How Do You Know it is an Antique?
Many people ask us this very important question. How do we know that a piece of jewelry is the age we say it is. Yet, answering this deceptively simple question is quite complex.
It is as if you are asking someone, how do you know how to fly an airplane? The answer would be a great deal of studying, also a good bit of time spent learning from other professionals, and mostly continual and ongoing practice. And if you ask them to show you how to fly an airplane, they could do it, but it would take time and hard work on both your parts. It is almost exactly the same with the study of antique jewelry.
Yet, this does not mean that you should be discouraged. Precisely because it is complex, it is an area worth developing and much can be learned wihtout great effort.
Antique jewelry is a vast repository history with great breadth and depth. From the outside it does not appear so complex, but it is as cicuitous and broad as history itself.
Any discipline embodies the same ethics of earning, networking, doing and practice, practice, practice.
There are many facts one can learn over time about the history of jewelry. However, it is not practical to apply this with certainty without taking into consideration the entire range of facts about a piece of jewelry. For instance, one might come to recognize that a piece has the correct stone cut for a time period, but not see that the stone itself is modern and wan not discovered consistent with the period of the jewel. Or that it apears to be in the Victorian style but has not a touch of wear. One must step back and ask tougher questions. Could it be preserved and never worn or it is a modern copy?
Most Common Dating Criteria
Metal techniques - casting, raising, chasing, soldering, hand-shaping, engraving, repousee work, mille graining, and granuation, are just a few of the techniques to shape and work metals. Knowing something about the history of these techniques, when they were favored and how they are used is helpful in dating jewelry.
Stone Cuts - different diamond and gem cuts were in use over the course of history. Being familar with the basics of stone and gem cuts can lead to clues to dating jewelry.
Materials & Gems Used - Platinum wasn't in wide use unitl the early 20th century. Diamonds were most often set into silver in the 18th century. Facts such as this are often relevant to aid in identifying period jewelry.
Mounts and Settings - Various mounts and settings were used at different times throughout history. Often, this can be anotehr pertinent clue to a piece's origin.
Wear & Repairs - most jewelry, even those of great importance were worn at some point. Jewelry which shows no wear, gems which have no tiny losses, chips or scratching are highly suspect. Certainly jewlery can be found in near pristine condition but that is the exception. Wear is hard to replicate and is often not part of a reprodution piece of jewelry. However, a ring only 20 years old, if worn everyday can show a great deal of wear.
Style - Just as we can place a 1960s A-line dress of a bold geometric print with a good bit of accuracy, so to can be use the overall style of a peice of jewelry to help pinpoint its date of creation.
Aesthetics - Even exact aesthetics come into play. Much Edwardian and Art Deco jewelry, precisely because it is so beautiful, has been copied and reproduced. How does one go about telling the real from the copy. Sometimes, precise design, proportion and aesthetics lead to the truth.
Provenance - Buying something from an estate or knowing it was in your family for generations is certainly pertinent. However, just because the estate said it was 100 years old does not mean it is.