5 Easy Clues for Dating Antique or Vintage Jewelry

Updated on October 18, 2016

5 Clues to Help Identify the Date of Jewelry

1. Look at the findings and fittings on earrings
2. Look at the findings and fittings on brooches
3. Identify the material
4. Use color to guess the time period
5. Look at marks and hallmarks

Jewelry mirrors time, culture, and societal values. It reflects the taste and attitude of every period in history. There are definitely clues that can be used in deciphering how old your jewelry is. The older and more rare the piece of jewelry, the more valuable it will be. There are many more clues than just five, but these are quick and easy ways to help determine the age of your jewelry.

Clue 1: Fittings and Findings for Earrings

drawings by Karen Malzeke-McDonald
drawings by Karen Malzeke-McDonald

The invention of different earring findings will help date your jewelry. Jewelry findings are ready made pieces that jewelers use such as clasps, pin stems, hinges, etc. Fittings refer to the parts that can be custom-made for a piece.

This drawing shows the styles when they were introduced into the market. In order of date, the styles are named as follows: shepherd hook, image two is not named, kidney wire, screw-back (pierced), lever back, screw-back, post & butterfly, spring clip, and omega back.

Some of these styles are still made today. Thread stud earrings from 1890 are thicker in diameter and the nut is much heavier than those that are made today. Screw-back non-pierced earrings that were made in 1900 are still made today but they are not that common on newer pieces. Kidney wires were invented in the 1870s and are also still used today. The shape has been modified in the modern earring. Knowing the difference between all of these can be helpful when determining the date of your jewelry.

Clue 2: Fittings and Findings for Brooches

Most answers to understanding jewelry can be found by looking on the backs or undersides. Brooches have evolved over one hundred years, and the backs provide much of the information we need to date the piece. Again, this drawing shows the different types of clasps used on brooches or pins with the approximate date as to when they first appeared.

I have found that the trickiest thing about dating a brooch is not necessarily the kind of clasp, but an altered back. Look for any suspicious solder. Pools of solder would only be on a piece that has been altered or repaired. Another thing to look for are oval or round metal pads where the pin has been attached to the back of the brooch. This is also a sign that the piece has been altered.

When I first started buying jewelry I came across this unusual 14k gold filled piece with a "c" clasp pin and a "hook" on the backside of what looks to me like a pendant. After some research I learned what it really is. Is this a brooch or a pendant? Have you seen this before? Take this poll and leave a comment.

Do you know what this piece of jewelry is?

See results
Crepe Stone
Crepe Stone

Clue 3: How to Identify the Materials of Black Jewelry

Black jewelry can be found in abundance at flea markets, estate sales, and antique stores. Identifying what the black material is can make a big difference in determining when it was made and how much it could be worth. Black jewelry most likely made of one of the following: plastic, glass, stone, jet, gutta-percha, crepe stone, bog oak, and bakelite. There are ways to test each one of these materials to determine what it is.

  • Plastic is the most obvious of all materials to decipher. Plastic is very lightweight and you can tap it on your tooth to hear a "click" sound. Use your loupe to look for a mold line. A mold line will go all around the piece splitting in two.
  • Glass will be heavier and reflects light. Holding it in your hand will warm up the material.
  • Stone would remain cold if you held it in your hand.
  • Jet is as light as plastic, and hard and coal-like in material. This material is a type of fossilized wood that was first mined in Whitby, England in the mid 1800s. Carving jet was so popular that by 1870 there were more than two hundred jet shops in the small town of Whitby. Today, jet is in the seams of the cliff walls on which the town is built. Nowadays, it is illegal to mine for jet, which makes the material extremely valuable. To test for jet, rub the material on concrete or clay pottery. If a brownish black mark line is left, then it is jet. Just a note: jet breaks easily.
  • Gutta-percha can also be black. It is made from the sap of a Malayan tree. It was used primarily in the Victorian Era. Running this material under hot water will cause it to emit a strong burnt rubber smell. You can also rub a piece on your clothes to create friction. This material was introduced into England in 1841.
  • Crepe stone is another black material and is made of glass. It was introduced in 1883 by the Fowler brothers in Providence, Rhode Island. It was called English Crepe Stone. It has a very distinctive look. See photo show.
  • Bog oak is also another black material that is very easy to identify because it is oak wood that has been preserved in the bogs of Ireland. This jewelry is visually identifiable because of the Irish motifs.
  • Bakelite can be made black, but not all Bakelite is black. It is a phenolic plastic that was popular in the 1920s and 30s. A good test for Bakelite is to put 409 bathroom cleaner on a cotton swab and touch a small hidden area. If the cotton swab is yellow after touching the surface of the tested piece than it is Bakelite.

