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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 vairous 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 (not always part of a full set of hallmarks), 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) year. 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 a 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 as clear. After I think I have identified the year/letter or at least or narrowed down the possibilities, 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 keep in mind the mark or symbol did not always change with the 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 thing 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.” This may seem like a small detail but it has a big impact and I am guessing has led a number of people astray.

 

MYTH OR FACT

 

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 gives you a bit more certainty (although even hallmarks can be faked) and helps you date it within a year (or two) rather than a range of time.

 

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. Because of this, 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 in 1858. The town mark for this location changed and evolved over time.

 

06 / 08

 

XOXO VAMP! & OUR JEWEL OF THE WEEK

 

 

antique garnet cluster ring

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2015

 

Last year was the 20th anniversary of Chanel’s Vamp Nail Polish. It seemed that no one really made a fuss. There was no new version, no relaunch or 20th anniversary edition. As a lover of Vamp and all things Vamp colored, all I can say is – Big mistake Chanel!

 

The color launched in 1994, was made famous by Uma Thuman in pulp Fiction and Madonna in her music video, Take A Bow. By 1995, it was almost impossible to get your hands a bottle. It has been continuously knocked off ever since. It has quietly become, should I say it out loud? …A timeless classic.

 

Why is its appeal so everlasting? Maybe it’s not for everybody, but it is hard to resist its rich, deep, black-red color. It conjures up thoughts of so many lovely, mouthwatering things: The deep rich red of Cabernet, the purple-red of ripe summer blackberries and cherries, and another fashion favorite – LV’s Vernis in Amarante.

 

 

things that are the color of Vamp by Chanel

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2015

 

 

things that are the color of Vamp by Chanel

 

Elie Saab Fall/Winter 2014

 

ANTIQUE BOHEMIAN GARNET CLUSTER RING ON A GALLERY OF GLEAMING ROSE GOLD

 

It is also the inspiration for our jewel of the week, an Antique Garnet Cluster Statement Ring.

 

Previously a brooch (circa 1880/90), now in its second incarnation as a ring, it is comprised of concentric layers of rose cut garnets in round and pear shapes. Like most garnet jewelry from this period the cluster is set in what is called garnet gold, sterling silver or other base metal washed with gold. The gallery and band are made of solid 14 Kt rose gold, a weighty 9.3 grams.

 

Wear it as a cocktail ring on its own or add another cluster ring in a contrasting color: hot pink sapphires, diamonds, orange fire opals.

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2015

 

CREDITS

 

Liberty School Winery

Guide to picking blackberries, SFgate

Cassis Pearls

Oscar Tiye Shoes featured on Kayture

Chanel Vamp Nail Polish

Another favorite: Wicked by Essie

11 / 21

 

SNEAK PEEK: LATE GEORGIAN/EARLY VICTORIAN GOLD BAND

 

We’ve just come back from a buying trip in England where we picked-up some unusual and interesting pieces. I’m drawn to sentimental jewelry, especially ones that allow the wearer to stash a secret message, picture, or even a bit of perfume. We couldn’t pass up this late Georgian/ early Victorian ring that appears to be a just a simple gold band ring…

.

Antique Victorian Gold Band Ring

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

 

SECRET COMPARTMENT RING

 

…but, press a small button on the side and the top portion of the band opens up to reveal a hidden compartment. Enclose a message or motto written on a piece of paper or engrave a note, monogram or date on the inside of this Secret Message Ring. A great piece to wear stacked with one of our micro pave diamond bands or a pair of gem-set eternity rings, one on each side. Emerald, sapphire or ruby would all pair nicely with the warm glow of the antique gold.

 

Antique Gold Band Ring with Secret Message Compartment

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

It’s only the first part of November and already all of London is dressed up for Christmas. The streets are decorated with tinsel garlands and Liberty, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, among others, already have elaborate winter and holiday scenes in their windows.

 

 

Double Decker Red London Buses on Regent Street, London

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

In between hunting for new pieces, I had a few minutes here and there to make a few “just for fun” stops.

