Friday, April 17, 2020

The ABCs of Collecting Vintage Costume Jewelry: A -G

Sherman brooch from Reparenting Yourself: a healing strategy
I love collecting vintage jewelry. I guess I've been collecting it since I was five and my Grandma Tess gave me some costume pieces that she didn't want anymore. That was over 40 years ago!

I've been at this for so long, I've come to know quite a lot about it, and I thought it would be fun to share some of my knowledge with you. I thought it would be even more fun to do so using only photos from my own vintage jewelry collection.

After some thought, I decided that the easiest way to do this was to create an alphabetized list of terms you might like to know: an ABCs of Collecting Vintage Costume Jewelry. This is Part I: A-G. For Part II, click here

Before we get started though, a few provisos.

1. You don't need to know any of this to collect vintage jewelry. You can just go for what you like and can afford, and that's it. Really, that's all that matters. But, gaining some knowledge about what you're collecting can be helpful, and, in my opinion, just plain interesting. 

A little knowledge can, for example, help you know when a piece was made, what materials it uses, and whether it's good quality. It can help you discover what you like, and then help you find more of it. It can help you know when a seller is trying to scam you. And it can help you know when you've found an amazing deal.

2. I am not an expert. I'm a hobbyist. I've done my best here, but it's not perfect.

3. I'm sure I haven't included everything. Maybe I just forgot something. Maybe I don't feel I know enough about it. Or maybe I don't own any examples of it. Again, I've done my best.

4. This is not a post about vintage jewelry brand names. However, whenever I could, I've given you the brand name of each piece. 

5. I am a collector, not a seller, and, while I'm sure some of the information here will be useful to sellers, I've written it for collectors like myself.

6. Any time I mention prices, I'm talking about Canadian dollars, not American ones. So, for example, if I say I got a piece for $10, that would be about $7 American.

7. I am not a crafty person. This is not a post about how to repair, repurpose, or craft vintage, costume jewelry. I'd be useless at helping you with that.

8. Please excuse the dust! I'm just too disabled to dust every piece before I photograph it.

And now, without further ado, I present to you The ABCs of Collecting Vintage Costume Jewelry: A-G.
A green agate, watch fob, circa 1900-1910

Agate is a type of naturally occurring, patterned stone. When used in jewelry, it is typically polished ...

... and often cut into a sort of "slice" so that light can shine through it. It occurs in many different types and colours, from yummy caramel ... 

The chain was my grandmother Tess's. The shorter chain is a watch chain. I designed the black pendant; it's new, and not costume.
... to deep emerald, to black, to white!

I think this green agate, rolled gold, watch fob is spectacular. Because the lowest stone is cracked, I got this for only $40. I've seen the same one with no crack for $300! Really, who cares about a little crack anyway?

From Bears, Books, and Brooches: A Childhood in the Wild Woods
My favourite agate jewelry is Victorian and Edwardian and, trust me, those Victorians (and Edwardians) were crazy about their agate. This is a sweet, little, Victorian, dendritic agate brooch. I love how this particular type of agate looks like a tiny, forest scene.

I found it for $8! I got an exceptionally good deal, but even at regular prices, a lot of agate pieces aren't that expensive. They weren't even wildly expensive in their day, given that agate is only semi-precious, and it was often set in base metals (ie, not real gold or silver), silver, or rolled gold.

Of course, unless you find a great deal, probably from a seller who doesn't know what she has, the metal used, the quality of the stone, and the quality of the setting will raise the price. I think I paid $5 for this little, Victorian brooch. When I showed it to a jeweler, she said the metal is real gold, which brings the value up to about $200. (In the Victorian age, it was not yet mandatory to mark gold and silver as such, so you might not know what you have until it's tested.)


Antique jewelry is over 100 years old. That's it. Simple. At this point, then, most antique jewelry that you'll be able to find will be Victorian or Edwardian, though now "antique" is encompassing very early, Art Deco jewelry too.

Of course, there are even older pieces out there, but that takes us back to 1837, so it's not easy!

There are many ways to spot an antique piece, but I'll give you just one here: look for a c-clasp. For more tips, keep reading.


(Yes, I know that "adjustable" comes before "agate" and "antique" in the alphabet, but it's too boring to start this post.)

The term "adjustable" applies mostly to necklaces and rings that can be adjusted to various sizes. For necklaces, this means that they can be worn longer or shorter, depending on your preference. For rings, it means they can be worn larger or smaller, depending on your ring size, though sometimes within limits, as with the Avon ring above.

Note that this lobster claw clasp tells you this was made in the 1990s or later.
Adjustable necklaces come in a few types, the most common making it possible to loop the clasp through the chain in more than one place, as with necklace ...

... here long ...

... and here short. Wearing the necklace shorter means you'll have a bit of chain dangling down your back. I think it can look quite elegant. I've even seen necklaces where this bit at the back has a lovely design of its own.

This, less common type of adjustable necklace was used most in the 1950s and 60s.