eBay is a Great Source for Buying Antique Jewelry

Auctions on eBay are fun to watch. I like to look up different styles and periods of jewelry to see what comes up and how much it sells for. This helps me to understand the market better. Then when I shop at estate sales, auctions, and antique stores, I have a better idea of what I am looking at. I also come in with a price in mind.

Clue 4: Using Color to Date Your Jewelry

The use of color gemstones and enamel correlates to architecture and decorative art of the times. For example, color in the Renaissance was almost gaudy, while the use of color during the Victorian Era was somber because the death of Prince Albert caused Queen Victoria to declare an extended period of mourning. After the Victorian Era, the period of Art Nouveau utilized soft and delicate colors with rich gold and silver metals. This was short-lived as the Art Deco era moved to the forefront with its use of bolder colors and geometric designs. A devil-may-care attitude influenced the look.

Color palettes dominated different time periods throughout history. Knowing which color gemstones were predominant at certain times in history goes a long way in helping to date a piece of jewelry.

Clue 5: Marks and Hallmarks

Hallmarks and markings are an important clue to help date a piece of jewelry. Most often these marks are hidden on the inside of a shank on a ring, the inside of a bracelet, or on the inside back of an earring. Using your loupe, you will often find some kind of mark identifying the jeweler, designer, retailer, or manufacturer. If you bring this to a jeweler, they may be able to date the piece based on the marks.

These marks can also make a tremendous difference on the value and collectability of the jewelry. Remember that the value is not always about the intrinsic value. The trademark can also provide information about when and where a piece was made. Good sources for this information can be found at: Researching Costume Jewelry History and the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers' Marks

How I Analyze and Date Jewelry

The photo shown here is a sterling silver filigree camphor glass necklace. Dated about 1900, it features the "Order of the Eastern Star" in the center. The center star has five enamel points and with five different images. However, this piece is not all authentic. The open center panel has been taken off and replaced with this rectangular piece. You can see how it does not fit perfectly. Look on the outer edges and you will see the inconsistency of the space around it. On the back is a small screw that attaches this shape from the frame. I showed this to my jeweler. He said these pieces were designed so that different pieces could be changed out. It is bothersome that the center shape does not fit properly within the framed shape. This does affect the value and aesthetics.

This is a great introduction to some of the best vintage costume designers to be on the look out for.

I welcome any comments. Feel free to share your knowledge.

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    • profile image

      Kerre Huff 2 weeks ago

      My previous post described a brooch or pendant that could also be worn on a chain and it's heavy metal. It's not the thin open heart of Luchenbooth hearts rather solid with intricate designs and I can't find any kind of lettering on it at all. Can someone please help me

    • profile image

      Kerre Huff 2 weeks ago

      I have a gold heart brooch with crown on top of it with what resembles a family crest of a crown with cross at top of crown on a green colored background and it has a c clasp

    • profile image

      Mary 3 weeks ago

      Hey there - I have a pair of gold & diamond c. 1890’s stud earrings with post screw back. It is thicker than a modern post - even a screw back. To be able to wear the earrings I am going to have to get the posts replaced. How will this affect value? I’d really like to be able to wear them. I’ve also thought of changing over to a lever back - but this will alter them quite a bit.

