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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.

 

01 / 29

 

THE PROPOSAL – DOES PRESENTATION MATTER? THE STERLING SILVER RING BOX

 

They don’t make ’em like they used to… No really, they don’t!

 

Proposal scene from the movie The Notebook

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

 

From the late 1800’s to the mid 20th century, when an engagement ring was purchased at a luxury jewelry store like Tiffany, Birks and others, a sterling silver ring box was included. These petite silver treasures came in many shapes and sizes: rectangles, squares, rounds, ovals, hexagons and hearts. Some still have their velvet, silk, or mohair linings (a bit worn or faded). Others are missing them or appear to have been re-done or relined. Like many beloved vintage and antique pieces, they have been around for many decades and have been handled and cherished. This is not necessarily a bad thing. New pieces lack the warm patina, the character and the history that comes only with age.

 

The engraving on the outside of the box can vary from the elaborate, detailed monogram to a simple, single initial. The number of artisans that can beautifully execute a hand-engraving is dwindling (although a few still exist – and we know one in our area). When it comes down to selecting which one to purchase, it really comes down to purpose and individual style. Some look for the absence of a monogram hoping to add their own, while others are purchased for the beauty of the existing artwork and the story behind it (even if the monogram doesn’t match that of the owner-to-be).

 

We contacted both Tiffany and Birks, and while I’m sure the boxes that accompany their engagements rings are beautiful, neither offers the sterling silver ring boxes they used to, once upon a time.

 

CREATE A FAMILY HEIRLOOM

 

We firmly believe that if you don’t happen to have the perfect heirloom already in the family (or if a sibling got their paws on it first) create one of your own. Buy it! Establish a new tradition with your proposal, one that can be lovingly handed down to the next generation. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we currently have a few sterling silver ring boxes in our collection. One happens to be very similar to, if not identical to the one that is in the movie The Notebook.

 

Art Deco Sterling Silver Ring Box

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

 

Both the one in our collection and the one in the movie are from the Art Deco period, marked Birks, and stamped sterling silver. Whether you are a fan of the movie or not, the styling and cinematography is hard to resist. So are the Art Deco aesthetics of the ring box that carries Allie’s engagement ring (albeit the one from Lon, not Noah). If you are a fan of the Movie, The Notebook’s official Facebook page has a fairly diverse collection of images.

 

 

Proposal scene from the movie The Notebook

 

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

 

 

BEAUTIFUL DISPLAYS

 

The thing I like the most about these ring boxes is that they make a beautiful display for any ring. Keep one on your bedside table next to your other pretty little things or think about collecting a few to create a grouping on your desk or dresser. I have to warn you, that once you start it is hard to stop.

 

Proposal scene from the movie The Notebook

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

 

WHERE TO FIND IT

 

Vintage Silver Ring Boxes Sugar et Cie

Montgomery Round Tray Ralph Lauren

These antique, gilt tooled, leather bound books are from our collection. Another source for vintage and antique leather bound books is Strand in New York.

A pewter option, similar to the silver julep cup pictured, can be found in Match Pewter’s vase and garden collection.

Flowers: cream roses, bleeding hearts, hypericum berries, tulips, and hydrangeas.

11 / 02

 

WHAT WOULD DAISY WEAR?

Vintage Diamond and Platinum Ring

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2013

 

 

Diamonds set in platinum of course! If you didn’t see this year’s release of the Great Gatsby (the 5th and latest film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel) you might want to, if only to drool over the 1920’s fashion and jewelry (collaboration between Miuccia Prada and Catherine Martin).

 

Our item of the week is a sparkling diamond and emerald platinum ring from the Jazz Age era. With just over 3 carats of diamonds, it is no doubt a ring that Daisy would have adored.

 

 

Art Deco Chic

 

 

1 – In the latest film version, afternoon tea looks like it might have been catered by Ladurée. Silver tiered stands are piled high with pink and green macarons and other pastel colored sweets topped with raspberries and sugared roses. Can’t make it to the nearest Ladurée? Purchase Thé Othello (with hints of cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, ginger), Thé Marie-Antoinette (subtle notes of rose petals, citrus and honey), or macarons (raspberry, rose petal, lemon, chocolate, etc.) by calling their New York store and having them ship you your order.

 

2Carine Gilson’s handcrafted lingerie with silk from Lyon and Chantilly lace looks like it came straight out of Daisy’s closet. This one in coral silk.

 

3 – The Rosebud Perfume Co. was in business in the 1920’s. Would Daisy have used this Minted Rose Balm to maintain her Cupid’s Bow lips?

 

4 – Established in 1849 in Paris, Moynat (similar to other luxury luggage companies at that time e.g. Louis Vuitton and Goyard) introduced its repeating initial M pattern designed by Henri Rapin in 1920.

 

5Chanel No. 5 was launched in the summer of 1921. While the Great Gatsby was published in 1925, it was written about the summer of 1922. The latest from Chanel would have definitely made Daisy’s Mush Have List.

 

6 – Late blooming peonies and summer gardenias would have probably been floating in a silver bowl near Daisy’s bedside.