Its design makes it even more adjustable, but I wonder if it might be a little more likely to come unfastened.

Note that both chains have small weights at their end to make them dangle on your back, rather than getting tangled at your neck. I don't think all adjustable chains have this, but it's certainly a good idea. 

From Liking Pink: A Child Slave's Secret Rebellion
It too can have a decorative charm.

Adjustable rings come in more types. One of the strangest I've ever seen is this, 1960s, cocktail ring.

It pulls up to become larger.

You've probably seen this, modern ...

... stretchy type of adjustable ring.

They're often on fun, silly rings, and don't cost much, new or second hand. Beware though: they're not very comfortable and that elastic will snap eventually.

From Mod and Op Art: The Dumpster Divers' Edition
With that caveat, enjoy!

Sarah Coventry, and Barbara Reed
Up until recently, most adjustable rings had some variation of an open, bendable back ...

... and you will still find them today. This one is particularly pinchy, though they all are to some degree.

Sarah Coventry
This style is probably the most comfortable. 

Obviously, adjustable rings are convenient, but be a bit careful: with all that bending and rebending, they can break over time, and they're likely to become misshapen and pokey. 

From Gay Pride: Charlotte Goes Camp
But, given how fun, flashy, and affordable they usually are, they're worth the gamble, I think. Pile them on, I say! 

I've had this one since I worked at Value Village in my late teens. Personally, it always gives me a good laugh because I think it's delightfully hideous, but I always get sincere compliments on it. 

From Gay Pride: Charlotte Goes Camp
Go figure.

Aurora (Borealis)

Named after the Northern Lights, aurora rhinestones have a multi-coloured, almost iridescent sheen on them ...

... that almost shimmers, and, like a rainbow, changes colours depending on how the light hits them.

This is also a good example of an unfoiled piece
Especially popular in the 1950s and 60s, aurora rhinestones can come in any colour and can be mixed with other types of "stones" as in this green example ...

... and this pink one.

Aurora adds a certain pizzazz to an outfit, especially on a dark day.

Arts and Crafts

I have sometimes heard Arts and Crafts referred to as British Art Nouveau, though it quickly spread beyond Britain. Popular from 1880 to 1920, it was a reaction against industrialization and mass production, and a return to craftsmanship, simplicity, and quality. 

One of the nice things about both this movement and the Art Nouveau movement is that it can be more affordable, since the emphasis was not on flashy, large gems, but on artistry and quality. Still, I don't actually own any real Arts and Crafts pieces, not yet. But I do have this silver brooch which is an unabashed homage to the Arts and Crafts designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

In it, you can see a simplicity, and, as in Art Nouveau, the influence of the shapes and lines of nature. I feel that I can also see the early beginnings of the geometry of Art Deco, but that may just be me.

A dress clip duette, circa 1920s or 30s
Art Deco

Art Deco was an all-encompassing design movement which embraced the optimism of the new urban, technologically advanced world of the 1920s and 1930s. In what might seem like an odd pairing, Art Deco also embraced the ancient, Egyptian art forms found in King Tut's recently discovered tomb. Surprisingly, the lines of each echo the other.

Art Deco is most notably characterized by geometric shapes and patterns, and designs heavily influenced by the new machinery, and skyscrapers of the day. Many Art Deco pieces seem almost sculptural in design. I got this lovely, little necklace for $10 from a woman who was selling pieces that had belonged to the women in her family. It reminds me of elevator doors in Manhattan.

Probably made of brass and fresh water pearls, this necklace is, to me, a good illustration of the way that Art Deco's geometry was seldom so stark as to forsake beauty (as opposed to a lot of Mid Century Modern design). 

From Spring Flowers, Diamonds, and Real Women in the 1930s
I often pair it with this, 1930s style dress. I think the delicate flowers and the delicate geometry actually suit each other. 

A brooch
And, certainly, Art Deco did not forsake the dainty, or the floral altogether. But there was always that Deco touch that set it apart from other movements.

A single dress clip
If people know about Art Deco jewelry at all, they know about the amazing, platinum and diamond pieces that are way out of most people's price range, but, as with most artistic movements, it found its way into inexpensive, costume jewelry as well. I doubt that this pot metal and paste, dress clip cost very much new.

Nor would this man's watch chain have cost very much. The Art Deco touch here is subtle and tiny, but its there, nonetheless. I got it at a garage sale for about 75 cents. 

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau spanned about twenty years, from 1890 to 1910. In yet another artistic rebellion against industrialization, Art Nouveau is heavily influenced by the flowing, curving patterns of nature. (It is therefore, in direct contrast to Art Deco which is why it's odd to me that people always confuse the two movements.) 

From The Jessica Fletcher Brooch: Why I Love Murder She Wrote
Art Nouveau pieces often depict curvi-linear flowers and vines, as with the above brooch, which is actually not from the period and would therefore be referred to as "in the Art Nouveau style," rather than actually being genuine Art Nouveau. I bought it because it's identical to one that Jessica Fletcher often wears on Murder She Wrote!