 

DESIGN & DECOR

 

I am obsessed with this salon chair from Christopher Howe. It can be made with one of their fabrics, in leather, or with something one-of-a-kind, like a vintage flag. I love the one in the center below with the Union Jack.

 

Union Jack Flag Salon Chair From Howe in London

 

Courtesy of Howe, London

 

UNION JACK SALON CHAIR AT CHRISTOPHER HOWE SHOWROOM

 

I stopped by the Howe showroom late on a rainy London afternoon to take a look around. Located on Pimlico Rd., the store is filled with a mix of antiques and Howe’s designs.

 

Front of Howe Show Room on Pimlico Rd. in London

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

While I was there chatting, I found out that Thomas Pink had ordered chairs for their store, custom made with a pink and grey Union Jack pattern using their shirts. Later in the week, I just happened to pass by a Pink store and had to stop in to see if it was the ONE. Sure enough it was, and I snapped a picture. I’d love to have one in white linen with the union jack in hot pink and scarlet red silk.

 

Pink and Grey Union Jack Flag Chair at Pink Store in London

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

Options include an exposed back, if you like, and/or construction the old-fashioned way, with horse hair, said to last forever.

 

Christopher Howe Custom Salon Chairs at Pink in London

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

IF IT’S SUNDAY – IT’S THE COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET

 

Even though it’s November, London still manages to have its fair share of blooms. Every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3-ish, the Columbia Road Flower Market comes alive. A small stretch of Columbia Road is blocked off and the street is filled with flower stalls (and a lot of people).

 

It’s a great place to stock up on flowers for the week, grab a cup of coffee, and hang out, which is what 50% of the crowd seemed to be doing on this crisp, but sunny afternoon. Not into flowers? There are a number of fun and cute boutiques to check out. Two of my favorites: Suck and Chew (candy store) and Future Vintage (fashion).

 

Purple and Pink Tulips at Columbia Road Flower Market in London

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

Orange and Yellow Tulips at Columbia Road Flower Market in London

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

MORE FLOWERS IN NOTTING HILL

 

We also hit Portobello Road on a Saturday. Despite the crowds later in the morning, it is my idea of heaven. Vintage fashion, great food stands and restaurants, and of course a wide range of antiques. I wanted to buy up all of the roses at this corner flower shop on one of the side streets.

 

a sea of pink roses

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

roses at corner florist in Notting Hill

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

Vines growing up these plum and berry colored row houses on Portobello.

 

Colorful Row Houses Portobello Road

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

SWEET TREATS

 

I had to stop in for something warm at Fortnum & Mason, the most amazing mix of food hall, confectionery, gift emporium and cafe/tearoom/bar. I’m in love with their signature color. Depending upon the material/medium it ranges in shades from a robin’s egg blue to a turquoise blue-green to a pale mint green. I purchased a number of their biscuit (pistachio clotted cream, chocolate florentines, etc.) tins to turn into vases, a bon bon box, or possibly a velvet-lined trinket box. I haven’t quite decided.

 

Fortnum & Mason

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

The first floor at Fortnum & Mason, drooling over the jellies, Turkish Delights, chocolates, etc. in the confectionery area.

 

confectionery department at Fortnum & Mason

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

Stopped for something to eat in their second floor “Palour”: cappuccino, with a mini cappuccino ice cream cone on the side, and scones with the traditional clotted cream and strawberry preserves. The best scones I have ever had!

 

scones, strawberry preserves and clotted cream at Fortnum & Mason

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

Doughnuts from a food stand on Portobello Rd. They looked amazing and I so badly wanted a raspberry filled jelly, but I managed to resist.

 

Food Stands on Portobello Road

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

More sneak peeks and fun pics from London in Part II. Check back!

