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Interpreting the English Hallmarks on your Antique Jewelry
05 / 12

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie

 

WHAT DO THOSE MARKS MEAN?

 

Did you recently purchase your first piece of English antique jewelry? Would you like to know what the marks stamped on your jewelry mean? We’re here to help! While most of this post is for those new to the English hallmarking system, there is at least one piece of information that I guarantee you will be news to a number of collectors and perhaps even a few dealers, read on to find out.

 

WHAT IS A HALLMARK?

 

A hallmark identifies the type of precious metal and the fineness or purity of that metal. Today a hallmark is a legal requirement in the U.K. If an article contains precious metals and is described as such, it must be hallmarked.

 

WHEN DID HALLMARKING BEGIN IN ENGLAND?

 

Hallmarking in England dates back to 1300 when King Edward I, passed legislation to prevent fraud by goldsmiths. Silver had to be .925 (the same standard as sterling silver today) and at that time, gold was required to be 19.2 carats. (Source: Assay Office, London)

 

As the years passed the standards required for gold changed and vaious Assay Offices were established. Some opened and closed more than once over their long history. See the list of Assay offices and their dates below.

 

THE ANATOMY OF A HALLMARK – THE BASICS

 

Here is an example of a fully hallmarked ring. Meaning (from left to right) it has a maker’s mark, a duty mark, a metal mark (gold), a purity mark, a city mark, and a date mark. The ones to focus on that will give you the basic information are the last three. The purity mark, what carat gold is it? The city mark, this will help you when looking up the date mark, and the date letter so that you can look up the year the piece was assayed.

 

A note on the metal mark. I am so familiar with what they look like, that they are almost invisible to me. But if this is new to you, visit the sites mentioned below to get to know the marks for sterling silver (the Lion) and for gold (a crown). There are also marks for silver plate and platinum, but they are not covered in this post.

 

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie

 

THE PURITY MARK

 

This ring above is a mourning ring, black enamel over gold, made in England from the Georgian period (and at the time this post was published, available for purchase) Sugar et Cie. It is 18Ct, 750 parts gold per 1000 or 75% gold and 25% alloy metal. Other purity marks are:

 

22 = 91.6% or 22Ct gold

18 = 75.0% or 18Ct gold

15 = 62.5% or 15Ct gold

585 = 58.5% or 14Ct gold

375 = 37.5% or 9Ct gold

925 = 92.5% or Sterling Silver

 

THE CITY MARK

 

The second mark is the town/city mark, where the piece was assayed (tested and marked). This one is for the London Office. Some you will come to know, some are more obscure, and some changed over time.

 

LOOKING UP THE DATE – WHEN WAS IT MADE?

 

A date mark is a good approximation for when a piece was made, although it is possible it could have been made in one year and hallmarked in another (later). The reference I like to use (easiest to navigate) when looking up a date mark is an online site called British Sterling.

 

Each Assay Office has its own date chart. So the easiest way to look up the date is to identify the city/office first and then look for the letter on that city’s reference sheet.

 

This is where as sharp eye and experience comes in. Sometimes it can be challenging to identify the correct letter/year.

 

Believe it or not, one letter for example, a “J” from one year can look like an “L” from another.

 

You need to look for a match to the shape of the letter. Don’t focus on the background shape/cartouche (read on for more on this little known tidbit). Sometimes it is obvious, and other times it is not quite clear. Once I have it identified or narrowed it down, I take a second look at my printout of the date charts directly from the Assay Office, Birmingham. They have historical date charts by City. I use my loupe to study both the mark itself, and the version on the printed date chart.

 

If you are hunting for antiques in the field and are concerned you may not have wifi or a cellular connection, you can take your printout or purchase pocket guide on Amazon.

 

OTHER MARKS YOU MAY SEE

 

You may also occasionally see other marks. Commemorative marks: (20th c.) to celebrate an event e.g. Silver Jubilee.

