Even if you aren’t a collector, there is a strong chance you own some jewelry. During our senior moves, we often come across pieces with marks on them. These markings can actually tell you quite a bit about the piece if you know how to decipher them.
Any type of mark on a piece of jewelry is called a “hallmark,” and they are generally found in the same place on similar pieces. Rings will be stamped on the inside of the band, marks on necklaces and bracelets are generally on the clasp, and pins, earrings and brooches will be marked on the back. Don’t be surprised if you don’t find any marks at all. While jewelers are required to disclose the type of metal used, it does not have to be marked on the jewelry itself. This information can be included on a receipt, appraisal or even the price tag, all of which easily become separated from the jewelry or lost.
The mark most commonly found on jewelry is the purity mark, which tells what type of metal is in it. Gold is often expressed in karats and other metals are measured in percentages. The purest gold is 24 karat gold. It is rarely used in jewelry because of its softness. Lesser karats mean the gold has been combined with other types of metals. For example, 22 karat gold is about 92% gold and 8% something else such as copper, silver or palladium. As the karats go down, so does the value of the gold. If you have a piece of gold jewelry stamped “carat,” that doesn’t mean it’s misprinted or counterfeit, the piece was made somewhere other than the U.S. or Canada.
Sterling silver (SS) is the name of the purest silver used in jewelry. To be sterling, a piece must be over 90% silver. Other designations used on silver pieces are “silver-plated” and “EPNS” (electro-plated nickel silver). Jewelry designated as “nickel silver” does not contain any actual silver, it is just silver in color. A three-digit number on silver jewelry tells how much silver is in it. For example, “925” means the piece is 92.5% silver, so it is sterling. These three-digit numbers are also sometimes used on gold jewelry in place of karats.
Other purity marks you may find on jewelry include:
· GF or GP – gold-filled or gold-plated
· Vermeil – sterling silver with gold plating
· Plat or PT – at least 95% platinum
· Pall – at least 95% palladium
Your piece of jewelry may be able to tell you more than what it’s made of. A signature mark tells you who the manufacturer of the piece was. Just as the logos of well-known brands like Coke or KFC change over the years, jewelry makers often change the style of their signatures, so these marks can also give you an idea of when the piece was made. If the piece was made as part of a limited series for a retailer, a mark may signify that as well.
Very unique jewelry designs are often patented, and the patent number can appear right on the piece. U.S. patent numbers can be searched through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website and can provide a wealth of information, including the designer and when and where the piece was created.
If a piece of jewelry has gems in it, the weight of the gems may be stamped on it. If two numbers appear, the first number is likely the size of the largest gem (the solitaire) in carats, and the second number is the combined weight of all the others. “TDW” stands for the total diamond weight found on a piece with multiple gems. The gem weight may just be a number or it can be followed by “ct” or “cw.”
Deciphering the marks on jewelry is quite interesting, especially with pieces you have inherited or purchased from an auction or estate sale. Spend some time looking at your necklaces, rings, bracelets and pins—you may find a hidden treasure in your jewelry box!