos and the solid black portion, for example in Art Deco pieces including some amazing creations by Cartier.
Opals are comprised of silica deposits that were made tens of millions of years ago. Today, the majority of the supply comes from Australia. This gem stone is famous for its “play of color” or the rainbow flashes of multiple colors displayed across its surface. Opals can be divided by color or pattern (background colors include: white, crystal, black, water, and fire). With the exception of the Fire Opal, opals are not faceted.
In the Georgian period, paste stones were hand cut from leaded glass and faceted to resemble precious or semi-precious stones. In the Victorian period, some were still hand-cut, but with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, machine made stones were developed. Many pieces from the Georgian period were hand-crafted and set in precious metal. Even the aristocracy wore paste jewels. In the book, “Antique Paste Jewelry” M.D.S. Lewis writes “[paste] cannot be regarded simply as a mere simulation of something more valuable. It was made to achieve certain decorative effects which for technical reasons are rarely realized with diamonds and other precious stones.” The French were particularly skilled at making high-quality, particularly reflective paste jewels. A French jeweler (see Georges Strass) is credited with this innovation. Here is an example of a antique buckle with paste stones.
There are many types of pearls and many ways to categorize them. The first categorization is natural vs. cultured. The process of culturing pearls was discovered in the late 1800’s and the cultured pearl entered the market in volume around 1920. Prior to the introduction of pearl culturing, all pearls were “natural”. Pearls naturally begin forming in a mollusk when an intruder, a parasite for example, enters the mollusk and begins to cause an irritation. The irritation causes the mollusk to produce secretions that form nacre, which envelopes the intruder and stops the irritation. In a cultured pearl a foreign intruder is introduced, but by man rather than nature.
A further categorization is salt water vs. fresh water. Pearls that are produced by mollusks that live in salt water are: Akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian. Freshwater pearls are produced by mollusks that live in fresh bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. The leading producers of freshwater pearls are the U.S., China and Japan. The following characteristics impact the value of a pearl. However, depending on the type of pearl, one factor may be more important than another.
Size: If all other factors are equal, the larger the pearl, the more costly it is. It takes time for a pearl to develop the layers of nacre. More time equals more cost. The longer the pearl is inside the mollusk, the greater the risk is that it will be damaged or destroyed. Risk comes in the form of weather, disease, pollution and other causes.
South Sea: Most fall in between 9 mm and 14 mm
Tahitian: Most fall in between 9 mm and 11 mm
Akoya: Range in size from 2 mm to 10 mm with most falling in between 6 mm and 7 mm Freshwater: Range in size from 2 mm to 13 mm with the most falling in between 6 mm and 19 mm Seed pearls (Natural Freshwater and Saltwater): Under 2 mm
Color: Geographic origin affects the water temperature, the type of mollusk and, in turn, the color of the mantel and color of the pearl. For example, Tahitian pearls come from the black lipped oyster, Pinctada margaritifera, which only grows in the salt waters off of Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The black lipped mollusk produces pearls in grey and black, with blue, green, rose, and purple overtones (“Peacock,” “Pistachio,” “Aubergine”).
Shape: A perfectly round pearl is the rarest. Technically, anything that is not round is baroque. Pearls that are not round yet are symmetrical can also demand a high price e.g. pear/teardrop. Symmetrical baroque peals can sometimes be as expensive as round. Pearls come in many shapes. Some designers find the unique shapes to be more interesting and incorporate them into one-of-a-kind pieces.
Luster: Luster is dependent upon the smoothness of the surface of the pearl and the quality of the nacre (thickness, translucency and the alignment of the crystalline structure inherent in the layers of the nacre).
Surface: The quality of the surface is measured by whether or not it has pits, spots, wrinkles or other defects. The “cleaner” the surface the more valuable it is. Spotless pearls are rare and if the surface imperfections are few and minor, they may not have much of an impact on the pearl’s beauty. Other factors are also important. A buyer might be willing to trade a few imperfections on the surface for a particular color, shape or size.
Matching: Pearls are sorted (especially for strands) into groups based upon the following factors: size, color, luster and surface quality. Some jewelry designers like to incorporate different colors and sizes in their pieces to give them a unique look.
South Sea and Tahitian Pearls: Technically, Tahitian pearls are also South Sea Pearls.
South Sea pearls are produced by the oyster Pinctada maxima (most falling between 9 mm and 14 mm in size) and grow in the waters off of Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Tahitian pearls are produced by the black lipped oyster Pinctada margaritifera and grow in the waters in French Polynesia. Most Tahitian pearls fall in the range between 9 mm and 11 mm.
South Sea (and Tahitian) pearls are larger than other varieties of pearls, with most falling between 9 mm and 14 mm. Those larger than 16 mm are considered to be on the larger end of the scale.
