About Antique Jewelry


Period pieces have a special appeal to nostalgia buffs and as well as cutting edge consumers. Owning and wearing a piece of jewelry from a bygone era is a way of honoring and appreciating the past. The popularity of antique jewelry continues to grow as more people discover the timeless beauty and remarkable craftsmanship of each period. Flowers, hearts, bows and birds inspired beautiful pieces which showed the craftsmanship of the Victorian age. Jewelry which was created during the Art Nouveau period embodied art for the sake of art, as well as a dramatic trend in fashion. Light and airy designs became hallmarks of Edwardian jewelry. During the Art Deco period, the emphasis shifted from soft colors and flowing lines to bold, bright colors and straight lines.

Georgian Period - 1714 to 1830

The Georgian Period is the earliest that we have information on. Until modern times gemstones, diamonds and precious metals were very rare and these materials were recycled into later styles of jewelry. For this reason very little early Georgian jewelry survived. Most Georgian jewelry available is from the later dates characterized by highly dimensional repouse. Floral and scroll motifs are typical of the period. Garnets, precious topaz, coral and early fully faceted diamonds set in silver were used.

Victorian Period - 1835 to 1890
The Victorian Period is named for the reigning monarch who was reputedly an incurable romantic. Victorian Jewelry virtually drips with sentimentality (she wore a bracelet worn from her children's teeth!) and symbolism. Of all the periods Victorian incorporates the most varied and eclectic motifs. Influences include Egyptian, Renaissance and Etruscan. It is composed almost exclusively of yellow gold , often with contrasting black and cobalt blue enamel. Diamonds were set in silver topped gold. About Victorian Mourning Jewelry. About Antique Bohemian Garnet Jewelery.

Art Nouveau Period - 1890 to 1910
Natural forms inspired Art Nouveau Jewelry. Female forms, dancers, nymphs, mermaids, water lilies, flowers, dragonflies, and flowing lines are recurrent motifs. Colors were applied with fired enamels and quite often with plique azure, translucent enamel evoking stained glass.

Edwardian / Belle Epoch Period - 1890 to 1915
Edwardian jewels are delicate, romantic, feminine and lacy. Edwardian and Belle Epoch jewels were usually composed of platinum and diamonds an often with natural pearls. The workmanship is highly detailed, open and airy. Bows and garlands were a popular theme.

Art Deco Period - 1915 to 1935
Art Deco Jewelry depicts the modern age. Designs are streamlined, geometric, symmetric, and highly stylized. Think Empire State Building and Golden Gate Bridge. This was also the time when the gemiest gemstones were being mined: Kashmir sapphires, Burmese Rubies, Old Mine Muzo Emeralds, and Lightning Ridge Opals.

Retro Period - 1940 to 1945
Retro Jewelry, we are back to gold and notably rose gold, due to the short supply of platinum that was required for the war. I think of retro as the golden age of Hollywood glamour jewelry: Joan Crawford, Marlena Detrich, Greta Garbo. There is nothing subtle or demure about it. Over-sized, dramatic, deco-inspired designs, but very often asymmetrical and whimsical. Rubies were all the rage but also many semi-precious stones were used: Citrine, Aqua, Amethyst and Moonstones in large sizes.

Fabulous Fifties
Mid-Century (as in 1950's). The fabulous Fifties! Mamie Eisenhower! We are back to platinum and diamonds but seemingly in direct opposition to prewar Art Deco style. Lots of abstract, free-form, linear and floral designs with overlapping and pavé diamonds. More flash that finesse.

Many styles overlap decorative periods and there are no precise beginnings and endings to style trends. Aurora Borealis stones were first created in the early to mid 1950s by the Swarovksi Company.

Antique Paste Jewelry
During the mid 18th century, there was an increased interest in faux jewelry as a result of a surge of highway robberies as well as a trend in European societies to avoid wearing precious jewels, especially after the French Revolution. As a result, a new type of stone was invented, called "Paste", which in essence was a special lead glass that could be hand cut and hand faceted to create an exact diamond look-alike. These stones would then be foiled (with a type of aluminum) and set in silver to bring out the brilliance of each stone, before being backed in gold (a process similar to their more expensive counterparts).
Often paste jewelry was an exact replica of a diamond piece that was worn, and if so, it was usually made by the same jeweler. It is important to realize that the paste pieces were made of equal craftsmanship as the precious jewels, and was so sought after at this time, even by Royalty.