Another very common image in Art Nouveau is that of beautiful young women with wildly flowing hair, as in this tiny earring ...

... and these silver rings. I actually bought these new in about 1990, when doing so really broke the bank. Notice how the ring on the right blurs the lines between the woman and nature, till it's hard ...

A note: These rings are a good example of what can go wrong when you use silver dip to "polish" silver. They've lost their silver shine and now look dull and whitish. Please clean silver with a toothbrush and soapy water (which works for most jewelry), and then use a silver polishing cloth. 
... to tell one from the other. If you know the art of Alfonse Mucha, you already know what I mean. I've put a personal moratorium on the whole "woman as art" thing (a subject for another post, I suppose). You'd be surprised by how much that rules out.


Invented in 1909, bakelite was the first, entirely synthetic plastic. It was quickly embraced by jewelry designers who used it as an alternative to bone, ivory, wood, jade, and other, more expensive, natural materials. Bakelite is known for its warm, rich colours, and a mellowness that I can't describe.

Bakelite dress clips, probably from the 1940s. I'm guessing 40s because the patterns carved into them seem Retro to me.
Because of when bakelite hit the market, bakelite jewelry is most closely associated with Art Deco, and the 1940s. It's highly collectible and can be relatively expensive for costume jewelry. Collectors are especially keen on acquiring particular colours, and, it seems, carved bangles.


A bail is the little bit at the top of a pendant from which the pendant hangs. The most important thing about bails is that they may give you information about the pendant. This one, for instance, is hallmarked "925," telling you that it's silver. Bails can also tell you if the piece is gold fill, or even gold itself. Bails may also be signed with the name of the designer, and/or the company that made it. If they're higher end pieces, you might find more hallmarks or maker's marks on the bail too.

Wherever this information is on any piece, it's likely to be tiny, so sellers often miss it. This works in your favour, of course. I highly recommend you get yourself a jeweler's loupe so you can actually see these tiny bits of information, wherever they may be on a piece.

As for the bail as part of the overall look of a pendant, personally, I think they're often woefully plain and chunky, as if they were an afterthought, rather than an integral part of the pendant's design. 

When I designed Morgan and Bobby's pendants, I made sure that ...

... the bails were beautiful and harmonized with the pendants themselves. Now these pendants are made of precious materials, so are not costume ...

... but I see no reason not to do the same ...

... with costume jewelry, as with this piece here. It's not so very important, but it's something to think about as you search for pieces that you will truly love.


Bangles are bracelets in an unbroken, circular shape ... 

... without a clasp or hinge, making it necessary to slip them over your hand to wear them. 

They can be slim, or chunky, and they can be made of any substance durable enough to take the pressure of being pushed over your hand and, let's face it, often accidentally banged against tables, walls, etc. (Hence the name bangle?)

From That 70s Woman: the palette, the pendant, and the power
These bangles are glass and, you guessed it, one of them has smashed since I did this photo shoot. Since they're not rare, and I paid about a dollar each at a garage sale, I wasn't too broken up about it. 

Bangles were particularly popular in the 1920s and 1950s ...

From Fall for the Birds: Autumnal Fashion in Hard Times
... but I can't think of an era in which they looked out of place. They seem to me to suit both this 70s look ...

From From Gym Bunny to Cripple: How Child Trafficking Destroyed My Back
... and this one.

Since bangles have always been popular, they are available cheaply and in abundance at thrift stores. Don't pass by the little racks of them on counter-tops and walls. You might find something you like that will spice up an outfit. 

The bangle on the left is new. The right one is vintage. From Fall for the Birds: Autumnal Fashion in Hard Times
Do try them on first though. 

From Fat Shaming, Victim Blaming, and How Disability Twitter Made Me Feel Like a Superhero
If you have larger hands or are a bit chubby, they might not fit, and that's something better discovered in the store than at home. That's why I seldom buy vintage bracelets online. (Most plus size clothing stores, and some costume jewelry stores sell inexpensive, larger bangles.)

Base Metal

A base metal is simply any non-precious metal. It's not gold, silver, platinum, etc. Most metal, costume jewelry is made of base metal. Some is then plated with real gold or silver.

Bohemian Garnet

Mined in Bohemia, the modern day Czech Republic, Bohemian garnets are semi-precious, tiny, faceted garnets, usually set closely together in clusters to create a beautiful, glittering effect. They're pretty enough that I'm surprised by how relatively inexpensive they are. 

The red "stones" on this brooch are not real garnets. 
Be careful though: it can be pretty easy to mistake good quality glass for Bohemian garnets. In this case, their cut is too regular from "stone" to "stone" to be real, and one of those "stones" is chipped, indicating that it's glass.

Again, the "stones" on this brooch are not real.
In this case, the "stones" lack the depth of colour of real garnets. 

The real thing tends to have a deeper and more changeable colour to it. If the piece is very old, under magnification, you can often see more variation in the cut of each, tiny stone.