An alloy invented by Christopher Pinchbeck (an English clock maker in the 18th century) to resemble gold. It resembled gold in every way. This was unusual at the time and very unlike any other gold substitute of the day. Made by a special process that employed alloys of zinc and copper, it was a carefully guarded trade secret that died with the inventor’s heirs. It appealed to many people as a gold substitute for watches, bracelets, brooches and other items of jewelry. Pinchbeck was a master craftsman and while his alloy was a less expensive alternative to gold, the real Pinchbeck pieces were not poorly made. In fact, they were quite the opposite. The wealthy preferred items made from Pinchbeck when traveling, hoping to avoid losing their more costly pieces to highway robbery. “Pinchbeck” is used by some to describe a yellow metal that isn't gold, and the term is incorrectly applied in many cases.
Platinum:The heaviest and strongest of metals used in fine jewelry. Before platinum or white gold, silver was applied to the surface of yellow gold to create a white-colored metal. Platinum dates back to the Egyptians, but was more widely introduced into the jewelry market in the later part of the 19th century. It increased in popularity during the Edwardian and Art Deco periods. Platinum is usually more expensive per ounce than gold, though fluctuations in the market have occurred and platinum prices have been equal to or lower than gold at times. Platinum is valued for a number of reasons: durability, rarity, lack of tarnish, its white-silver color, etc. While its durability and weight (heavier than gold) make it great for rings and bracelets, lighter metals such as gold are preferred by some for items where weight is a factor (e.g. earrings). The platinum alloy mix most often found in the US is 90% platinum/10% Iridium. Alloys of 60% to 80% platinum also exist.
Developed in the 16th century, pocket watches were suspended by chains or short lengths of ribbon or leather (fobs). The watch itself was tucked into a pocket and on the other end was a t-bar used to secure the chain to clothing through a button hole (for more on watch chains, see Albert Chains above). Although pocket watches are still made today, their use began to fade during World War I when soldiers needed a more practical way to tell time on the battle field. The main category of pocket watches include:
Hunter: A pocket watch that has two covers. One protects the crystal and the other opens to reveal a compartment which contains yet another lid that protects the movement. The inner lid can be challenging to open unless you have the right tool or know how.
Demi–Hunter: Similar to the Hunter pocket watch, the Demi has covers on both sides, but one side has a crystal insert within a metal surround that allows the time to be viewed without opening it. There is a metal cover on the opposite side.
Open Face: An open face watch that does not have a cover to protect the crystal on the side that reveals the face of the clock. There is a metal cover on the opposite side.
Poesy Ring (other spellings - Posy, Posey, Posie):
Derived from the word poetry, a band type ring that includes an inscription of affection or love or faith. They were given as gifts, or tokens of love or used as engagement rings or wedding bands.
Poesy rings were popular in England and throughout the continent from the 15th c. through the early 19th c. The inscriptions were often engraved in Olde English, French, or Latin. Originally the inscription was engraved on the outside. Over time the inscription moved from the outside to the inside of the ring.
The inscriptions often rhymed and were focused on expressions of love. You will see a repeat of the same inscription which suggests that they might have come out of a book or catalog of sorts. The more unusual the phrase the more likely it is to have come directly from the giver. Here are a few examples:
- "In thee my choyce I do rejoyce"
- "You and I will lovers dye"
- "My hart is thine"
A ring with a compartment usually under a bezel set stone. The ring has evolved from an enclosed compartment in which to secretly store poison (Middle Ages) to a ring used to store a lock of hair or other keepsake (Victorian period).
A decorative framework, meaning four leaves, used in jewelry and other decorative arts comprising four semi-overlapping circles in pyramid format. A variant the trefoil (three-leaf) is also often used in jewelry design. It can be seen as an accent to a primary stone. A trefoil was a common motif in antique jewelry, especially pieces from the Victorian period.
Regard jewelry became popular during the Victorian period. Messages or names were “spelled” out via the order of the gemstones set into a piece of jewelry. Regard, was “spelled” using gemstones in the following order: ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, and diamond.
A short necklace of graduated gemstones (or paste), in all the same size, shape, and type. Antique examples are often collet set (French versions can be seen in prong set), joined by usually two small rings or jump rings and set in sterling silver, gold washed silver, or gold. 18th c. and 19th c. versions are ususally closed back evolving to open back around the end of the 19th to into early 20th c. From the French language which translates to river.
A colorless form of quartz that is most often referred to as rock crystal. It was and is used in ornamental items such as chandeliers and other decorative objects including jewelry. It has been incorporated into antique jewelry throughout the ages including pieces from the Georgian, Victorian and Art Deco periods. Colored varieties of quartz include: citrine, amethyst, rose quartz and smoky quartz. Rock crystal can be clear and translucent, but it can also have inclusions that are cloudy or refractive providing more visual interest.
A very long chain or string(s) of beads that falls below the waist. Decorations include jeweled slides or tassels on the ends.
