Dating and identifying vintage jewellery and antique jewellery
Dating vintage jewellery and antique jewellery guide - Here we have written a short guide for identifying and dating vintage, antique and second hand jewellery that was produced from Victorian times up to the 1980s. then a look at the 1990s and the twenty first century.
This part of the guide looks at styles of each era. This along with the findings used and signatures or company who made it, will give an estimated decade. With the piece identified in adverts, brochures or fully hallmarked will give an exact date.
With Queen Victoria reign came the industrial revolution and new cheaper designs in jewellery.
Paste – glass mixed with white lead oxide and potash. Long lasting and a substitute for diamonds. Nowadays old clear rhinestones tend to also get called paste, but this is incorrect.
Fake pearl beads were created by coating balls of glass with a mixture of fish scales and varnish. Along with real pearls.
Cut steel was used first in Birmingham to create marcasite antique jewellery (poor man’s diamonds) It was cut and polished and usually set into silver. Cut steel was also used on its own to create all sorts of fashion accessories.
Romantic antique jewellery came in when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. Mizpah or sentimental antique brooches with their symbolic messages became fashionable. The word Mizpah is on the front of the brooch - not the signature of Mizpah with two hearts and an arrow on the back. This was the symbol of the Ward Brothers & Quarrier ward of a slightly later date.
Many different materials were used to make antique jewellery including human hair, tortoiseshell, agates, glass, horn, bone, ivory, amber, bog oak, coral, Berlin iron and jet
Scottish antique jewellery made of silver, granite and agate, became popular because Queen Victoria brought the Balmoral Estate in Scotland.
On Prince Albert’s death mourning antique jewellery of a black colour, usually of jet became a staple part of every woman’s jewellery box. Jet is a black fossilized wood and one of the richest sources was in the UK at Whitby.
The Arts and Craft movement in the 1870s until the 1900s saw a rebellion against the inferior machine made products and artisans produced beautiful well made antique jewellery often from glass, enamel and horn
For a brief few years, the Art Nouveau movement bridged the gap between the nineteenth and twentieth century. As the 1900s dawned the Arts and Craft movement gave way to designers and craftsmen seeking new inspiration and looked back to earlier times and outwards to more exotic cultures
Inspired by medieval cultures, semi precious stones adored metal jewellery and with the designs of flowers and botany inspired by nature. Peacocks, butterflies, entwining leaves and foliage, dragonflies and of course the “femme fatale” images were liberally used in the designs of this period. Liberty & Co, Lalique, Charles Robert Ashbee, Fred Partridge and his wife May Hart were just some of the designers famous in this era.
Many of the manufacturers producing gilt costume vintage jewellery turned their craft to help the war effort of the First World War. During the post war booming economy, women changed from wearing the restraining bustles, corsets and long dress to becoming sleek stylish short haired, shorter skirted and obtaining a more liberated lifestyle.
Long vintage earrings feminized the short hairstyles. Long beads and multiple bangles accessorized the flapper dresses.
From the flowing and nature style of the Art Nouveau period, the vintage jewellery became abstract and linear - Art Deco flourished. Bakelite became popular mixed with metal and celluloid was used to form vintage brooches, vintage bracelets and vintage necklaces never seen in such colour before
The discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 sparked an Egyptian revival using designs of scarab beetles with blue and green enamelling.
As the 1930s dawned the Hollywood influence of glamorous film stars and the import of Czech filigree vintage jewellery with their bright colourful rhinestone crystals became popular.
Clip on earring mechanisms were patented and produced in this decade. they were a great hit along with the slightly earlier screw back earring style. No more piercing ears with a needle, held in the fire to sterilise and a cork at the back of the lobe to stop the needle going to far!
Rationing and the war effort made costume vintage jewellery more popular than ever. It boosted women and men’s morale. Patriotic and vintage jewellery made of materials that was low cost were used. Bakelite, celluloid, wood, shell, military badges, buttons and coins
It was during the thirties that vintage jewellery designers started to use enamel again in inexpensive silver and costume vintage jewellery. The many pot metal vintage brooches of animals, birds, flowers, circus figures and insects appeared. With pot metal being used for the war effort, silver with a gold plate or wash took over in the forties instead of base metal. Companies such as Coro had almost all of their vintage jewellery of this era made of sterling silver. Wood, plastic, Bakelite including a greater use of plastic and natural substances.
Vintage jewellery (both costume and fine) during this period was big, colourful and bold.
As the world recovered from the war; fashion, music and the cinema became more prominent. Hollywood, Rock & Roll, cars, proms and television influenced the vintage jewellery. Fashion was very smart and tailored. For the more mature, costume vintage jewellery was elegant and sophisticated. For the younger generation, a more casual and fun attitude developed
Simple prom stylevintage jewellery with rhinestones, pearl necklaces, earrings and bracelets (faux and real), twin sets and pearls is a mantra still used today;! And in 1955, the appearance of aurora borealis stones set into vintage necklaces, brooches, bracelets, earrings, etc became very popular.
The Sixties, remembered for its pop music, art and hippie fashion. Plastic earrings and long love bead necklaces appeared. Bangles, anklets and belts were embellished with little bells, beads and bright fabric. Oriental and Ethnic influence pushed aside the sparkling rhinestone costume vintage jewellery for beads of seeds, plastic and glass. Very large pendants on chains were popular. The Mod plastic and the black & white Pop Art look mingled with the flower theme of the free love decade
Vintage jewellery became less ornate as clothes were created with metallic thread for that disco sparkle. Plain chains and more use of a single colour became popular. Metal sculptured and large pendants, chokers and cuffs with jade vintage jewellery both real and faux became popular. In the late seventies Punk, disco and Rockers influenced many individual looks. With the less strict attitude to etiquette brought about a decade of creativity. Experiments with materials of acrylic with precious metals, feathers and titanium to name a few.
With the production of piercing tools - pierced vintage earrings came back into fashion and the clip on earrings made a steady decline.
Big Bold Eighties
The 1980s were influenced by pop stars and TV programmes. The Dynasty TV programme influenced the big bold flashy vintage jewellery of this era along with the shoulder pad fashion in clothes. The New Romantic look was also in. Big flashy vintage brooches, earrings and necklaces were produced.
Vintage jewellery was colourful and experimental - pushing the boundaries. Many mediums were used including wood, feathers, shells, mother of pearl, paper mache, etc.
Second Hand Jewellery
At the beginning of this era that heralded the end of the twentieth century. Contemporary second hand jewellery remained big and bold but started to get less colourful and the sophisticated office style came in. Women dressed to impress and get promotion. Children's and teenager second hand jewellery was more widely available. Goth fashion peaked while designer fashion became the norm. So ranges by Playboy, YSL were hugely popular as well as Mikey. Nylon string necklaces and bracelets became very fashionable for a short period. Body piercing was becoming very popular, T-shirts and tops became shorter in length to show off a belly bar. Acrylic slap bracelets were in as well as hoop earrings.
2000s - the twenty first century
Now in a new century with the chance to wear what style you like. However many children, teenagers and adults copy pop stars, film and TV stars, reality show winners and also football stars. Vintage and retro styles are back in fashion and flourish because of the recession - when everyone becomes more conscious of mending and recycling. Charm bracelets return for a short period including Links of London, with the change to the Pandora bead bracelets and the many Pandora look alikes. Decoration to handbags in the form of long dangling charms appear. Many large stores and fashion names produce large amounts of jewellery of all kinds. Long chain necklaces with charms are very fashionable at the moment.
Further information on dating vintage jewellery see our blog posts under Jewels and Finery.