One of the many services we provide at Alx&Co. is providing an expert opinion on the make and material of pieces that our clients bring to us. Often, it’s a collection of pieces they have inherited from a family member and we help our clients decipher “what’s what” in terms of whether the gemstones are valuable, what the material is, and whether the item is salvageable for another round of wear or use.
These consultations take time and we do charge a fee for the service. Our clients always find it useful and informative to go walk through this with an expert and it’s something we’re happy to do. That said, there are some simple hints that you can explore at home to save yourself both the trip and the expense of having our team professionally do this for you…
Tips from Tim
1) Look for stamped hallmarks
Most items created out of fine materials like gold or silver will be marked as such. This is the easiest way to quickly determine whether something is real but many people don’t realize these marks are stamped on their jewelry or silver hollowware. In jewelry, you’ll often find these marks on the inside of the ring band or on the clasp of a necklace. On hollowware, you’ll find it on the bottom or foot of the item.
In jewelry, look for markings like “9k”, “14k”, “PLAT”, or “925”. If an item isn’t marked, don’t despair: it could be that the marking wore away or cut down when a ring was sized down (usually rings are marked on the inside of the band).
For hollowware, look for “925” or “sterling silver” mark on the bottom or foot of the item. Silver plated items are usually marked “EPNS” or “plated”.
There is actually an entire world of maker’s marks that will tell you everything from who made the item to where the metal was assayed. I have listed the most simple marks that you’ll find useful in your basic evaluation – we can walk you through the more detailed marks in a consultation.
2) Look at and feel the metal
Gold and platinum are quite dense and tend to feel more weighty than costume metal, and neither metal should tarnish or turn green. If you see any kind of odd reactivity going on, then it probably isn’t gold or platinum. In hollowware it can be a bit harder to tell since silver does tarnish; however, there are still tell-tale signs of difference. Plated silver tarnishes to a turquoise sheen – almost like a greenish bruise – whereas sterling silver tends to just get darker with time.
3) In gemstones, if it looks “too” perfect, it probably is
Glass, lead fillers, and simulants were used 150 years ago with abundance – and often without full disclosure. It can be more difficult for an untrained eye to look for tell tale signs of imitation materials but the most basic point to remember is that if it looks perfectly clean, clear, and colorful and it’s an antique piece… it’s probably not a natural gemstone. Remember that “emerald” doublet we discovered? Conversely, if it’s supposed to be a diamond, sapphire, or ruby and it is riddled with surface scratches, it’s probably an imitation material. These gemstones are incredibly hard and should only show minor signs of wear.
One thing to remember about antique jewelry is that costume jewelry was just as popular one hundred years ago as it is today. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s “real”. And, you can have very well made, nicely appointed costume jewelry and plated hollowware. The only problem with costume jewelry and plated hollowware is that we often aren’t able to resize something if it doesn’t fit or properly repair a break. We can often apply remedies but the piece will never be the same again. Also, with plated hollowware the repair tends to be significantly more expensive since we usually need to re-plate the item after it has been worked on, which can add up.
If you still aren’t sure what you have and want to make an appointment for our expert analysis, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re happy to walk you through the steps and help you decide what’s what – and what to do with it!
I came to join Alexandria & Company by way of love: my husband Tim has owned the stop for nearly ten years, and I started by helping him on Saturdays so that we could spend more time together. Eventually, I quit my other life in the legal field to become Alx&Co’s Creative Director and co-owner with Tim. Now, we run our small business together in Old Town and I haven’t looked back.
Alexandria & Company is an Old Town-based workshop and design studio specializing in creating and restoring fine jewelry and silver hollowware. They are the in-the-know jewelers of Alexandria and have been serving clients out of their small workshop for decades. Tucked in their historic building on South Royal Street, the team at Alx&Co. brings a personalized, modern approach to their craft – this is not your average stodgy jeweler or antique shop. Visit them during their walk-in hours or online to view their collection of handmade fine jewelry or to drop off a repair project; or, if you’re feeling creative, make an appointment to talk about that custom design project you’ve been imagining.