A whitish metallic element that is softer than other metals used in jewelry. Sterling: In the US and in the UK this term refers to a purity of 92.5% silver. Britannia: In England this term refers to a purity of 95.4% silver. Continental: This is used to denote a silver of 80% purity German: German silver is not silver at all. It is a mixture of copper, nickel and zinc.
Often mistaken for rubies, the Spinel is a stunning precious stone in its own right. Similar to rubies and sapphires they come in a variety of colors, from pastel pinks to reds, purples, and blues. On the front of the England’s Imperial State Crown sits a large red oval gem, called the Black Prince’s Ruby. Long thought to be a Ruby, it was later discovered to in fact be a Spinel. The high refractive index of a Spinel, gives the stone its fire.
A stomacher brooch is a large jeweled brooch (or series of connected brooches), worn on the front bodice. It is a large formal piece of jewelry, worn from the 15th century through the 19th century. Queen Mary of England had a large diamond stomacher that was comprised of a series of three brooches, graduated in size, which were pinned vertically down the front of her dress. She gave hers to Queen Elizabeth II, but by the time she received it they were no longer in fashion. An example of a stomacher courtesy of the British Museum.
Bezel: A band of metal that wraps 360 degrees around the stone.
Channel: Two strips of metal, a channel, between which the stones are set without any prongs. One sees a row of continuous stones, visually undisturbed by any metal prongs.
Closed setting: An early method of gemstone setting. A setting in which the stone is completely covered by metal underneath. Used prior to the development of brilliant cut stones. A foil was sometimes set between the stone and the metal backing to improve either the stone’s ability to reflect light or the saturation of the color or both. Precious, semi-precious, and paste stones can be seen in closed-back setting.
Collet set: An early method of gemstone setting not often seen today. It is similar to the bezel set, in that a band of metal surrounds the outer edge of the stone. The difference is the metal is crimped over the outer edge of the stone, sometimes seen with claw like prongs. Here is an example of a a collet set stone. from the Cooper Hewitt Museum
Gypsy/Flush/Rubbed: The stone is dropped into a hole which is cut specifically to fit the dimensions of the stone and then pushed into place. The stone sits flush with the surface. It is held in place by the tension between the metal and the stone. This setting is currently popular because of its clean, minimalist look. It can be seen in both antique and modern jewelry.
Millegrain: This is more of a decorative technique than a setting. It can be seen on the edge of metal surrounding a bezel set stone, or on an edge near a pave or prong set stone. A pattern of tiny lines is engraved into the precious metal by a hand tool with a steel wheel, resulting in a relief patter describe by some as tiny beads, but they in fact are not. The Millegrain technique is often seen on pieces from the Edwardian and Art Deco periods. Here is an example of a millegrain setting on an Art Deco Brooch, now part of a bracelet.
Pavé: This is the French word for cobblestone. The stones are held in place by small metal beads. One stone can be pave set, but it is more often used when multiple stones are set closely together, giving the effect of many rows of cobblestones.
Prong: A setting that holds the stone in place with individual prongs.
Georges Strass was a French jeweler that is credited with the invention of paste stones in the early 1730’s. Paste, a mixture of glass and lead, is highly reflective. Paste is difficult to cut and required a craftsman’s experienced touch. Replicas of very elaborate and expensive pieces were made to avoid losing the originals to highway robbery. They were made by the same skilled jeweler that made the original.
Symbolism in Victorian Jewelry:
Arrows = Love triumphant
Buckle = Love, loyalty or friendship symbolized by two straps that are fastened together.
Empty glove clasped in hand = Loss of a loved one
Ferns = Fascination
Forget-Me-Nots = Remembrance
Ivy = Friendship, fidelity or marriage
Lilac = First feelings of love
Snake/Serpent = Eternal love. Queen Victoria's engagement ring from Prince Albert was in the shape of snake ring, set with an emerald (her birth stone).
Tortoise shell, used in decorative items, is a translucent golden or light brown material with mottled darker brown sections and comes from the Hawksbill turtle. The shell was used in jewelry during the Georgian and Victorian periods. It is now an endangered species. The general rule is that you cannot buy or sell items comprised of endangered species unless you can prove that it is 100 years or older. There are exceptions for jewelry less than 100 years old and made prior to 1973, so do more research if you plan to buy and or sell jewelry or other items made from tortoise shell.
Born into Sicilian aristocracy, Duke Fulco Di Verdura was an important figure in the world of fine jewelry in the 20th century. He worked for Chanel as head jewelry designer in Paris before leaving to come to the US. He opened his own business in 1939 in New York, which remained open until 1973 when he retired. He was known for his fun and unusual creations inspired by nature, culture and religion (e.g. Seashells embedded with precious stones, jeweled Maharajas riding enamel elephants, winged hearts, Maltese Cross Cuffs).