      Thank you for your advice.

    • profile image

      cwpi 5 weeks ago

      I received an old brooch from a relative. I don't know who it belonged to or where it came from. Only when I cleaned it did I realize it was silver. It appears to have a clasp (unchanged) from the 1920's, has filigree and round silver discs and tear drops that dangle from it. I had a jeweler get the marks off the back for me: H within a circle then S088. I have researched this myself for days with no luck and am asking for help. There is no indication that anything on it was altered. Thank you!

    • profile image

      naj 5 weeks ago

      Hi I have got an eternity gold ring that I think is very old .The marking says: N 825 or 625 C ( but reversed) and N.Can you help me to determine the age of my ring please ?

    • profile image

      Deborah59 2 months ago

      This is a great article on vintage jewelry. It's very informative-I'm just learning about the artists and their distinct talents. These 5 clues are a wonderful place for me to begin. Thanks so much.

    • profile image

      Sue Cash 3 months ago

      Can anyone tell me anything about Tramp Art. I have a piece and know nothing about it. Thanks

    • profile image

      Shirley 6 months ago

      Can you help me to determine the age of my old Jet (lignite) bracelet that has a cameo on it.

    • profile image

      Adam mascarenas 6 months ago

      I have old bracelet but no marks and I have no idea the year made or place

    • profile image

      Cheryl White 6 months ago

      Hello, I have several pieces of jewelry that were my Mom's and probably my Grandmother's and great Aunt's. One piece, in particular, is a very large copper Indian vintage necklace that I need to find the value of. She also has several Ivory necklaces and some scrimshaw bracelets and ring, a star ruby and diamond ring, that dates back to the early 1900s, which has a very unusual shape and other valuable pieces. Where do I go to a reputable place who will give me an idea of what these pieces are worth. Any info you can provide me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    • profile image

      Mary 6 months ago

      The colors of the star are in the correct order, however, it is not facing the correct direction. The white ray should be pointing down. This also suggests that it is not original as an Eastern Star member would know the correct way it is worn.

    • profile image

      Carol 6 months ago

      The colors on the star are incorrect but I don't know if it is just the way it photographed. The star should be blue, yellow, white, green, and red.

    • profile image

      Liz 9 months ago

      Thank you for all the terrific information!

      You have opened my eyes to a whole new world of fun collecting. What fun!

    • profile image

      Carolyn C 9 months ago

      Thank you for all the information. Great information!

    • profile image

      Cheryl things. 11 months ago

      I have some jewelry that I know is vintage. I just don't know where to begin.

    • profile image

      Pam 12 months ago


      I'm in the process of sorting out my jewellery that I have inherited from my two grandmas and my mum. Your website is proving to be very helpful. To give you an idea of time both my Grandmas were born in the late 1800s and died during the 1950s so your article is so helpful.

      However are three items in my collection that I have no idea about. They are threaded on a piece of string . They are the same size (each are approximately 4 1/2 cms long, 2 1/2 cms wide and 1/2 cm thick); a curved almost diamond shape with curved edges and linked together with string that is threaded through the narrow ends. They feel like they are made of hardened glass or ceramic. However, they are covered with the most intricate beautiful minute coloured flower patterns on both sides, around the edges and even into the holes at both ends of each one. All patterns are different on each of these 'pendants' in blues, yellows, white, green and russett red. They look quite amazing and don't deserve to be tied together on a piece of string. They remind me of some Japanese prints. Can anyone help me work out what they are please.

    • profile image

      Pree 13 months ago

      Hi I just purchased a camphor piece and cannot figure out if it's authentic, can anyone help?

    • profile image

      Sharon 13 months ago

      I have a larger cross pendant with cabochon stones, possibly gold plate. It is only marked with a number 3583 I can't find anything about this cross and I do not see anything similar

      Hope someone can help!

