Notes about Dating Victorian Jewelry

Though not all-inclusive, the following characteristics should help the collector of antique jewelry identify authentic early Victorian pieces.

In England, the gold content laws were changed in the mid-1800's to standardize gold at 9, 12, and 15 karats. (Up until then the term "gold" meant 18 - 22 karat.) At this same time, laws made it mandatory that hallmarks be applied to show gold content. Any piece of gold jewelry marked 9 k was not made before 1854. Some gilt pieces will have bases of silver and the silver hallmarks will be visible and can be used to date the piece.

Platinum was not used much before the 1870s as it was too hard to cut until the diamond saws became available. The cool look of this metal was well adapted to the art deco styles.

The use of stones will help date a piece of jewelry. Different gemstones such as Ceylon Sapphires, and Alexandrites became available only in the late Victorian period. The more highly faceted stones with 58 or more facets indicate a later date and while the old table cut or rose cut diamonds or other stones with smaller top surfaces and fewer facets suggest Georgian or early Victorian some were made up to the mid Victorian era.

Glass can be found as original mountings and does not detract now or then from the value of many old pieces. It could be carved, pearlized, faceted and cabochon. A 10 power loupe will usually reveal the bubbles and cracks common to glass. Highly refractive glass was available from Germany, Italy and Czechoslovakia and became wide spread even in quality jewelry beginning from the Georgian times and came into America with European women from the 1840s on. Even some of the fakes such as Soude emerald which used green glue to provide green color to colored doublets help date the jewelry as coming from this period.

Look at the fittings. Brooches with pins that fasten with C shaped clasps are more likely to be nineteenth century or older. Tube or trombone clasps are later 1890s, and the safety clasp is 20th century. If the pin tip is visible from the front of the pin it is usually a mid to late Victorian rather than Edwardian piece.

Earrings were short fishhooks until the dangle earring became popular in the early Victorian years but as the dangles became popular in the early 40s the wires became longer and thinner. Unfortunately these are rarely original. Screw posts are also late Victorian, but screw backs did not appear until about 1907. Some books on old jewelry show examples of old jewelry refitted with the newer screw back. In the late 1840s the hair styles and bonnets covered the ears and a small disc shaped ear ring on a post was found then and again in the 1890s the dangles were less likely to be made for the same reason.