Bohemian garnets have been popular since at least the Victorian period, so its often hard to figure out just when a particular piece was made, though a very close, magnified look at the cut of the garnets can give you some clues. I found these beauties for $10 at an estate sale, and later learned that they're real, set in gold, and probably late Victorian! Tee hee!

This is a good time to point out that many pieces being sold as costume might not actually be costume. While bohemian garnets can be found on costume pieces, which is why I include them here, costume pieces are not made with real gold, only with gold plating, rolled gold, or gold fill.

Left: Bond Boyd
Brushed Metal

Brushed metal is textured to give it a rough, duller surface. It was extremely popular in Mid Century Modern jewelry, through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s

This means ...

From The Gnarled Tree and Me: A Chronic Pain Flare
... that there is a lot of it available in second hand stores, at garage sales, etc. 

Sarah Coventry, and Trifari
Generally speaking, you shouldn't have to pay much for it. For this reason, I'd recommend that you not buy it online, at consignment stores, or at hip, vintage stores. You'll be able to get better deals by looking for these pieces at garage sales, and in second hand stores, including thrift stores.

Sarah Coventry
Brushed gold can be a bit of an acquired taste because the texturing can make the piece look rough, and less feminine.

From Cozy Colours

You can play that up if you want to ...

From Charlotte Issyvoo: Mid-70s, Funky, Cool Guy
... with a bit of a tomboy look ... 

... but, in its day, brushed metal was seen as completely harmonious with fashionable, feminine attire.

Bond Boyd
Indeed, it could still appear soft, delicate, and feminine. 

If you're going for a MCM look, toss that brushed gold on and you're halfway there.

Trifari brooch (worn as a pendant). The chain is new, made from real gold and diamonds, by Effy.
Of course, you can wear your brushed gold (and any of your vintage jewelry) in any way you want to, including with a more modern outfit. Here, I'm wearing an MCM, Trifari brooch as a modern pendant. 

Trifari brooch. (The glasses, scarf, and gloves are vintage too.) From How Books Saved My Life, Part I
Here, I'm wearing a 1960s, Trifari brooch, with a 1970s inspired outfit.

I gave this brooch to a friend, so this is the only photo I have of it. Robert Larin. From The Geometry of Fashion: Art Deco in Black and White 

Brutalist jewelry is quintessentially Mid Century Modern, and definitely an acquired taste. To me, it is quite frankly ugly, but somehow appealingly ugly. Brutalism is known chiefly as an architectural movement using poured concrete (ie "brut"), and I can't really speak to its origins in architecture, but my personal theory about Brutalism in jewelry is that it was an expression of the way some artists felt about our modern, industrial society: it was brutal, harsh, alienating, inorganic, uncomfortable. If Art Deco was the expression of an exciting optimism about modernity, Brutalism was an alienated pessimism about modernity.

What began as a kind of "fringe" form of jewelry design, worn by the avant garde, quickly caught on in the larger culture. I had a hard time picking illustrations of Brutalism from my collection because its influence so thoroughly saturated more "mainstream" jewelry design that I can't really say which is which. When companies like Avon started carrying it, you know its original intent had been watered down considerably. 

Two Art Deco buttons, through which I have threaded bobby pins. Circa 1930s

Vintage buttons are often very cheap because people have a hard time figuring out what to do with them, especially if they find only one button, and/or they can't sew. As I've said before, I am not crafty, but some things even I can handle ...

... like taking buttons with backs like this ...

... or this ...

... and threading a bobby pin through each ...

... so I can wear them in my hair. If even I can do it, you know it's easy.

I got these buttons at a garage sale for practically nothing.

Someone had simply glued pin findings on the backs of them and, hey presto: brooches!

The point is simply that any pretty little bits and bobs have potential, even if you're not a crafty person. And they're often so inexpensive, that it's worth thinking outside of the box and purchasing them. 

Of course, if you are crafty, the possibilities are endless. 

My great aunt made this necklace. I feel close to her whenever I wear it.

Button Earrings

Button earrings were ubiquitous on very stylish women in the 1950s and into the 1960s. They made a comeback in the 1980s

Often clip-ons, they were large ... 

From How My Insurance Company Used Rape Culture to (Almost) Defeat Me
... round or oval, button-shaped earrings, often brightly coloured ... 

From Family Resemblances: the Miracle of a Jewish Family's Survival
... and usually worn to exactly match a woman's outfit. They're another thing that can instantly make an outfit look vintage, even when it's not. I'm particularly fond of my bright red, Trifari, button earrings, and go through periods when I wear them often. 

Though button earrings were often 3D ...

... they could also be flat, like these, nautically themed ones. 


A cabochon is a stone that has been polished, and often shaped, but not faceted. In other words, it's smooth and round, with no angels or edges. 

Okay, I know this post is about vintage, costume jewelry, but I could not resist showing you my new opal ring, because, oh my God, look at it! From How My Insurance Company Used Rape Culture to (Almost) Defeat Me
Although the term technically applies only to actual gemstones (precious and semi-precious), such as this opal set in gold ...