 

Duty Marks: The Sovereign’s Head indicated that Duty had been paid on an item. They were used December 2, 1784 to April 30, 1890. During this period a variable tax was levied on all silver and gold assayed in Great Britain. Duty marks are less common and apparently they did not always change with a change of a Monarch.

 

A law was passed in 1842 to make it illegal to sell imported gold or silver in the UK unless it was assayed (tested) at a British office. However, the Foreign Mark was not added until 1867.

 

MORE ABOUT DATE MARKS – HERE’S THE LITTLE KNOWN FACT!

 

Here’s one of the interesting facts about dating your piece of antique jewelry (or anything with an antique British Hallmark). The cartouche or background for the date letter, are for silver. When it comes to looking up your mark for gold, the most important think to match is the letter (as mentioned). The background may and can be different for gold. Here’s what the Assay Office says “The same letters were used for Gold, which has been marked in Birmingham since 1824, but with a background of a square with cut corners. There may be some variations in backgrounds during the late 19th century, especially on watch cases.”

 

MYTH OR FACT

 

See if you can guess which of these are Myths or Facts.

 

Myth or Fact 1: Everything in the 18th and 19th centuries was hallmarked. If it doesn’t have a hallmark, it’s a fake or a reproduction.

 

This is a MYTH. Many pieces from this period were not hallmarked. However, if it is not hallmarked you either need to develop the skills to assess the piece on your own or ask an expert. An expert will look at the style, the materials used, the cut of the stones, the findings, and a variety of other factors to date it. Hallmarking give you a bit more certainty (although even hallmarks can be faked) and helps you date it to a year (or two) rather than merely period.

 

Myth or Fact 2: Date Letters ran consecutively and repeated every 26 years

 

This is part MYTH and part FACT. Yes, the do run alphabetically and consecutively. However, the font can make it possible to confuse certain letters. In that case it is possible that a the letter i, j or l is skipped. As a result, the date letter cycle is usually 25 as opposed to 26 years.

 

HERE IS LIST OF THE U.K. ASSAY OFFICES

 

This is a complete list of U.K. Assay Offices. the second block are ones that are Historic and now closed.

 

Current

 

Birmingham Assay Office

Edinburgh Assay Office

London Assay Office

Sheffield Assay Office

 

Ireland

 

Dublin

 

Assay Offices Now Closed

 

Chester: 15th c. Officially opened 1700 – closed 1962

Exeter: Mid 16th c. Officially opened 1701 – closed 1883

Glasgow: Closed March 31, 1964

Newcastle: 17th c. – closed 1884

Norwich: Mid 16th c. – closed 1702. Note: The town marked changed over time.

York: Opened in the middle of the 16th c. closed in 1700, reopened 1701, closed 1714 and closed permanently 1858. The town mark for this location changed and evolved over time.

 

10 / 17

 

FALL JEWELRY TRENDS 2016: BOLD STATEMENT PIECES

 

The fall runways were full of rich jewel toned colors which happen to be the perfect backdrop for statement jewelry for Fall. Ellie Saab featured standout, oversized chandelier earrings, but only on one ear.

 

 

Elie Saab Fall 2016 Couture Fashion Show Courtesy of Vogue

 

 

 

Elie Saab Fall 2016 Couture Fashion Show Courtesy of Vogue

 

STATEMENT NECKLACES & LOTS OF CHAINS


Versace sprinkled their show with layers of chains, large link long chains and chunky chokers.

 

 

Versace Fall 2016 Courtesy of Haper’s Bazaar

 

GOLD MEDALLIONS, POCKET WATCHES & MORE CHAINS

 

My favorite show for jewelry was John Galliano Fall 2016 Ready to Wear. His catwalk was full of gold medallions and pocket watches hanging from gold chains in an array of lengths, from Choker to Opera.