He had a loyal following of movie stars and New York Society. In 1985, the company and its archives were purchased by Ward Landrigan and it continues to operate it today.
A term used to describe solid silver washed with gold or another word for silver gilt. The process was developed in France in the 1700's. Today in order to be considered Vermeil the base metal must be sterling silver. The top layer must be gold of greater than 10 K and greater than 2.5 microns thick.
A hinged container of narrow depth with a built in area to strike a match at the bottom. Vestas were used as vessels with which to carry matches in order to light stoves, candles, fires, lanterns, etc. They were popular in the 19th century through the early 20th and were fabricated from a variety of materials (e.g. copper, tin, silver, gold, ivory). Often found in rectangular form, they were also made in many novelty shapes. They could be plain or ornate with detailed engravings. Cartouches, ready for the owner to personalize, were often engraved with monograms, dates, names, or messages. As it was with many items before the vesta, what started out as a utilitarian item became more like a decorative object or piece of jewelry.
This refers to the reign of the British Monarch Queen Victoria, who became the queen of England on June 20th 1837 (her coronation) and remained the Queen until her death on January 22, 1901. Jewelry that dates between 1830 through the turn of the century is referred to as Victorian Jewelry. The period is typically split into three: Early, Middle and Late. While each had its own themes, motifs and influences there was overlap and some designs can be seen in multiple periods. Throughout the Victorian period, fashion, including jewelry was influenced by what was happening in Queen Victoria’s life.
The early period (1837-1860) or the Romantic Period was marked by her love for Prince Albert, her passion for nature, interest in Scotland and a Gothic and Medieval revival. Motifs included hearts, floral and leaf patterns, serpents, etc.
The mid Victorian 1860-1885 or the Grand Period was heavily influenced by the death of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. She went into a mourning that lasted the rest of her life. This period was darker and more dignified than the earlier period of hearts, love and flowers. It was heavily influenced by architecture and archaeology (Greek and Etruscan revivals) and Queen Victoria’s mourning. Black was the color of the day: Whitby jet (and other similar materials bog oak, Gutta Percha, French jet), black enamel, black ribbon and memorial hair jewelry became popular. Heavy silver lockets, collar necklaces, and bangle bracelets were also popular pieces of day-time jewelry.
The late Victorian Period of 1885-1901 was dominated by the aesthetic movement. The artists of this period rejected the styles prevalent in the mid-Victorian era and advocated art for beauty’s sake. Japanese art with its nature derived motifs (birds, trees, flowers, feathers) was a significant influence. Day jewelry became less fashionable and diamonds became the precious stone of choice for evening attire.
A small hinged container with an inner grill that typically held a sponge soaked in an aromatic liquid. The lid was opened when the holder required a sniff of the fragrance to help mask the unpleasant odors that might be rising from the streets. It was also used as a form of smelling salts, helping to revive a woman if she felt faint. Used by both men and women in the 18th century, but by the 19th century it was an accessory associated with women, falling out of favor before the century ended.
Vinaigrettes were primarily made of metal: silver, gold, and other more common base metals. They were small, usually 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches and could be found in many shapes (rectangles, squares, rounds and novelty shapes such as hearts, shells, books etc.). They also varied in the degree of decoration. Some could be quite plain, others could be quite ornate with detailed engravings or jewels set into their lids. The inside was had a gold wash (gilt) to protect and prevent the acidic liquid from interacting with the base metal.
The word vintage literally means the year something was made. The word is somewhat abused and is frequently used to mean something rare or hard-to-find. There is disagreement about what period of time this term applies to, so it is always a good idea to ask how someone how they are defining or applying the term. See our FAQs page to see how we apply the term vintage.
A short chain or ribbon or other material used to suspend a pocket watch.
Watch Fob Seal:
These seals were attached to watch fob chains and used to imprint the wax seals of important documents. The application dates back 7000 years to middle-eastern Asia, but seals were most commonly used in Britain during the 17th century through the mid 19th century. Even today, seals are still used for official documentation such as deeds. The decorative engravings were dependent upon the wealth of the individual families. Wealthier families had specific coats of arms which were carved into the stone. Seals often included a motto, family name or some other meaningful image. Sometimes you will find seals without engravings. Goldsmiths created seals with the intention to engrave them and then for one reason or another they were never engraved.
The Zircon comes in a variety of colors, but is most well-known for its vibrant blue color, found in jewelry during the Art Deco period.
Colorless Zircons were used as a diamond replacement in the early 1900's, and the name has become a synonym to "fake". This is unfortunate as this gem is in fact, a naturally occurring gemstone (zirconium silicate) which is the centerpiece in many beautiful and well made jewels from the 19th and early 20th century.
It's one of the world's oldest minerals. It was used during the Middle Ages as talisman against evil spirit, insomnia, and thought to bring wisdom, wealth and honor.