    • profile image

      Jessica Holman 18 months ago

      Hi I have a watch I need help identifing who can help me?

    • CarolineChicago profile image

      Caroline Paulison Andrew 21 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Great article! Thanks for posting. Very helpful and well written.

    • profile image

      karenm 23 months ago

      I think the unidentified piece of jewelry is a holder for a watch or decorative fob, which would hand from the hook at the bottom. Thanks for this resource.

    • Deborah Hileman profile image

      Deborah Hileman 24 months ago

      I have a beautiful piece ( possibly pendant ) that has an unusual clasp on the back that I cannot identify. I have searched and searched but no one shows it.

      I have several pictures that I can send if you are willing to help

      thank you

    • profile image

      Mina 24 months ago

      Thanks for posting this. I ended up getting a pair of earrings and could not figure out when the post was made. Your article is the first one I've seen on the web which actually helped me. Thanks again!

    • profile image

      J Suzanne WM 2 years ago

      Hello. Loved your article! A few months back I purchased some rather non-descript earrings from a thrift store. I and my daughter love unique pieces. I almost passed them over until I noticed the screw on backs. I had never seen this before and thought surely they must be old. They are thin metal flowers and the other a simple circle. I think they are the screw-on for non-pierced ears. Very cool!

    • Mariana Fuzaro profile image

      Mariana Fuzaro 3 years ago from São Paulo, Brazil

      Very helpful article. I enjoy antique jewelry.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I cannot add any knowledge I'm afraid as I have only recently started collecting. My comment is a question that brought me to this page which I know will be very helpful in my new hobby. I'm not sure how to word this question about a particular pair of earings so thst it can be understood but, I'll try. I found a pair of screw back vintage earrings that can also bd worn as pierced earrings. There are no discernable markings on the earrings with the naked eye. Has anyone seen this this before? They are not pierced earrings that have the screw on backs. I hope this was clear. Thank you

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Really interesting video - well done. And the section on Black Jewelry was the best and easiest to understand that I have read so far. Thank you.

    • profile image

      stella_mcartney 4 years ago

      thanks for sharing a great lens with us really new and informative

    • karMALZEKE profile image

      karMALZEKE 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi Gail,

      I think this video is excellent. Thank you for making it. I am so glad I can help share it here.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I have heard an old dentist talk about Gutta-percha. I think he told me he used it in root canals!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      Wonderful lens, and very informative. Pinned to 2 of my boards: "collectibles" and "jewelry."

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: here is a search term for a great Ebay example, check out the back of the piece. Amazing-Georgian-Victorian-14K-Rose-Diamond-Brooch-Pendant. I would post the link, but the spam filter won't let me

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      The mystery piece is a convertible piece of jewelry called a brooch-pendant. It can hang on a chain or be pinned to the clothing. You can search on Ebay for similar pieces.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      What a surprise to find my video showing here! Thank you for highlighting it. (If I had to do it over again, it would be of higher quality but, when I did the video, only smaller file sizes were allowed.)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Really great info.

    • profile image

      Toy-Tester 5 years ago

      This is really great stuff. Thank you for sharing

    • profile image

      MammaNana 5 years ago

      I wondered how old some of my jewelry is. Now I can go back and date it. Thank you!

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 5 years ago from US

      Awesome information! *blessed*

    • profile image

      AngusMcD 5 years ago

      I had very little knowledge on this subject. Thanks!

    • profile image

      audymay 5 years ago

      Very informative and well esearched thank you for this lens! Put together very nicely.

    • profile image

      sailor_man 5 years ago

      I am new to squidoo and I learn.

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 5 years ago

      Wow! This is so informative. And I thought it was going to be about dating jewelry instead of men! hee hee But really, I am dearly in love with historic pieces of jewelry but I am often very lost when trying to figure out when it was made or what it is actually made of.