 

ITEM OF THE WEEK DIAMOND: ART DECO, EMEARLD AND PLATINUM RING

 

This is a spectacular diamond and emerald ring with slightly over 3 carats of Old Mine Cut diamonds. The emerald at the center has a vivid green hue and is bezel set in platinum with millegrained edges. It’s displayed in a vintage sterling silver ring box by Maison Birks.

 

1920's Diamond and Emerald Ring

 

This Art Deco Diamond, Emerald and Platinum Ring, Bombé Sparkler is available in our Cocktail rings collection.

 

04 / 23

 

The Most Expensive White Diamond

 

A record was set last week for the most expensive white diamond sold in the Americas. Sotheby’s announced that on April 17th, they sold a D color, pear-shaped diamond, of approximately 75 carats, for a cool $14.2 million ($189,000 per carat).

 

Yes it is a beautiful diamond, but our two favorites from this sale are an Emerald and Diamond Necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels and a Platinum “Tutti Frutti” Bracelet from Cartier.

 

Other Favorites From the Magnificent Jewels Auction

 

The Van Cleef & Arpels necklace is a sparkling extravaganza of vivid green emeralds and bright white diamonds. 33 heart-shaped emeralds weighing 164.96 carats, are accented by 51 heart shaped diamonds, further accented by additional marquise, pear and round cut diamonds. This lovely jewel sold for $1,055,000, significantly over the estimate of $450,000 to $650,000.

 

Jewels from Sotheby's

Cartier’s Art Deco Tutti Frutti Jewels

 

The Cartier “Platinum, Carved Colored Stone, Diamond and Pearl ‘Tutti Frutti’ Bracelet by Cartier sold for $1,445,000, also significantly over its estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. Tutti Frutti, as these pieces are known, is named for a series of colorful bracelets, necklaces, earrings, brooches, etc. designed by Cartier originally in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They are comprised of carved rubies, emeralds, and sapphires and interspersed with diamonds, resembling a fruit salad.

 

Famous Cartier Clients from the Art Deco Period

 

You may have heard of a few of Cartier’s clients who purchased these pieces. They were trendsetters and significantly impacted the popularity of the Tutti Frutti jewels. In 1925, Mrs. Cole Porter purchased a bracelet comprised of carved sapphires, rubies, emerald beads, onyx, black enamel, and diamonds. In 1935, she purchased a double clip brooch, with a similar color scheme, leaf shaped carved sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds.

 

Daisy Fellowes, considered to be one of the most fashionable and elegant women of the 20th century, heiress, socialite, author and Paris editor of Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930’s, commissioned a Tutti Frutti necklace. It was originally referred to as the Hindu necklace. It too was comprised of carved rubies, emerald, sapphires and accented with diamonds. It differed in that it featured briolette cut sapphires. The briolettes alone, weighted in at 146.9 carats. It has become one of the more famous Tutti Frutti pieces.

 

The artistry, craftsmanship, not to mention the gemstones utilized in these pieces are from a time gone by and would be nearly impossible to recreate today. As such, the demand for these beautiful works of art has only increased over the years. Each time they come up for auction, their prices seem to climb just a bit higher.

04 / 18

 

French, Blue Enamel and Gold Star Earrings: Starry Skies

 

Our item of the week, is this delicate vintage pair of 1950’s blue enamel and gold earrings. When we discovered them, they were a pair of cufflinks. We could not resist the small gold stars painted on the blue enamel with a diamond moon at the center. The enamel panel is framed in gold with additional etched stars. Hence the name – Starry Skies. We added 18kt gold lever backs and a few additional diamonds (stars falling from the sky) linked to the ends to give them movement and additional sparkle. For more information on this item, visit the the Spun Sugar Collection at Sugar et Cie.

 

French Blue Enamel,Gold Star, and Diamond Earrings

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2013

 

French Enamel

 

To put it simply, enameling is the process of fusing a mixture of ground glass to metal through the application of high heat. It is a complicated process that requires great skill and training. A wide range of vivid colors can be created. Jewelers love the endless color possibilities and enjoy creating pieces that would not otherwise be possible through the use of colored gemstones alone. The French are well known for the quality of their enamel work. Over many centuries they, and others, developed many different techniques for working with enamel, but are probably the most well known for the painting of enamel that flourished in Limoges, France. Cartier and Lalique, are two excellent 20th century examples of french jewelers who incorporated enamel work into many of their famous pieces of jewelry.

 

Wear it with Blue and White

 

These earrings are great for the upcoming season. They are full of sparkle and shine. Wear them with pink, red, black, anything really, but we think they would look amazing for summer with blue and white. The following are three different looks, featuring white dresses and blue accessories.

Summer Blues

Dresses

As pictured: Soft Multi-Layer Dress, by James Perse at RevolveClothing.com

As pictured: Wide Strapped Ruched Dress, by James Perse at RevolveClothing.com

As pictured: Masada Dress, by Bailey 44 at senecamoss.com

 

Shoes

As pictured: T-Strap Platform Sandal, by Giuseppe Zanotti

As pictured: Strapped Peep Toe Bootie, also by Giuseppe Zanotti

As pictured: Arella Suedette Platform shoes, at Boohoo.com

An alternative: Miss Benin, by Christian Louboutin.