How do you know how old that is?

Victorian locket

Victorian locket

That has to be the number one question that buyers ask me.  The answer is research.  A lot of research. With most antique pieces, a specific date or year is usually not available unless the piece is signed or hallmarked or has documented provenance. However with a little knowledge, you can usually get pretty close to the age of a piece.

I try to read and study as many books and articles on antique jewelry, clothing and history that become available to me. Even studying old photographs helps in the research process. Actually seeing how pieces were worn and what they were used for is very useful information. So if you are looking  for information on Victorian jewelry, for example, look at old tintypes. The  U.S. Library of Congress  has a vast digital collection of old photographs on their website.  I could easily spend hours looking at them. Which leads to my next step. The internet.

When I first started collecting, there were no personal computers or internet. So now it is absolutely amazing to me what can be found on the internet, as far as research goes. So many fabulous sites devoted to antiques and antique jewelry. A wealth of information! Don’t forget about searching images as well as articles.

If you are interested in collecting certain types or eras of antique jewelry, there is probably no better way to learn about them than actually holding and inspecting many, many pieces of jewelry. Up close and personal.  After a while, you begin to see how pieces of certain eras were made. The materials used. The construction of a piece. Certain cuts of stones. Engraving techniques. It all helps to date a piece. This does take time and attention to details, but it will help you to discern between the true antique and the freshly made item.

Remember also that vintage style or antique style does not equal antique or vintage. So don’t let certain words lead you to believe that a piece of jewelry is old just because of a descriptive word. These days the words antique, vintage, Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, estate piece, (just to name a few) are being tossed around quite liberally to describe a style. Usually not meant to be deceiving, but to a new collector or buyer, it can be quite confusing.  My favorite has to be “it was my grandma’s”. Not to say that someone’s  grandma did not have antiques, but to many people, the word “grandma” conjures up an image of an elderly woman in a rocking chair. I can tell you that my sister is a grandma and she does not fit that image at all! So just because it belonged to “grandma” does not make it old.

If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask! I am pretty sure that most antique dealers to not bite! Most reputable dealers will happily answer your questions. And yes, even a reputable dealer can be fooled sometimes. It happens. We are human. You never stop learning in this business. It is just part of the process of becoming a reputable antiques dealer. So arm yourself with knowledge. Do some research and have some fun. You will meet some great people along the way and in no time, it may just be you answering the question of  “How do you know how old that is?”.

Text written by Wicked Darling running an antique jewelry business in  Georgia, United States

Click here to visit her beautiful collection of antique jewels


A type of ancient garment-fastener brooch consisting usually of a straight pin (acus) that is coiled to form a spring and extended back to form a bow and a catch-plate to secure the pin (the most common form of which resembles the modern safety-pin).

The early form had no catch and was used by passing the pin twice through the fabric and then bending it upward behind the head to secure it. Mycenaean and later examples were made with the pin coiled at one end to form a spring for a more secure fastening. Later they were made of two pieces of metal with the pin hinged to a bar having around it wire coils attached on each side of the hinge (a double-twisted or bilateral spring); this type was the precursor of the safety-pin invented in the 19th century.

Later the bow and the catch-plate were highly ornamented. Examples of the fibula have been made in gold, silver, and bronze. Some have been found at Etruscan sites in Italy, attributed to the 7th/5th centuries BC; it has been suggested that some of these were probably made locally, albeit some have also been found in the Illyrian region (now Jugoslavia).

Many fibulae have been ascribed to Anglo-Saxon make, an example with triple pendants has been recorded of Byzantine make, and there are a number of varieties from Romano-British sources.

A fibula is sometimes referred to as a ‘safety-pin brooch’. The term ‘fibula’ has been sometimes loosely used to refer to any type of ancient brooch, and conversely the term ‘brooch’ has been sometimes used to refer to a fibula; but clarity would be better served if the two terms are respectively confined to the two basically different types of fasteners.

Engraved gemstone

A gemstone decorated with a carved or engraved design, monogram, portrait or inscription, incised as an intaglio or in relief as a cameo.

The stones most frequently so used were the agate and sardonyx, which could be carved in a two-colour effect, but some diamonds bear engraved names, dates, and inscriptions (remarkable in view of their hardness and the primitive tools available at the time), e.g. the Shah diamond, the Akbar Shah diamond, the Darya-I-Nur (Iran) diamond, and the Jahangir diamond, and some rubies and emeralds were also engraved.

The work was done originally with a bow-drill, and later on a grinding wheel with the stone, attached to a dop-stick, held against it; a modern process uses a revolving burr. The early process was used from ancient times in Mesopotamia, mainly for design in intaglio on a seal; later in Greece, in the Hellenistic period, gems were cut as a cameo to be worn ornamentally. The process was much used in Egypt for making scarabs and in Minoan, Myceneaen, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman jewelry, especially for cameos and intaglios depicting persons and mythological characters.

It was popular again in the Middle Ages when many of the cameos were thought to have amuletic powers. During the Renaissance engraved gemstones were made with original designs well as copying the classical examples. Such engraved gemstones continued to be popular in the 17th and 18th centuries; among leading Continental engravers of the 18th century were the Italian Johann Anton Pichler, the French Jacques Quay, and the German Johann Lorenz Natter.

Leading English engravers of gemstones were Edward Burch (1730-1814) and his pupil Nathanel Marchant (1739-1816), who depicted classical and contemporary subjects; others also produced accurate copies of ancient gems, but forgers, notably Thomas Jenkins in Rome, made cheap imitations.

Important collections of engraved gemstones were assembled by Pope Paul II (1417-71) and at the courts of the Gonzaga, the Este, and the Medici (some made for Lorenzo de’ Medici are inscribed with an abbreviation of his name, Lau.R.Med.) and also in England, e.g. by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (1585-1646) and the 2nd Duke of Devonshire.

Imitations of cameos and intaglios were made in Jasper Eartenware by Wedgwood and in paste by James Tassie.

Important engraved gemstones have been set in jewelry in recent years, e.g. the emeralds in the Farah Diba Crown. Some of the gem-engravers of antiquity are identified by their mark. Many engraved gemstones are too large to be worn as jewelry and were made as ornaments for a gem cabinet; for this reason such examples (e.g. the Gemma Augustea) are beyond the scope of this site.

English square cut

– E –

A modification of the brilliant cut of a diamond that has an 8-sided table to which abut 8 triangular facets alternating with 8 more triangular facets (the bases of which abut the girdle), and that has on the pavilion 8 similar triangular facets (the bases of which abut the girdle) and 4 large isosceles-trapezoid facets that meet at a point at the bottom (or 4 large 5-sided facets if they abut a culet), totalling 28 facets (plus the table and culet). The crown is not as deep as the pavilion.

The result is to take maximum advantage of the strong colour dispersion, but the fewer facets detract from brilliance. Also called the ‘English brilliant cut’.