... it's commonly applied to faux gems as well. (I got this handmade, Rafael ring for 75 cents at a garage sale. It sells for about $100!) Cabachon stones don't sparkle the way faceted ones do, but I like the way they can seem like orbs of light, either as the primary component of a piece ...

... or as a decorative element ...

... of a larger piece.


One of the first things you should do to learn about a piece is look at the back. It can tell you a lot about itself, including, often, its approximate age. I can't possibly give you an exhaustive list of types of clasps, but I'll show you a few, the ones that have helped me most in identifying the age of a piece. 

Clasps: C-Clasp

If you remember only one thing about clasps, remember c-clasps. They are an immediate indicator that you're looking at something old. In general, c-clasps were used right through the Victorian era, up until about 1930, though I've seen some from the early 1940s.

Used on brooches, c-clasps look pretty much like they sound: they're shaped like the letter C. They have no fasteners or "roll over" components to keep them secure, but you'll find that they hold a lot better than you'd think. 

When I first encountered c-clasps, I thought they were just broken, and I'd often pass them up, assuming that they wouldn't fasten securely. Now I snap them up instead!

Note how the little pin on the back of this brooch (a lingerie pin) sticks out past the brooch itself. This, its tube hinge, and its c-clasp, all indicate that it's Victorian or Edwardian. So does the front of the brooch, but, even if you didn't know that, the back would tell you. From Self-Respect, Gold, and Golda
Victorian and Edwardian brooches extend the pin past the c-clasp (where it can poke you, so be careful), while later ones keep the pin shorter (and less painful). 

Clasps: Fish-Hook

I'm not sure how to describe this kind of clasp, so just give it a good look. 

From what I've seen, they were very common in the 1920s and 30s, as was this type of chain.

They were often strung with really pretty, "art glass," beads like these dainty, wedding cake beads. Isn't this pretty?

Clasps: Lobster Claw

Very similar to the spring-ring clasp, but shaped like a lobster claw, these clasps showed up in the 1990s, so they are not very old. I've seen sellers trying to pass off pieces with lobster claws as being from the 1930s or even earlier. Don't fall for it!

Clasps: Spring Ring 

This is probably the type of necklace and bracelet clasp you know best, so I'm not going to spend time describing them. They caught on in the 1930s, which is when the above one was made. Don't let anybody tell you that a piece with a clasp like this was made before the 1930s, though, of course, you'll often see repair jobs using clasps that are more recent than the piece itself.

There is one exception, and that's the very early spring ring clasps used mostly on watch chains. Given the Art Deco style of this watch chain, this clasp is probably from the 1920s. These earlier, spring ring clasps are often quite large, and are much more finicky and difficult to use than the later spring-ring clasps that we know better. 

Clasps: Rollover

I assume you've seen a million and one of these, right? They showed up in the 1930s, and remain the standard brooch clasp to this day. 

Lisner. From 'The Appalling Silence of the Good': Abused Children are Everyone's Responsibility

Rather than dangling downward, climber earrings scroll up the outside curve of the ear. They can be very elegant. Especially popular in the 1950s, climbers work best when they're clipons, as post earrings wouldn't stay in place properly. 


Ceramic is an all-encompassing term for any type of natural clay that is heat hardened, so it can include a lot of different styles of jewelry. For example, the little, 3D flowers above are porcelain. 

I think it could be very easy to mistake ceramic pieces for enamel ones. If in doubt, look at that back. This is where you're most likely to spot the rough, un-glazed clay. 

As clay, they can be quite fragile, liable to chip, crack, and break. This is especially true of those sweet, little, porcelain flowers; it's hard to find any that aren't chipped. So do buy and wear these pieces with that in mind. For instance, I wouldn't recommend a ceramic ring!

But they can be awfully pretty, so don't shy away from them entirely.

Circa 1890-1910

The word "circa" just means "approximately," and you'll see it used all the time when people are making educated guesses about when something was made. This includes jewelry. So, for instance, I say that the above clip thing (what is it for?) is circa 1910, because its style suggests that to me, but I can't pinpoint the date any more closely than that. People usually use "circa" when they have some degree of certainty about the general time frame of a piece. They don't just randomly guess.


A clamper is a hard bracelet with a spring-loaded hinge. To wear them, you have to open them, slip them around your wrist ...

... close them, and, if there is one, fasten the clasp. They can be wide like this one ...

... or thin ...

... like this one. Obviously, because these don't have to slip over your hand, the opening of a clamper can be smaller than the opening of a bangle. Therefore, they can sit closer to wrist and have a different look than bangles.

Again, do be sure they fit before you buy them. If your wrist is larger, they might not.

Claw Set

There are many ways to affix stones on and in jewelry, but claw set is one of the most common. It just means that little prongs of metal reach up and grab hold of the stone to hold it firmly in place. You can see the claw settings very clearly in the above brooch (which belonged to my great aunt). It's best if the claws wrap around the stone, even if just a tiny bit. In the above example, the jade stone is more secure than the faux pearl is.