 

It perfectly illustrates our mantra: Making Antique Jewelry Wearable. Combining today’s fashion with antique jewelry (or what looks to be) to create a one-of-a-kind look.

 

 

John Galliano Fall 2016 Courtesy of Vogue

 

 

John Galliano Fall 2016 Courtesy of Vogue

 

 

John Galliano Fall 2016 Courtesy of Vogue

 

 

John Galliano Fall 2016 Courtesy of Vogue

 

HOW TO GET THE LOOK: JEWELRY EDITION

 

Here are some of our pieces, actual antique pocket watches and chains that you can combine with your fall cashmere and silk to create your own one-of-a-kind look.

 

ANTIQUE 15 KT GOLD POCKET WATCH & LONG GUARD CHAIN

 

This is a heart-shaped Antique Demi-Hunter pocket watch in 15 Kt rose gold.

 

 

Copyright Sugar et Cie

 

The versatility comes from the fact that there are two distinct sides to the Demi-Hunter or hunter pocket watch one. With the dial side out, you get the classic look of a pocket watch. With the cover side out, it looks more like a gold locket. We are showing it with an Antique Victorian rose gold guard chain. At 57 inches, you can double or triple it to get the layered chain look. The chain has a dog clip/swivel clip which makes it really easy to change what you wear on the end of it.

 

 

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ANTIQUE VICTORIAN “SHOOTING STARS” POCKET WATCH

 

if you love the chain and pocket watch Galliano shown on the model wearing the sheer skirt and white angora sweater, you will love our version. Below is our antique shooting stars demi-hunter pocket watch paired with our antique Victorian mid-length gold link chain.

 

 

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For more details or to make a purchase see our Pendant and Charms collection for the pocket watches and our Necklace and Chains collection, to browse our antique gold chains and other items.

 

10 / 04

 

THE FOX AND THE HOUND

 

Below are two examples of 19th century miniature portraiture jewelry. The names for these pieces are often used interchangeably, but they are in fact very different.

© Copyright Sugar et Cie

 

The fox and the hound are recent additions to the boutique. The Jack Russell Terrier brooch on the right, is a Revere Intaglio Crystal Brooch. It is often erroneously called an Essex Crystal. So much so, that dealers often refer to these pieces as Essex Crystals, even though they know that they are not. The moniker is used so often and is so widespread, that it has sort of stuck. On the left, is a painted enamel miniature portrait of a fox by W.B. Ford, a student of William Essex.

 

WHAT IS A REVERSE INTAGLIO CRYSTAL?

 

The reverse intaglio crystal is an art form that is time consuming, painstaking, and a multiple step process.

 

It begins with a piece of rock crystal. The rough is repeatedly polished by hand, with a progressively fine polishing tool to create a domed cabochon on one side and a flat back on the other. The design is drawn on the flat back/reverse side of the crystal cabochon, it is hand carved, and then painted by a master artisan. This yields a three-dimensional appearance. In this particular example, you can even see the shadow of the dog’s muzzle. Finally, it is sealed with a back, typically mother of pearl or gold.

 

The technique originated in Belgium with Emile Marius Pradier (circa 1860). Reverse intaglio crystals were developed and popularized by Thomas Cooke in England (circa 1880). There are many out there, but the good ones are few and far between. It is relatively easy to see the difference in the quality from piece to piece. Take out your loupe and you can see the fineness in the details.

 

WILLIAM ESSEX, W.B. FORD AND THE ENAMEL MINIATURE PORTRAIT

 

William Essex (c.1784 – 1869) was an English enamel-painter. He is widely regarded as the best enamelist of his generation. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1818. He was appointed enameler to Queen Victoria in 1839 and wrote at treatise on the art of enameling. Most of his work is based on copies of the Old Masters or works by famous contemporaries such as Landseer and Winterhalter.

