What is shiny, pretty, and comes in different colors?
It is what most antique and vintage jewelry is made out of, but knowing one type from the other is just the tip of the iceberg. Want to know more? Read on.
If you are new to shopping vintage and antique jewelry, we know it can be hard to know all the details. The history of jewelry is long and complex, and it can take years of study to learn all there is to know. However, here at Isadoras, we like to make things easy by highlighting the information that makes each piece valuable, authentic and interesting.
An important facet to understand when shopping for antique or vintage jewelry is knowledge of metals. Not only can this help you attain the look you desire, it can also guide you in caring for your piece properly.
Q: What is sterling silver?
Silver has been in use for the last 5000 years. While silver is considered less valuable that platinum or gold, it durability, strength, and pale color are all desirable traits for jewelry crafting. Thus, its use has been wide spread and you will find many different styles and types of sterling silver jewelry in antique and vintage jewelry. While it is more rare in this era to find very precious stones set in silver, silver was in fact used in some diamonds pieces in the 1800s. More commonly, however, the hunter of antique jewels will find a wide array of sterling silver jewelry made with semiprecious stones, such as jaspers and agates.
Like many jewelry metals, the silver used for crafting is not pure but mixed with a certain percentage of copper to strengthen it to a hardness that will maintain its shape. The hallmarks to look for that identify a vintage or antique piece as sterling are commonly .925 and .800.
Q: What is gold?
Gold is a well known metal that has been popular for jewelry for thousands of years. Because it is found all over the world, many cultures upheld it for its value and beauty. Unlike many other metals, which must to be extracted from ore, gold occurs naturally in a pure state, making it easier to work with than others.
Similar to silver, gold is a very soft material in its pure state, so it must be mixed with a percentage of other metals. For example, 10 karat means the metal is roughly 41.7% gold, and 18 karat is in fact 75% gold. The value of a piece of gold jewelry is often partially established by its percentage of gold content.
Q: What is yellow gold?
Yellow gold has a warm, sunny hue. The vintage and antique gold seeker will find than the gold used in antique jewelry is much pinker in color than today’s contemporary gold, which is a more distinctly yellow. Thus, antique yellow gold has a warmer feel.
This Chester, England Edwardian 15kt Buckle Ring is a great example of the warmer hue common in some antique gold jewelry.
Q: What is white gold?
White gold is constituted of gold mixed with palladium, and sometimes a small amount of zinc, copper, tin, or manganese. If you look closely at white gold, one may note a slightly warmer tinge that differentiates white gold from other white metals, such as platinum. Many antique and vintage engagement rings are crafted from white gold.
Q: What is rose gold?
Rose gold is a mix of gold and copper. It has a reddish or pinkish hue to its color, giving it a robust elegance. Like yellow gold, the rose gold of antiquity is a different, with more red than the pinkish hues of its modern counterpart.
Q: What is green gold?
Green gold is gold mixed with equal parts silver, sometimes with cadmium. Green gold has an unusual green tinge to its gold color. This hefty Mid Century bracelet is composed of 18 karat green gold, is a gorgeous example.
Q: What is platinum?
Platinum, the last metal on our list, is the most valuable and rare. It’s white color is a touch cooler than white gold, and it is prized for being very dense and corrosion resistant. Unlike gold, platinum became popular for the making of jewelry only within the last few hundred years. In the 1700s, it became the choice metal of kings, prized by King Louis XVI of France and King Carlos III of Spain. Its popularity continued to grow, save for one short period between the late 1930s and mid 1940s, when all platinum was reserved during the war. Engagement rings during this period were more likely to be fashioned out of yellow or white gold than platinum, but by the late 1940s, platinum was en vogue again.
Q: How do I care for gold/silver/platinum?
All metals naturally oxidize, or tarnish. Depending on the type of metal, it may need regular cleaning and polishing to stay bright and shiny. Most people find that their jewelry tarnishes more quickly when unworn and sitting in your jewelry box.
A helpful tip: In the case of rings, wearing your piece naturally keeps the tarnish a bay. So put it on!
Silver tarnishes quickly and may need regular care in order to keep its luster. This can be done quickly and easily by rubbing the piece with a jewelry polish cloth. Need to know: It is important to note that, in the antique jewelry world, patina on is considered part of the value and authenticity of antique and vintage silver jewelry. Think about it-some patinas have been accruing over 100 years or more, and once removed, cannot be replaced! So, when it doubt, go easy: A light, gentle buffing of the piece with a polish cloth can shine the highlights of your silver jewelry while maintaining the antique patina.
This beautiful Art Deco hematite ring retains its antiqued feel from its patinaed silver.
Gold tarnishes very slowly, you may notice some oxidization over a period of time. Like silver, a gentle rub with a polish cloth will keep it bright. Note that pieces with higher gold content will also be softer than pieces of a lower karat, and thus may need gentler care. A helpful tip: Seek out professional help to clean your more delicate and hard to clean pieces.
Platinum tarnishes more slowly than other jewelry metals, and is also the toughest, making care very easy. Like silver and gold, a polish cloth can be used on platinum to keep it at it best luster.
A few more notes on caring for your jewelry…
While our beloved jewelry, new and old, is often made of strong materials meant to last, it also needs gentle and careful treatment. We recommend removing any of your jewelry before heading off to play your favorite sport, doing any manual labor, or working with harsh chemicals.
Still need to know more? Contact us with your questions! Vintage and antique jewelry is our passion here at Isadoras, and our knowledgeable staff are happy to give you the details and known history of any piece we carry. Visit us online, or better yet, come see us in person in our Seattle store for an up close tour of our collection.