Claw settings are a mark of a good piece of jewelry. If I see that the stones in a piece are simply glued in rather than claw set, I often won't even bother to buy them. Guaranteed, those stones are going to fall off eventually. Glue can only hold so long!

Now, there are a few other ways to securely set stones, like channel setting and bezel setting, and it's worth familiarizing yourself with those too, but, if the stones are glued? Don't spend a lot of money on the piece.

An earring!
Claw settings need not be large or intrusive. They can be delicate and dainty ...

From The Female Body in Peril: Rape as Fashion in the 70s and Beyond
... barely noticeable from a distance ...

Judy Lee
... or they can be used artfully, to add to the overall effect of the piece. Either way, you can feel more secure buying and wearing claw set pieces.

Centre: Sarah Coventry
Cocktail Ring

Cocktail rings are so fun! Especially popular in the 60s and 70s, they're large, flashy, chunky, gaudy, and, let's be honest, tacky. 

Usually rising way above the finger itself ...

... in some kind of architectural wonder, they're good, clean, camp fun. They're intentional, playful kitsch. They're meant to be kooky. A lot of my role models wore and still wear them.

The ring on the right is real diamonds and gold, by Birks. The one on the left is costume. From How My Insurance Company Used Rape Culture to (Almost) Defeat Me
In my opinion, the cheaper the materials made to use them, the better. They're not meant to be classy. You can find rings like these by the bucket load at second hand stores and garage sales, and, because they're often cheaply made, they're often adjustable, so you can wear them on any finger.

The top, lingerie pin has not been converted. The two bottoms ones have.

A conversion piece is one which has been altered so that it can be worn differently from the way the designer intended it to be worn. For example, the above pieces were originally all tiny, Victorian or Edwardian brooches (lingerie pins). I loved them, but they were so tiny, I seldom wore them, so I took them to a jeweler and got her to convert two of them ...

... into earrings, while the top one remains a brooch. 

I'm happy with the result, but I did deliberate about it for a long time. I like the idea of wearing a piece as it was originally intended to be worn, especially if it's very old. It makes me feel connected to women's history, and I like that. I also like to honour the piece as a work of art that should not be altered. Still, if a piece is just going to languish in a cupboard collecting dust, and altering it will lead you to wear it... well, that is better, isn't it?

You'll see a lot of pieces that have been altered, especially older pieces like Victorian brooches, watch fobs, and stick pins, because we just don't wear those sorts of things anymore. An honest jeweler or seller will tell you that the piece has been, but not all are as honest as you'd like.

Does alteration lower the price? Well, yes and no, depending. This pendant was once a brooch.

You can clearly see where someone inexpertly removed the hinge and clasp, and where they drilled a hole into the brooch and added a poorly matched bail. They did not do a good job and, consequently, I paid very little for it. The conversion not only changed the original design, but it really did detract from its overall beauty.

From Loved and Feared: Mucha's Maids and Females in Fairy Tales
Still, I don't really mind. I wear it and enjoy it, but know it's not quite as beautiful as it once was, and isn't worth as much either.

However, if a really good quality piece is expertly converted into something that people can wear more easily, well that might actually raise the price. I got these little, lingerie pins for about $30 a piece, but I suspect that, as a pair of earrings, they'd sell for a fair bit more than $60.

Cluster Earrings

Especially popular in the 1960s, and usually clip-ons, cluster earrings sport a little cluster of beads, usually in a circle, but occasionally dangling. The above ones are a particularly fine example because they're made with Murano beads, so I was excited to find them for a really good price (probably because of that one, tiny, metal bead corrupted by verdigris). 

Even so, I do know that cluster earrings can be gaudy.

Me, I have fun with gaudy jewelry. I like to have a sense of humour about what I wear, and I also like to feel like I'm time travelling when I get dressed, but not everyone feels as I do.


A convertible piece is simply one that is designed to be worn in more than one way. Most often, I see brooches that can also be worn as pendants.

It's a simple idea, and the versatility is most welcome.


Costume jewelry isn't made with real gold, real gems, etc. Most of its materials are not precious, but are, instead, inexpensive, and available in large supply. Obviously, costume jewelry is less expensive than fine jewelry.

However, you might be surprised by what constitutes "costume." For example, many costume pieces are made of silver. They can also be made of rolled gold, gold fill, gold plate, or vermeil (the last two being far more likely to tarnish and/or rub off). In addition, they can and often are made with semi-precious stones like amethyst, bohemian garnet, and turquoise, all stones that might also be used in fine jewelry.

Finally, some vintage, costume jewelry pieces can be quite expensive, even those using no gold, silver, or semi-precious materials. For example, early Trifari pieces, especially Trifari fruit salad pieces, can easily go for over $1,000. That said, were those same pieces made with fine materials, they would cost tens of thousands of dollars.