 

William Bishop Ford (1832-1922), the artist who painted the miniature fox portrait at the center of the brooch above, was a student of William Essex’. Ford also specialized in the painting of miniature enamels and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1854 – 1895. Like Essex, Ford also painted miniature of famous masters. The fox head portrait above, by Ford, is after “The Fox” (1817) by Abraham Cooper. An engraving print on paper, reflecting the work by Abraham Cooper (1787-1868), is part of Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection. According to V&A, the print is “…FROM THE ORIGINAL PICTURE BY A. COOPER.”

 

 

 

Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Abraham Cooper, The Fox

 

 

When I first started researching the topic, I wondered why painting a miniature portrait in enamel was considered its own art form. I was surprised to find out how difficult and challenging it was. According to the V&A museum, “The advantage of enamel over traditional miniature painting (watercolour painted on vellum or on ivory) is that it does not fade when exposed to light.” The cons are that it is a challenging process fraught with risk. “The first colours to be laid on the metal support have to be the ones that need to be fired at the highest temperature. Then more colours are added and the enamel is re-fired. The process ends with the colours that need the lowest temperature. Such labour meant that it was an expensive option.”

 

In an article from 1837 in The London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, “Some Account of the Art of Painting in Enamel,” Alfred Essex, William’s partner and brother, writes of the difficulty of achieving the desired colors and crispness of image required to rival the traditional medium of oil on canvas.

 

ESSEX CRYSTAL: MYTH OR FACT?

 

So why does the erroneous moniker “Essex Crystal” persist? Because it is so widespread, dealers still use it to help those that are looking for what they think are Essex Crystals find what they are looking for, and so it goes. How did the misnomer get started? There are several stories circulating as to the origin. William Essex was the enamel painter for Queen Victoria and created other amazing small portraits using enamels. It is possible that because the artwork is so fine and because both are forms of small portraits that reverse intaglio crystals were attributed to William Essex.

 

HOW TO WEAR THEM


In love with the fox or the hound, but not a brooch wearer? A simple addition of one or two hinged bails would make it possible to wear the Reverse Intaglio Crystal as a pendant. I would pair it with an Albert Watch Chain (on the chunky side). Many enamel portraits are being converted to pendants or rings. The fox would also make a lovely pendant. It is relatively lighter and could be worn with a more delicate chain.

 

06 / 10

 

EQUESTRIAN JEWELRY

 

Equestrian jewelry never seems to go out of fashion and now more than ever, it’s in high demand. Who doesn’t love a lucky horseshoe pendant, a riding crop brooch, hounds of all sorts, and of course right in the middle of it all, stirring things up – the fox!

 

ANTIQUE EQUESTRIAN JEWELRY & HOW TO WEAR IT NOW

 

For a variety of reasons, a good number of equestrian motif jewels happen to be in the form of a brooch. A category of jewelry that may be considered uninteresting or outdated by some, is now gaining in popularity as designers, celebrities and the trend setter in your office come up with new and fun ways to wear them.

 

Here are a few of our takes on how to incorporate the Equestrian Jewelry Trend into your wardrobe.

 

 

 

Clockwise from top left, Kendall Jenner courtesy of Vogue, Versace Safety Pin Dress courtesy of Richmond Classics, Versace Versus courtesy of Net-a-Porter, Vintage Tiffany Equestrian Stock Pins, Sugar et Cie

 

GROUP AND STACK

 

Start with a focus pin/brooch in a motif (Equestrian), gem/metal/color you love, or shape (linear or round), and work around it. Looking for something equestrian and love the combination of sparkling rubies and diamonds? Start with our latest addition, an antique riding crop brooch (pictured below). Pair it with a fox stick pin and a diamond bar brooch.

 

 

Our latest addition, Antique Equestrian Riding Crop Brooch with Rubies and an Old European Cut Diamond © Copyright Sugar et Cie 2016

 

Some color consistency in your group, generally yields a more cohesive look. You may have to play around with your pins a bit before you get the look you want.