    • karMALZEKE profile image

      karMALZEKE 5 years ago

      The piece of jewelry above is a watch fob brooch. The hook on the back is to hang a watch chain from and the pin is usually pinned on the outside garment.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have a pair of earrings that have .925 (C) M stamped on the backs. I've tried to find this online and have had no luck. Can you help? I have pictures of them. I know they were not made to be worn on the french wires they are on.

      Thank you,

      Melissa White

    • profile image

      JennySui 5 years ago

      Congrats on LotD!

    • profile image

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    • desa999 lm profile image

      desa999 lm 5 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens, nice layout

    • profile image

      DebMartin 5 years ago

      This has been so helpful as I have inherited a lot of jewelry and no nothing about it. Thanks for the jump start. d

    • profile image

      wirote 5 years ago

      Great lens!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      I enjoyed reading this. My mother gave me some good advice - if you are having your jewellery valued, don't let it out of your sight - if they can't do it in front of you, and want to take it into a backroom, just leave: trust no-one because a good jeweller could change your valuable stone to a cheap one and replace it in the setting in a couple of minutes!

      Angel Blessings for great information

    • amberchina profile image

      amberchina 5 years ago

      Cool stuff! I love to yard sale and often wonder how old the jewels I find there are. Thanks for the info!

    • profile image

      JStarrB 5 years ago

      Great lens!

    • profile image

      kayla_harris 5 years ago

      The jewelry is very beautiful! Thanks for sharing this great Lens!

    • profile image

      poodle6 5 years ago

      Great piece, i like the different sample for vintage jewelry that you included I ike antique jewelry and has several old pieces, and looking to add more to my coection.

    • profile image

      brendajoy 5 years ago

      Marvelous lens, very impressive drawings, excellent photos; and the video was incredible. I love antique and vintage jewelry. I have a couple of crystal necklaces and earring sets that had belonged to an aunt. I cherish them.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      I love antique (and vintage) jewelry and was delighted to read this excellent, well-researched and well-written lens. Thank you for sharing your knowledge about this very interesting topic, and congratulations on your purple star and LotD. Blessed!

    • profile image

      AngryBaker 5 years ago

      Thanks.. your information helped my date the earrings my oma left me.

    • thingz1 profile image

      thingz1 5 years ago

      I think the unidentified piece of jewelry is intended as a scarf clasp. That's my best guess anyway. Thanks for the info.

    • Risa28 profile image

      Risa28 5 years ago

      I enjoyed the information and jewelry in the video. I have had an ongoing fascination with rhinestones since I was a child. Thank you for your well done and inspirational lens, I'll return for more education.

    • Steve Dizmon profile image

      Steve Dizmon 5 years ago from Nashville, TN

      I have some old jewelry that was my Mother's but I really have never looked at it. Now I'll have to dig it out. Thanks for the Lens.

    • LizRobertson profile image

      LizRobertson 5 years ago

      Some great tips on identifying old jewelry here. I hope to put it to good use.

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Nice research and a great resource.

    • whats4dinner profile image

      whats4dinner 5 years ago

      Great lens, lots of helpful information on how to date your antique jewelry. Congratulations on LOTD.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Very interesting stuff. Congratulations on getting LoTD!

    • magictricksdotcom profile image

      magictricksdotcom 5 years ago

      Excellent information. My wife collects antique and vintage jewelry, and she enjoyed reading your lens as well.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      You are brilliant, Karen! Your information is compiled in a concise and interesting way, and the visuals make me want to start buying jewelry! Thank you for this generous gift of knowledge!

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 5 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      Congratulations on LOTD! Blessed!

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 5 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      Congratulations on LOTD! Blessed!

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 5 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      Congratulations on LOTD! Blessed!

