At some point when you have been admiring your jewelry, you have probably noticed the small stampings or markings on your pieces. Usually, whether fine or costume jewelry, you will find markings located somewhere on each piece. The stampings may be on the inside surface of a ring or on the back of a pin or pendant. These stampings indicate important information about the piece including the artist or manufacturer or the metal content or purity of a piece. Knowing a little bit more about how to read and understand these can help you learn about the history or the value of a piece. Listed below are some of the most commonly observed stampings.
The most common stamping to see is an indication of the metal content of the piece. These are usually two or three-digit numbers or a combination of numbers and characters that indicate the purity of the metal. Jewelers are required to indicate the purity of precious metals (gold, silver, and platinum) either directly on the piece or within the packaging of the piece. They are not required to indicate the purity of non-precious metals (stainless steel or tungsten). Common purity stamps are:
- 999 or 999.9 indicating 24 karat gold
- 585, 583, 575 or 14K indicating 14 karat gold
- 417 or 10K indicating 10 karat gold
- 925 on silver indicates the piece is sterling silver or 92.5% pure silver
- HGE means heavy gold electroplate also called gold-plated
- GF would indicate the item is gold filled indicating that a layer of gold is adhered to some sort of base metal
Maker’s Marks or Jeweler’s Marks
These marks are typically some sort of hallmark or an indication of the actual jeweler who designed or created the piece. These are used to identify the manufacturer and can be especially useful if you are looking to collect jewelry from a specific manufacturer, designer, or even a particular place of origin. The maker’s mark is a trademark of a specific company such as initials or letters or the mark might be a symbol such as a heart or a bell. Some marks from well-known jewelers are:
- The initials “HW” stacked and encircled with an oval or rectangle indicating Harry Winston
- Cartier may have the name spelled out or have any combination of initials J.C, LC or CA accompanied by symbols such as a heart.
- “Tiffany & Co” written out as shown or including the address are common marks for this jeweler
Identifying marks that indicate the manufacturer often change over time. A mark as simple as these listed above with the initials or name clearly displayed is common, but other unique and intricate designs are used by other jewelers. One of the best tools to use to identify a jeweler’s mark is the internet. There are numerous resources available that catalog the marks to help identify the pieces. Antique Jewelry University has some of the most extensive listings of marks available, but a Google search might yield the information needed as well.
Other stampings that appear on jewelry include patents, engravings, and monograms. Certain jewelry styles that are unique or specific to a designer may have a patent mark. This mark indicates the jeweler was able to secure a patent from the U.S. government because of unique characteristics or the possibility of copying by others even in the mass market. The patent protects the manufacturer or the designer from exact copies and helps them retain the value of their original pieces. The original patent often includes specific details and drawings of the very first pieces created when seeking the patent. Of course, engravings and monograms are specific to the owner and not usually related to the jeweler or manufacturer.
Using a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe, you can explore the meaning of messages sent through stampings that might appear on your jewelry. With a little research, you might learn about a fascinating past or confirm something you were told about a piece. Of course, a knowledgeable jeweler can provide you with information or even confirm what you have found out through your research.