 

THE UNEXPECTED

 

Wear your brooches, bar pins, hunting stock pins, kilt pins, double clip brooch/dress pin in unexpected places. Pin them to straps of a cocktail dress, to the front vent of a blazer (Versace Versus), or to the top flap of a pocket.

 

On our last buying trip, we acquired a pair of vintage diamond, pearl, and platinum lingerie pins. We think they will look amazing pinned vertically on the front cuffs of a menswear inspired white shirt (or in place of cufflinks).

 

CONVERT IT

 

If all else fails – convert it! We wouldn’t recommend touching something that is rare, but isn’t jewelry meant to be worn?

 

If it doesn’t work for you in its current form, you should feel free to change it. Some conversions are quite easy and some take a bit of advice and a good jeweler who knows how to work with antique jewelry (and who has a laser welder). It’s happening all of the time. Stick pins converted to rings or single stud earrings, brooches to pendants or barrettes. We’ve been known to convert a few ourselves.

 

The latest craze in equestrian conversions: foxes and hounds from stick pins/brooches to rings, horseshoe brooches to pendants and rings. So if you fall in love with a brooch and none of our creative ideas on how to wear it spark your interest – convert it!

 

THE BROADER TREND: EQUESTRIAN INSPIRED FASHION ON OUR FALL FASHION SHOPPING LIST

 

Equestrian seems to be a key style inspiration for multiple fashion houses for the Fall (2016). I especially love Vogue’s Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis’ take on the trend seen in: Great Gatsby Meets Downton Abbey in Wales (great title!).

 

 

model wearing riding clothes, jacket, pants and riding boots

 

Courtesy of Vogue – Photograph by Jooney Woodward

 

Both Chanel and Ralph Lauren’s Ready-to-Wear runway shows have included a bit of equestrian style. Each has paired multiple looks with riding boots: from hot pink tweed suits to long black coats piled with ropes of pearls.

 

long double breasted winter coat in black from Chanel's 2016 Fall Ready-to-Wear Collection

 

Chanel’s 2016 Ready-to-Wear Collection courtesy of Vogue

 

 

hot pink tweed suit

 

Chanel’s 2016 Ready-to-Wear Collection courtesy of Vogue

 

RALPH LAUREN (riding boots, jodhpur style pants, and more) BUCKTROUT TAILORING (hacking jackets), LE CHAMEAU (riding and hunting boots for the field and street wear), AIGLE (riding and hunting boots for the field and street wear), are all great sources for equestrian style.

 

The trick to this trend is in the contrast. Evening with day (Ralph Lauren’s silk brocade evening dress with riding boots), or frayed with traditional (Bucktrout hacking jacket with frayed jeans and stilettos). Avoid wearing it from head to toe, unless of course you are about to go riding.

 

tweed hacking jacket

 

Sarah Jacket, in Lovat tweed courtesy of Bucktrout Tailoring

 

frayed jeans

 

Frayed Jeans, courtesy of Man Repeller

 

Three different black tall riding boots

 

Riding boots: Ralph Lauren, Venerie by Le Chameau, Steve Madden

 

You can find the Ralph Lauren’s riding boots on Ralph Lauren’s site. Unfortunately, finding Le Chameau boots in the U.S. is currently a bit difficult. At the time this post was written, their website was not set up for U.S. eCommerce.

 

Looking for the same luxe look for a little bit less? Steve Madden’s Lace Up Boots are a great option.

 

Ralph Lauren Fall 2016 model wearing long gold skirt with black riding boots

 

Ralph Lauren Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear, courtesy of Vogue

 

Ralph Lauren Fall 2016 model wearing long purple and gold brocade skirt with high slit and black riding boots

 

Ralph Lauren Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear, courtesy of Vogue

 

WE HAVE MORE EQUESTRIAN INSPIRED JEWELS AT SUGAR ET CIE – SO COME CHECK US OUT!