A cuff is a hard bracelet that is open on one end, with no clasp, so you can slip it over your wrist. In aid of this, it's often a bit flexible, and in an oval shape (ie the shape of your wrist), rather than a circle.

Size and style can vary widely and, like clampers, it fits closer to the wrist than a bangle does.

Cuff Links

Cuff links are an almost lost form of men's jewelry. This gorgeous, rose quartz pair were Beau's cuff links at our wedding. (They matched my rose gold earrings.) Because cuff links are so little used today, I got them for an insanely good price. 

In the past, a man's shirt cuff at his wrist would have a button hole on either side, and no button. He would slip each of the cuff link "buttons" through each of the button holes, with the "link" part holding the cuff together.

You can find a lot of beautiful, vintage cuff links in a wide variety of styles - for very little money. If you're like me, you're always tempted to buy them, but you don't know how you'd wear them. If I ever find a way, I'll start buying them by the bucket load. 

Because so few people can think of a way to wear cuff links nowadays, they're a perfect example of jewelry that might be worth more if they were converted. I've seen some beautiful earrings that were once cuff links. 


Damoscene is metal inlaid into another, darker metal, often oxidized steel. It's not that hard to find, so you shouldn't find yourself paying really high prices for it.

I got this one for a few dollars from a guy selling bits and bobs on the street. 

From Cozy Colours
I'm not a huge fan, but I do like how damoscene depicts birds and flowers and I do wear it from time to time.

Avon of Belleville

A demi-parure is a partial set of matching jewelry, while a full set of matching jewelry is a parure. A demi-parure could be any combination of pieces, but I've seen them most often as earrings with a matching brooch or pendant. I have many demi-parures which you'll see throughout these posts.

Costume jewelers often sold parures, or created whole lines of matching pieces from which customers could pick and choose. Sometimes people preferred or could afford just one piece in a line. Even when they bought demi-parures and parures, they almost inevitably got split up over the years. Not surprisingly then, the minute a seller has two pieces that match (two earrings count as one piece), the price goes up. You pay more for the two together than you would for each one sold separately. Often, it's worth it. 

But, if you have a piece you love, it can be fun to search for its partners to create your own demi-parure. In a shop, you might simply stumble upon something that matches a piece you have at home. But, if you're intentionally setting out to create a demi-parure (or parure), you'll have better luck online, in places like Etsy, where you can enter helpful search terms. This is one reason why it's useful to have a working knowledge of the terms used for jewelry. If I know the name of the maker, and the terms used to describe a piece, I'll have much better luck. 


A duette is a matching pair of dress clips. As with demi-parures, duettes are hard to find, since they so often got separated over time. 

From Rehearsing Masculinity: Gender Fuck in a Bow Tie
Again, if a seller has a duette, rather than a single dress clip, the price goes up. 

But what really brings the price of a duette up is the presence of the pin that goes with it. This is a kind of holy grail for buyers and sellers, as they're so very frequently lost, in part because people often don't know what they are and just toss them. If you found that ugly brooch in your grandmother's possessions, or at a thrift store, would you want it? Few would. But, if you find something that looks like this, keep looking to see if its dress clips are nearby because it makes it possible for you wear the clips ...

... as a single brooch!

They're designed so you can slip the dress clips ...

If this duette weren't so tiny, I'd swear they were fur clips. Fur clips are the same as dress clips, but they have prongs on the back, meant to grip fur tightly. If you choose to wear them on cloth instead, just be careful they don't rip it.
... through them ...

This is so dusty, you can't read that it's Coro. Sorry
... and fasten them securely.

They're very strange little mechanisms that can confound almost everyone, even professional jewelers. When I took this one to the man who made our wedding rings, he had to look at it through a loupe to figure out ...

... how to turn one ...

... into two! This means, of course, that you might find a duette that's being sold as a simple brooch because the seller doesn't know what she has. You can bet she'll be selling it for less than it's worth! So it's worth it to acquaint yourself with what a duette looks like from the back.

The woman selling this duette knew exactly what she had: a circa 1930s, Trifari, dress clip duette. She charged a fair price for it, which was a lot. This is the only time I've ever spent more than $100 on a piece of vintage, costume jewelry. I don't regret it at all. I even wore it on my cloak as we left our wedding!

Dress Clips

Oh my gosh, dress clips are so fun. Almost always made in matching pairs (duettes), dress clips are similar to brooches, except that, instead of pins on the back ...

... they have strong, hinged clips ...

... usually with prongs on them, to prevent them from slipping or even falling off your clothing. The smaller ones in particular can look a bit like clip-on earrings. That's what I thought they were when I saw them so often during my time working at Value Village in the early 1990s. When I think of all the pretty dress clips I could have bought with my employee discount - if only I'd known what they were! 

If you're really lucky, a seller will won't know she has a dress clip duette and will, instead, think she has a pair of earrings too painful to wear, and will therefore sell them at a really good price. That's how I got these juicy dress clips for only $13!