    • cathywoodosborn profile image

      cathywoodosborn 5 years ago

      Wow - I learned that I have several pairs of earrings from c1894! Thanks very much for this lens. :-)

    • KateHonebrink profile image

      KateHonebrink 5 years ago

      Such an interesting article with great images! I learned a bunch about jewelry that I never knew before! Great job!!

    • AlexandraAdams LM profile image

      AlexandraAdams LM 5 years ago

      Nice collection! I really love Antique Jewelry!

    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 5 years ago from U.S.A.

      Wonderful lens! Very helpful and well done! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      You really know your stuff. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Franksterk profile image

      Frankie Kangas 5 years ago from California

      Beautifully done lens. Great info and well written. Thanks for sharing. I go to lots of estate and yard sales so this will help me when looking at the jewelry. Bear hugs, Frankster

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 5 years ago from USA

      So what is it? It looks like a scarf clip/threaded holder I had, but cannot tell.

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      I love your lens - this information is priceless. I have a few pieces of vintage jewellery, and of course I love looking at more on ebay (and TV antiques shows). Thanks for sharing and congratulations on being LOTD 24th May 2012!

    • gamrslist profile image

      gamrslist 5 years ago

      cool lens good info thank you for sharing

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 5 years ago

      Loved this lens. Great info.

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 5 years ago

      Loved this lens. Great info.

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      doug66 5 years ago

      Impressive Thanks

    • Stickypony LM profile image

      Stickypony LM 5 years ago

      that's some great stuff

    • Bestbuyguide profile image

      Bestbuyguide 5 years ago

      Loved the part about the findings and how they are attached giving the pieces age away. Very interesting lens, great big like on this.

    • BLemley profile image

      Beverly Lemley 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Very interesting! The stuff we find at yard sales, etc., is starting to get very old! Congratulations on making Lens of the Day! B : )

    • ElizabethSheppard profile image

      Elizabeth Sheppard 5 years ago from Bowling Green, Kentucky

      What a fun lens. I am sharing it too. :-)

    • AndrazP profile image

      AndrazP 5 years ago

      Amazing lens!

    • chairmann3 profile image

      chairmann3 5 years ago

      These illustrations will be very helpful at garage sales. I may be able to get a true find.

    • winter aconite profile image

      winter aconite 5 years ago

      I have an old ring shaped as a snake with a ruby as the head. Was left by my grandma but have not idea how old it is. Not that I want to sell it, I love it and wear it often, would be nice to know though. Do you think a jeweller would be able to help? Love your lens by the way!

    • Hypersapien2 profile image

      Hypersapien2 5 years ago from U.S.

      Great job on this lens. i really enjoyed it.

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      soaringsis 5 years ago

      Congratulation on your beautifully displayed jewelry, LotD. I really enjoyed it.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I loved to see all these different kinds of Jewelry, many I've never seen or known about...Thanks...Great Lense

    • Stacy Birch profile image

      Stacy Birch 5 years ago

      Good lens.

    • Stacy Birch profile image

      Stacy Birch 5 years ago

      Good lens.

    • Stacy Birch profile image

      Stacy Birch 5 years ago

      Good lens.

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image

      Kay 5 years ago

      We actually have some jewelry that was passed down. I'm going to dig it out later and see what I can identify. Thanks and blessed!

    • ryokomayuka profile image

      ryokomayuka 5 years ago from USA

      I love learning about history. Great Lens and congratulations on having the Lens of the day.

    • SMW1962 LM profile image

      SMW1962 LM 5 years ago

      This makes me want to take out my old jewelry and have another look! Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Love this Lens. I've always liked antique jewelry. Very helpful.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Good information on dating the clasps. That helps! I'll check out some of my "Treasures" to see how old they are.

    • BunnyFabulous profile image

      BunnyFabulous 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Fascinating information! My father had a bracelet of mine looked at by an expert jeweler on Antiques Roadshow a number of years ago, so I'm intrigued by finding out about old jewelry. Don't know much yet, but after this lens I know more.