Is It For Real?

Posted on the 10th October 2011

When it comes to spotting tricksters, I like to think I have a pretty sharp eye. Those bags of ‘gold dust’ that that are frequently dumped on the shop counter with the hope of being exchanged for wads of cash, I dismiss with the confidence that only comes at the ripe old age of 22, with 5 months’ worth of jewellery experience tucked under my belt and an unbounded enthusiasm for getting All Things Right. A sympathetic smile and a world-weary shake of the head accompanies my well-practiced response: Sand, Sir, only sand. I’m even becoming a bit of a pro when it comes to gemstones. Those emerald ‘crystals’, bottle green in colour, with the faint aroma of blackberry and spice…? GREEN GLASS, I’m afraid. From a rather cheap bottle of red, if you ask me. Nope, there’ll be no pulling the wool over my eyes, thank-you-very-much. All this, I tell you in an effort to boost a self-esteem that is periodically shattered when it comes to distinguishing reproduction antiques from the genuine article. Antiques are the one corner of the vast world of jewellery in which I’d like to be an absolute expert and I’m frequently left floundering. There are just so many things to look out for and so many people out there who are willing to exploit an eager young thing with an appetite for old stuff. Even so-called ‘antiques dealers’ are liable to fob customers off with reproduction goods. On a recent trip to Portobello, I was warned off several stalls my AEPs (antique expert pals). Full of reproduction tat, they told me. Trouble is, these sellers of ‘tat’ are so craftily woven among the genuine dealers that they become practically indistinguishable. They’re not the slick-back haired, sleazy wheeler-dealers of yesteryear. Oh no. They’re respectable looking, cashmere cardie-wearing ladies who lunch. Some get by claiming ignorance; others are outright fibbers. So how, I hear you ask, can a mere member of the public navigate the reproduction- infested waters that surround the world of antiques? Here are my top tips for buying, old style. Buy goods from a reputable source If you’re new to the world of antique jewellery, buying from an established shop is always going to be a far safer bet than a gamble on ebay. Handle as many pieces as possible You can only learn so much from looking at photographs. Only from regular handling of goods will you get a feel for what’s ‘right’. Always look at the workmanship of the entire piece Check the back of items – fine antique pieces should be just as beautifully finished on the back as the front. Check the stone The stone in an old diamond ring should be cut in a style that befits its age. The modern brilliant cut was only introduced in the 20th century. Victorian and Georgian rings tend to be set with old-cut, rose cut, old mine cuts and eight cuts. Check the metal Been offered a beautiful platinum Georgian ring? Pah. Platinum jewellery wasn’t introduced until the 20th century. Don’t be tricked by fancy packaging Just because it’s in an old box, doesn’t mean it’s the genuine article. Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to be swayed into believing something is genuine because it’s presented in an old, tattered velvet box. Look for hallmarks A lot of antique and period jewellery wasn’t hallmarked, so don’t immediately rule a piece out as a fake if you can’t find one. However, many items were and this is really handy when trying to establish the date and maker of a piece of jewellery. Birmingham Assay office’s website has a great reference page which charts various hallmarks and their respective dates. That’s it for the time being. Ask me in a few months time and I’m sure I’ll have a few more tricks up my sleeve.