It can be difficult to tell whether jewelry found at an estate sale or in an old stash of family treasures is worth something. In order for most jewelry to be worth money, it must be authentically antique or contain valuable gems or metals. Most modern and vintage costume jewelry simply isn't worth much. For reference, antique is anything 100 years or older, while vintage is generally anything 10-100 years old. If you need some help distinguishing if a piece is antique or vintage, here are three sets of tips organized by the type of piece:
Brooches and Pins
The most common way to tell whether a brooch or pin is antique is by looking at the pin back. Most C-clasp backs (these usually have a large needle that goes across the back of the pin and slides into a fastener that is in a simple "C" shape) are antique. Most pins with more complicated fasteners that offer more protection and a hinge that is immovable are vintage. Modern day clasps feature smaller fasteners and flexible needles.
Also, take a look at the trademark on the back of the pin. Many metal-backed pins have artist trademarks or serial numbers/years on the back. If you look up the artist trademark, you can often find out just how old that pin is.
Almost all clip earrings are vintage. Many antique earrings are reworked with clip backings as replacement parts, however, so keep this in mind as well. Antique earrings will generally have screw backs, lever, or wire backs. Make sure to use a magnifying glass to identify the fasteners if you are having trouble seeing the details.
Necklaces and Chains
Most antique chains will have a tendency to twist easily during wear due to the construction methods used. If your chain moves easily and doesn't get twisted, there's a good chance that it's vintage and not antique.
Despite popular belief, most antique chains and necklaces often do not have a trademark/hallmark. This is because many antique pieces of jewelry were not made with solid precious metals. Oftentimes a substance known as "gold fill" was used, which is essentially a layer of gold over another type of metal. Gold fill tends to wear off over time, so if you find a true antique piece of jewelry, it may appear greenish or grey in color due to platinum or another material being underneath.
Use the above tips when identifying antique and vintage jewelry to figure out what's worth keeping and what isn't. Remember that even though a piece may not be antique or vintage, it may still contain precious metals that can be sold. Old jewelry is often a grab bag-- you never know what you may find. But that's half the fun. For more information about antiques, visit Crissy Galleries.