A Short History of Pinback Buttons

The earliest pinbacks were printed on paper and mounted under a protective layer of transparent celluloid. By 1920, pinback manufacturers had started sing lithographed tin. Pins called "cellos" made since the 1950s are actually coated with acetate, not celluloid. Today you can find new buttons of either kind.

In the late 19th Century, cigarette and gum companies began to include pinback buttons in their packs of cigarettes to help spur the sale of their products. Among the first pins issued around 1896 were R.F. Outcault's famous character, The Yellow Kid. These pins were issued with both open backs and closed backs. In the open backs a paper advertisement was inserted, to remind customers of the product. Yellow Kid pins are generally found with High Admiral Cigarette paper inserts and the closed backs are considered to be much scarcer.

Around 1910, cigarette companies revived the practice, started in the late 19th Century, and began to issue pinback buttons in their cigarette packs. To accomplish this -- through the manufacturer of the pins, Whitehead and Hoag -- several famous comic artists of the time were hired to create a series of comic pins. Among those hired were Ham Fisher, creator of Mutt and Jeff; R. Dirks, creator of The Katzenjammer Kids; and Rube Goldberg, whose creative talents were so recognized that his name is now part of the English language. These celluloid pins are all signed in the pin by the artist and were produced in colour, black line on a white background and white line on a dark blue background. The colour pins are the most commonly found followed by the black and white pins. The white line pins were produced in much lesser quantities than their predecessors and therefore are much more difficult to find.

Pinback buttons became a popular feature in the late '20s and early '30s for political campaigns, and collectors prize many of these highly.


Pure (24K) gold is too soft to be appropriate for everyday wear; therefore, gold jewelry is made of a mixture of gold and other metals (such as silver, copper, nickel and zinc). The K (karat) number tells us what fraction of 24 parts of the alloy are pure gold; ie., 14K is 14/24, or 58.33%, pure gold. The metals used in the alloy also determine the color of the gold; a greater percentage of nickel gives white gold its color, while a high percentage of copper lends a reddish tone to rose gold. While gold itself does not tarnish, these alloying metals can sometimes cause a piece to darken with time, or leave a dark residue on the skin. In Europe, gold is marked with a number indicating the gold content as parts per thousand; ie., 18K gold, which is 75% pure gold, is stamped 750.

Platinum is rarer, and therefore more expensive, than gold. It is grayish-white in color, non-tarnishing, and very strong.Very high temperatures are necessary to melt platinum; therefore, it did not become a viable jewelry metal until advancements in jewelers' tools were made in the late 1800s. It became the most popular jewelry metal in America in the 1920s; its durability made it the ideal choice for the lacy filigree styles of the period. Jewelry platinum is an alloy, usually 90% platinum and 10% iridium. Platinum jewelry is typically stamped "Plat."

Because silver tarnishes easily and is less durable than gold or platinum, it is not considered an ideal metal for setting precious stones. However, until the introduction of platinum and white gold alloys in the late 1800s and early 1900s, silver was the only white precious metal available. It remains popular as a jewelry metal because it is more plentiful, and therefore much less expensive, than gold and platinum. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver; such pieces are often marked "SS," "Sterling," or "925." Coin silver is 90% silver and is sometimes marked "900." German silver and nickel silver are misnomers for alloys of other metals that contain no silver at all.

Palladium is a member of the platinum metals group. It is harder, lighter and less expensive than platinum. It was used in jewelry manufacturing during WWII as a substitute for platinum (which was restricted, being considered a strategic metal).

Popular in eighteenth century France, vermeil pieces were made of sterling silver and coated with gold ("silver gilt"). Production was banned in the early 1800s, however, when it was discovered that the mercury used in the process caused the craftsmen to go blind.

Pinchbeck is an alloy of copper and zinc, discovered by Christopher Pinchbeck (1670-1732). It was popular in the eighteenth century as a gold look-alike; ladies often had their favorite gold pieces reproduced in pinchbeck to take with them on their travels. Its popularity waned in the mid-1800s with the legalization of 9K gold and the invention of the electrogilding process. Pinchbeck is rarely seen today

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