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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.

 

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!

 

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

01 / 08

 

JEWELRY AND NAIL COLOR: FAVORITE PAIRINGS

 

Nail color is a great way to try out the latest trend, get in the mood for a new season, or compliment your latest jewelry acquisition. Below is one of our favorite pairings.

 

antique gold bangle and gold glitter polish from Deborah Lippmann, Cleopatra in New York

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014, and Courtesy of Deborah Lippmann

 

OUR ITEM OF THE WEEK: ANTIQUE GOLD BYPASS BANGLE

 

This pretty 14 ct gold bangle is a recent addition to our Victoriana collection and is available at Sugar et Cie. It is in the Etruscan Revival style from the Victorian period and is called a bypass bangle. You can see the lovely work in the details: the gold granulation, the fine wire work and the bloomed gold, all characteristics of the Etruscan Revival style.

 

We’ve paired this bangle with Deborah Lippmann’s Cleopatra in New York. It’s a black lacquer studded with gold which can be worn on its own or as a second coat over another color.

 

The bypass bangle has always been popular. The clean modern form of the body of the bangle is a nice contrast to the elaborate terminal on each end of the bracelet, which is similar in shape to a royal scepter.

 

DEBORAH LIPPMANN’S GLITTER COLLECTION

 

I haven’t always been a fan of glitter nail polish, but Deborah Lippmann has won me over with her sophisticated palette of glitter nail lacquers. What makes them different? The glitter components are octagonal in shape and made up of small and large pieces. The effect is chic, almost bespoke and doesn’t look like my six year old niece gave me a manicure.

 

Deborah Lippmann glitter nail polish, Cleopatra in New York, Ruby Red Slippers, Boom Pow Pow

 

Not quite ready for a black-based lacquer? Try Lippmann’s Ruby Red slippers, Boom Pow Pow, or any of the 23 polishes in her glitter collection.

 

12 / 17

 

ITEM OF THE WEEK: ANTIQUE VICTORIAN GOLD BUCKLE RING, HALLMARKED

 

This is a hand engraved (star in lozenge) and hand-carved (plumes) gold band ring with a buckle motif from the Victorian period. We’ve been looking for the perfect gold buckle ring for stacking and this one checks all the boxes.

 

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

The buckle motif has been popular throughout jewelry history. It was popular during the Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian periods (the design of the buckle changing with style and time).

 

Victorian life was filled with symbolism and jewelry was no exception. A buckle symbolized fidelity in love, or loyalty in friendship, through the joining of the two pieces. When the buckle wraps around a finger, like the serpent or snake, it can be interpreted as a symbol of eternal love (an unending circle or bond).

 

From our latest buying trip in London, this buckle ring would make a great stacking ring or wedding band.

 

 

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

SHOPPING IN LONDON: MUST HAVE AND LUST HAVES

 

I couldn’t leave Knotting Hill without checking out some of the vintage fashion boutiques and a few of the home design stores. Specifically on my list was Jane Bourvis (located on 89 Golborne Road, London). Known for her antique and vintage wedding dresses and accessories, she also has a selection of vintage and reproduction skirts and dresses. Brides come from all over, making appointments to carefully select one of her designs, or a one-of-a-kind vintage or antique dress.

 

For me, the inside of her boutique was like being in a candy store: lots of lovely tulle, lace, feathers, and silk. I tried on a few of her tulle skirts. I really liked the one below, a vintage black tulle skirt with gold embroidered flowers (1940’s/50’s). I would wear it over a pair of leggings and boots for winter days and perhaps over a black slip for evening.

 

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

 

 

Tulle for Winter

 

 

 

For details on any of the above, see Sugar et Cie on Polyvore.

 

Next stop, a stroll along Bond and New Bond street to see the latest from Mappin & Webb (dating back to 1775) and Bentley & Skinner (est. 1880). My favorite was this necklace/choker from Bentley and Skinner.

 

 

 

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie 2014

 

A modern piece in the vintage spirit made to represent the night sky. It is exquisite in-person, made by hand, and with more diamonds than I wanted to count. Each diamond is bezel set (millegrain edge) on a velvet ribbon in midnight-sky blue.

 

Part III, Friday: Home Decor and the Dogs of London…