Learn more about understanding your collection...
04/16/2020 News and Film, Jewelry and Watches
There are many clues hidden in the anatomy of a jewel. Most notably, within its marks. Often, jewelry is stamped or inscribed with letters or symbols that directly translate to a maker or a country of origin. Furthermore, these indicators, in the context of history, can substantiate authenticity, period and more. Interpreting maker 's marks and hallmarks is a collector 's first step in understanding jewelry.
A maker's mark indicates the manufacturer. Usually these marks take the form of the name itself. For example, see the interior of the hoop on David Webb's ring stamped "Webb". Initials are common as well. Symbols have also become synonymous with some jewelry houses as well.
Use a 10x loupe. This essential and affordable tool will allow you to see even the smallest details. Look over the piece in its entirety, with special attention to clasps and fittings. More often than not, jewelry is marked on the rear. However, some makers, such as Erté, have been known to sign the front of their work. So no territory is off limits.
More than anything else, a maker's mark assists in establishing authenticity. A manufacturer's mark in greater context tell you more than just their name. Most makers, especially older more established houses, have changed their signatures and ciphers over time. Stylistic choices such as initials versus names, or hand inscription versus laser inscription, can help indicate the period in which the piece was manufactured. Sometimes this can even help trace its origin.
Letters, numbers or symbols, whose indications are guaranteed by an independent institution are known as a hallmark. Depending on the country of origin, manufacturers present their jewelry to an assay office or other authority, to guarantee the purity of the precious metals. This system serves as one of the first initiatives to protect consumers. Every country has their own system of marks, rules and regulations.
Most commonly, hallmarks indicate the purity of the precious metal. For example, in the United State a piece composed of 75% gold and 25% alloy, may be stamped 18K, while in France, it would stamped with the head of an eagle. Note the eagle's head mark on the plunger of the clasp pictured below. Not only does this confirm that the bracelet is eighteen karat gold, it also confirms that it was manufactured in France.
In addition to metal purity, hallmarks can also indicate the sponsor, year of manufacturing and the location of the assay office in which it was guaranteed. Markings on jewelry manufactured in the United Kingdom can indicate all of the above.
Most often, the impressed symbols found on jewelry are maker's marks and hallmarks. However, these indicators have been used to communicate a variety of different information. They may be used to indicate the designer or retailer. Tally marks illustrate the craftsman who shaped that specific piece. Patent numbers, which correlate with the rights granted to an inventor, and consequently associates with a date, can assist in dating the piece. Similarly, serial numbers, sometimes used by makers such as Cartier to track inventory, can help authenticate, and sometimes date a piece. Import, export and duty marks, used for tax purposes, can also indicate origin.
Understanding marks is the first step in understanding jewelry. Although these small symbols directly translate to manufacturer's names or a metal's purity, they also serve as stepping stones for a much greater scope of understanding. Maker's marks and hallmarks can assist in verifying authenticity, communicating metal purity, place of origin, import or export, period of manufacture and much more.