So you’ve gone scavenging at a flea market, garage sale, antique store or perhaps through your family heirlooms and found a really cool piece of jewelry. Now the inevitable question – how OLD is it?? My goal is to provide you with enough information to figure it out, era by era. We’ll start with the Georgian through Victorian Era, which roughly ran from 1730-1901.
One of the best clues to dating jewelry is the findings, i.e. the mechanical parts of the jewelry that allow you to wear it. Keep in mind that the information I’m providing are guidelines, as sometimes the original findings broke or were replaced for other reasons. Taking a close look at how the findings attach to the item is a great way to start as you can often see signs of repair such as old solder, etc. and will be able to tell if the finding is original to the item, has been repaired, or been replaced.
Let’s start with pins:
There are different types of clasps that hold a pin onto your clothing. The first type is a simple C clasp, which also happens to be the oldest. The oldest c-clasps have no locking mechanism. For extra security, the Victorians made the pin itself longer, so when you’re looking at the pin’s front side, the point extends beyond the piece. Since c-clasps were used into the 20th century, it’s hard to date a pin on that alone. If you have a piece with a c-clasp and a point that extends, odds are excellent it is a Victorian piece. Below are two photos that show what I am describing. The left photo is a c-clasp and shows the pin extending beyond the limits of the piece. The right photo shows how this extension looks from the front:
The invention of the safety pin in 1849 was important to jewelry-makers. To make the c-clasp more secure, a safety pin on a chain like the one below was sometimes added. By 1901, the lever safety clasp for pins was patented. You can see examples of both below.
Sometimes, instead of the C-clasp, a tube safety catch was used. These catches were patented around 1850:
The hinge of a pin mechanism is also an important clue as to age. The earlier pins had a bar style hinge like the one in the photo on the left, as the round style (ball) hinge had not been invented. That came in 1898. Also take note of the bail on the top of the pin on the right with the ball hinge. That allows this cameo piece to be worn either as pin or a pendant, a common practice in those days when money could be tight.
Now, on to earrings:
The Georgian and early Victorians used fish-hook style earwires for pierced ears. They looked exactly like fish hooks, hence their name. A little later, at the end of 1898, came the kidney-style earring wires used readily today. Post findings were also popular and often times backings screwed on for extra security, like in the middle photo. The lever style wire at the right was quite popular in Europe, and added more security to the fishhook-style finding.
In 1894, screw-back earring findings were invented and women without pierced ears could now wear earrings for the first time!
Last but not least, necklaces and bracelets. How does one date a necklace or bracelet? Take a look at the clasp. The oldest form is the push-in box clasp, introduced in the late 1700s. It used a v-shape piece of metal that fit in a slot. This was followed in the early 1900s by the spring-ring clasp, something you should recognize as still somewhat popular. The fold-over clasp was invented around 1900, however it was more widely used after the Victorian period and I will address it at a later date, as well as other styles.
Both the push-in box clasp and spring ring clasp are pictured below:
This concludes Part 1. I hope this has helped you understand the process of circa-dating vintage jewelry. Part 2 will focus more on the design of Georgian/Victorian jewelry and how to recognize it from a mile away. In the meantime, here’s a list of important introductions in the jewelry word prior to 1905:
IMPORTANT DATES – JEWELRY HISTORY:
Late 1700s- Push-in box clasp
1850- tube safety catch patented
1840s- Swivel-style finding for pocket watch chains
1849- safety pin invented
1868- celluloid invented
1870- Kidney wires
1875- celluloid jewelry first produced
1880- Platinum began to be used as settings for diamonds
1890- Trombone Clasp
1890- Screw/threaded posts
1890- Ball Hinge
1893- Cultured pearls first developed in Japan
1894- Screw-back earring findings patented
1895- Mass production of Swiss watches
1900- Spring ring clasp
1901- Lever safety catch for brooches patented