 

07 / 22

 

TRENDING – A RING FOR EVERY FINGER

 

On Saturday, we shared with you the latest addition to our Ring Collection: an Enamel Flower Ring with a European Cut Diamond, “Wild Violet” – See more at: Part 1 of Our Latest Obsession. At Sugar et Cie, we love to mix the antique, vintage & modern. Two of the jewelry trends that were big last year and that continue to stay strong are “a ring for every finger” (or at least multiple fingers) and stacking rings.

 

We’ve paired our latest creation featuring an antique enameled violet, with a stack of modern (new and can be ordered) micro-pave diamond eternity bands. They come in 18 Kt. white gold, white gold with rhodium detailing, yellow gold and rose gold.

 

Micro Pave Diamond Eternity Rings

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

You can create a number of different looks with these diamond stacking rings. Create a statement ring by stacking five or six together. Or, provide a little sparkle to any finger by wearing a single.

 

Micro Pave Diamond Eternity Rings

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

Annabelle Fleur, Viva Luxury and Blair Eadie, Atlantic – Pacific, are two of our favorite fashion bloggers that also favor these trends. I love Annabelle’s ability to mix, stack, and layer jewelry. Her looks are always cohesive and polished.

 

 

Antique Enamel Flower Ring

 

Annabelle, Viva Luxury

 

 

Eadie Blair, Director at Tory Burch by day, and Fashion blogger by night, has the enviable ability to create looks that are fashion mag worthy, but not staged or over-styled.

 

Antique Enamel Flower Ring

 

Atlantic-Pacific

 

The color you pick for your nails can also make your jewelry pop! There are so many great options out there that sometimes I find it hard to choose.

 

Blue is a great pick for summer. It looks fresh, and of course it always pairs well with diamonds. Two of our favorites, periwinkle and deep violet, look great on a variety of skin tones and colors. From Essie: Lapiz of Luxury and No More Film.

 

Blue Nail Polish from Essie

 

Essie

 

07 / 19

 

ANTIQUE ENAMEL FLOWER JEWELRY

Antique Enamel Flower Ring

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

Just a month or two ago, I came across an old article about jeweled orchid brooches made by Tiffany & Co. for the Exposition Universelle in Paris 1889. They were designed by Paulding Farnham to represent 24 actual orchid species.

 

They looked so realistic that several people thought they were real. According to Sotheyby’s, a Jeweler’s Weekly article from June of 1889 described the phenomenon: “so perfectly copied after nature as to inspire unqualified admiration … to deceive the observer into a belief that real flowers have been placed in the showcases with the jewelry.” Farnham won the gold medal in jewelry for Tiffany, and catapulted his reputation and career.

 

TIFFANY’S ORCHID BROOCHES

 

Just like the orchid themselves, these jeweled, enamel over gold brooches and hair ornaments, were created in a range of colors from the palest of pastels to the most deeply saturated of jewel tones. Since each orchid represented a different orchid species, each had a unique color scheme.

 

Visions of sugar plums, or rather delicate candy-colored flowers, began to dance in my head. Unfortunately, Tiffany’s orchids are hard to find and command steep prices at auction. A lemon yellow, chartreuse, orange, and cream colored example sold last year at Sotheby’s for $173,00, 44% over the high estimate.

 

HAND CANDY

 

I knew I wanted to have an enameled flower ring for Sugar et Cie and modern day versions just didn’t fit with my vision. They were either too shiny (the antique ones I favor have a velvety matte finish). Or they looked like they belonged on a greeting card instead of freshly plucked from a garden.

 

Antique Enamel Flower Ring

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

As it turns out, enameled pansies and violets from the Victorian and Edwardian period were the answer. More plentiful (made by a variety of jewelers from the period), less elaborate, and less expensive than the Tiffany’s gem, they make the perfect flower for the finger. The only downside is that the more unusual the color and the better the condition, the harder they are too find (and the higher the price).

 

This wild violet (circa 1910) in enamel over 14 Kt., flower ring is the first in what I hope is a series for Sugar et Cie.

 

Antique Enamel Flower Ring

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

… more to come in our second installment on Tuesday, so check back!