 

09 / 08

 

MRS. STANFORD’S JEWELS – NOW ON EXHIBIT AT STANFORD’S CANTOR MUSEUM

 

A little background…During the 19th century, Jane Lathrop Stanford, philanthropist and wife of Leland Stanford (attorney, Governor of California, Robber Baron, and founder of Stanford University), amassed an amazing collection of jewels.

 

Oil Painting Mrs. Stanford's Jewels

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Astley D.M. Cooper “Mrs. Stanford Jewels,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

After arranging her jewelry on red velvet in order to photograph and catalog her collection, Mrs. Stanford decided that she really liked the look of the photograph. She decided to commission, local artist, D.M. Cooper to create an oil painting of the collection (c. 1898).

 

It’s currently part of a small exhibition of Astley D.M. Cooper’s work on display at Stanford University’s Cantor Museum through November 16, 2015. Always looking for examples of 18th and 19th century jewels, I went down to take a look. The painting is visually stunning, but to me it is most interesting as a piece of design history.

 

My only wish is that Cooper had painted the jewels in greater detail. One reason for this might be that he painted the final touches from memory. Cooper, a drinker and lover of life, became irritated with Stanford’s demands for formal dress and temperance. “Irked by her pretensions, Cooper stormed out of the Stanford mansion before completing his work.” (A Painter Comes Home, Geoffry Dunn, Metro, March 7-16) The painting was finished later, in the peace, in his studio.

 

Close up view of a portion of the oil painting Mrs. Stanford's Jewels showing a six strand pearl necklace and other pieces of jewelry

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Astley D.M. Cooper “Mrs. Stanford Jewels,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

 

A CLASSIC COLLECTION OF VICTORIAN JEWELRY

 

I happened to find the following information regarding Mrs. Stanford’s collection in “Bejewelled by Tiffany,” (Clare Phillips). It might give you some insight into the quality of her collection. The Stanford name can be found multiple times in Tiffany & Co.’s surviving ledgers from the 1870’s and 1880’s. Her collection is also purported to include pieces from the Queen of Spain (Isabella II)’s collection.

 

Stanford’s collection includes many classic 19th century pieces, the kind you might see in the Victoria & Albert museum in London or at the Met in New York: bangle bracelets, a diamond arrow brooch, a diamond studded pocket watch, cameos, parures, jeweled hair combs, portrait brooches….

 

A close-up of Astley, D.M. Cooper's Jane Stanford's Jewels

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Astley D.M. Cooper “Mrs. Stanford Jewels,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

JEWELLERY IN 19TH CENTURY OIL PAINTINGS

 

Within the Cantor Museum, there were surprisingly few portraits of Mrs. Stanford wearing her jewels (especially ones including the details that I love). This was perhaps the best: Jane Lathrop Stanford, 1881, by Léon-Joseph-Florentin Bonnat (France) oil on canvas, Stanford Family Collection. The detail of the jewelry is not completely clear, but no one can mistake the lovely (and large) sapphire ring that she’s wearing on her index finger.

 

Close up of a portrait of Jane Stanford showing her jewelry

 

Photograph by Sugar et Cie of work by Léon-Joseph-Florentin Bonnat “Jane Lathrop Stanford,” Cantor Museum at Stanford University

 

Although it is well-documented, I’m not sure that today it is commonly known that Stanford University struggled financially after Leland Stanford’s death. Mrs. Stanford worked tirelessly to ensure its financial stability.

 

SELLING THE COLLECTION

 

Jane Stanford traveled to London during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in order to find a buyer for her jewelry collection, but was not successful. In her will, Mrs. Stanford provided for her collection to be sold and for the proceeds to fund museum acquisitions. According to the Spokane Daily Chronicle, September 1, 1906, “The world famous collection of precious stones and jewelry, the property of the late Mrs. Jane Stanford, will be sold by the Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University Association as soon as possible… Many offers from leading Eastern jewelers are already on file…”