Period Jewellery and Circa Dating Antique Jewellery

When appraising antique jewellery it is important that the appraiser circa date the piece.  Circa dating means that the appraiser estimates the date that the piece was produced.   The appraiser can then identify the piece as belonging to a specific period.  How does an appraiser know this?

Antique 18C Brooch

Antique Brooch Flickr Photo by Kotomicreations

Circa Dating is the Establishment of a Date of Origin for a Piece of Jewellery

“Circa” just approximates the date and covers 10 years on either side of the date.  A circa date of 1850 indicates a date of somewhere between 1840 and 1860.  It is important to correctly identify the date of origin because this will ultimately contribute to the value on an appraisal.

Period Jewellery

Period jewellery is jewellery that is defined by a framework of a specific time and style.  Jewellery items made before the 18th century are scarce and often expensive.  The more distant the period, the fewer pieces are available on the open market.  Some the periods overlap, but the materials, styles and designs differ.  This enables the appraiser to assign the jewellery piece to the correct period.

Antique Victorian Hair Brooch

Antique Victorian Hair Brooch Flickr Photo by GordonMcDowell

The following periods are the ones commonly used.

  • Georgian: 1714-1830
  • Early Victorian: 1837-1860
  • Mid-Victorian: 1860-1875
  • Late-Victorian: 1875-1901
  • Art Nouveau: 1895-1910
  • Arts and Crafts: 1880-1914
  • Edwardian: 1901-1910
  • Art Deco: 1920-1930
  • Retro: 1935-1955

Jewellery design has been influenced by the cultural and economic development in the country of its origin.  The available materials and individual talents of the artists of the time also affect the design.

Examining the Motifs of a Particular Period

The motifs are the recurring and distinctive forms seen in jewellery.  Some motifs were more popular in one period than others.   Some styles and designs were popular in more than one period.  Certain gemstones and metals were used more often in certain periods.

In the Georgian Period popular motifs were bows, hearts, floral garlands, ribbons, stars and the Sevigne bow (which is a softly draped, somewhat floppy-looking bow).  Bows were also popular in the Victorian, Edwardian and Retro periods, but were not popular in the Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Art Deco periods.

Examining the Designs and Styles of a Particular Period

In the Victorian Periods common designs and styles were “Regard” and “Posy” rings, Hair jewellery, Souvenir jewellery, Archaeological jewellery, Etruscan Revival designs, Egyptian Revival designs and Algerian knot designs.

Hair jewellery was used in mourning jewellery. After Queen Victoria’s husband (Prince Albert) passed away, Queen Victoria proclaimed an extended period of mourning. This resulted in much jewellery being worn  made of black onyx, black jet and human hair.  Hair jewellery was not popular in other periods.

Examining the Gemstones, Materials and Metals of a Particular Period

 Cherry Amber Bakelite Necklaces

Cherry Amber Bakelite Flickr Photo decolish

During the Art Deco period materials commonly used for jewellery were diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire, colourless quartz (rock crystal), carnelian, onyx, marcasite, chrysoprase, jade, ivory, coral, jet, Bakelite, lapis lazuli, turquoise, mother-of-pearl, glass, synthetic ruby, sapphire and emerald, platinum, white gold, silver and tri-colour gold.

Bakelite was introduced in the Art Deco period. It is the first plastic able to retain its shape upon exposure to heat and was invented by Dr. Leo Baekeland in 1909. He was not a jeweller but was searching for a rubber substitute to use in electrical insulation. Bakelite was great because it could easily be molded and brightly coloured. The largest collection of Bakelite is at the Bakelite Museum in Somerset England.  Bakelite pieces were typical of middle-class jewellery during the 1900s, they are among the most affordably collectible items from the Art Deco period.

Need More Information about Circa Dating and Period Jewelry?

If you are interested in knowing more about circa dating jewellery there is a great book called “Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry” by Jeanenne Bell.  There are colour photographs of jewellery and historical information is given about the periods in which the jewellery was made.  Prices are either from an auction house, collector, or dealer, with the source used indicated for every entry.

Your Input

(Join our poll or Scroll Down To The Bottom and leave a comment) – Emerald is winning the poll!

Bakelite Bangles by cyberload

Bakelite Flickr photo by cyberload

I have introduced different gemstones alphabetically.  I started with “A” (Ammolite) and it has taken me to Malachite!  Leave a comment and let me know if you have a favourite gemstone that starts with the letter “p”.  Take the poll!  Can you name a reference to a gemstone in a song, movie or book?


About Jen McKercher

Jennifer McKercher teaches gemmology at the Canadian Gemmological Association. A passion for gemstones drives Jen to learn as much as she can about the wonders of gemstones and how they enhance our lives.

Posted on December 8, 2011, in Appraisals and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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