Dress clips were extremely popular in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, and, for this reason are strongly associated with Art Deco, and are often clearly in the Art Deco style. Now that you know what they are, you'll see them worn by glamorous women all over the place in old, black and white movies.

From Ration Fashion: A Wartime Dress
I assume they were originally designed to be worn in a similar fashion to lapel pins, one on each side ...

From 1930s Daywear: Fashion in Real Life
... and it's certainly fun to wear them this way.

From Cloche Hats, Dress Clips, and Aesthetic Escapism
... but, just as Hollywood stylists soon got creative with them, you can too. 

From Healing from Sexual Abuse: 26 Things that Work for Me
Getting creative not only gives you more ways to wear your duettes ...

From OOTD: On Dress Clips, 1940s Fashion, and my Bubbe Body
... but also gives you a reason to buy orphaned dress clips which are far easier to find ...

Where's the dress clip? In my hair, of course! (Tip: Don't clip it directly into your hair, where it will slip off and get lost, no matter how curly your hair is. Instead, clip it onto a barrette, ponytail holder, scrunchy, etc.) 
... and are more affordable too.

Gold, seed pearl, and peridot, this is not costume jewelry, but it's the only piece I have that I'm positive is Edwardian.

The Edwardian period spans the British King Edward VII's brief reign from 1901 (when his mum, Queen Victoria, died) to 1910. Some extend this period to 1914. Honestly, I find it very difficult to differentiate Edwardian jewelry from late Victorian jewelry, and many jewelers do too. You'll often find them selling a piece as "late Victorian or Edwardian."

Like Victorian jewelry, Edwardian brooches use c-clasps and longer pins. Like late Victorian jewelry, Edwardian jewelry often has a lacy, delicate quality to it, and often makes use of millgrain. Like late Victorian jewelry, Edwardian jewelry often includes seed pearls, and often prioritizes artistry over huge, flashy gems... I could go on, but I'm really not an expert. I just know that it's really pretty!

Avon of Belleville

Of course you know what earrings are, but you might not know the terms for certain kinds of earrings, or when they were invented. Here are just a few helpful terms.

Earrings: Clip-Ons

The main thing to remember about clip-ons is that they weren't widely used until the 1950s, or, at a pinch, the late 1940s. If you find clip-on earrings that the seller claims are from the 1940s or earlier, be suspicious.

Aptly named, clip-ons, very simply, clip on to your ear. You'll find a lot of weird experiments out there, but, for the most part, clip-ons come in this wider type ...

... and this thinner one. I don't have a particular preference. They can both be comfortable or painful. 

Yes, painful. A lot of people won't buy clip-ons because they think they're all painful. They're not. It depends on how tightly they grip your ear. If you find that they're too tight, you can gently bend back the part where they curve up and over, so that you reduce the angle of the curve. (Try using pliers.) I've found that helps a lot. 

Me, wearing clip-ons in my late 40s, and me wearing the same clip-ons at 17, at my high school grad. In both cases, my dresses are vintage.
Honestly, though, I love clip-ons so much that I'll often just suffer for fashion. I even wore a pair at my high school graduation!

Earrings: Screw-Backs

Invented in 1909, screw-back earrings (or simply screw-backs) have a little screw attached to the end of a hook, with the earring itself on the other end of the hook. 

From Bears, Books, and Brooches: A Childhood in the Wild Woods
You slip the hook over your earlobe, and screw it shut until it's firmly attached to your ear. Yes, it's a bother to get the earrings on symmetrically. Yes, you're always wondering if they're going to slip. And, yes, they can hurt once they're on tightly enough. 

No, I don't buy screw-backs all that often. They're finicky and annoying.

From Bears, Books, and Brooches: A Childhood in the Wild Woods
But, here's the thing. Because there was a time when it was considered unseemly for a woman to have pierced ears, there are certain styles that you simply cannot find for pierced ears. This is true of clip-ons and, if you want to wear even older styles, screw-backs too. 

From Bears, Books, and Brooches: A Childhood in the Wild Woods
Sometimes, I just can't resist going for the full-on, retro look, earrings included. 

From A Fashion Lineage: Frills and Flowers, Past and Present

And, of course, because so many people find screw-backs irritating, they're even cheaper than clip-ons! I can't remember how much I paid for this gold filled, demi-parure, but I know it was very affordable. (That's a brooch in my hair, fastened to a barrette.) 

Earrings: Post

These are pretty straight forward. Invented in 1920, post earrings have a post that you put through the piercing in a pierced ear. In the 1890s designers invented something similar to a post earring, but with a post that looks like a screw, and a screw-on backing. Before 1920, people with pierced ears also wore hooks, similar to the ones many of us wear with dangling earrings today.

Contrary to popular belief, longer, dangling earrings can also be post earrings (or clip-ons, or screw-backs). 

They work just fine.

Remember this: Never worry if a post earring doesn't have a backing. Earring backings are interchangeable, so you can use a backing from another earring for you backless one. Not only that, but you can buy packs of earring backings. I've seen them online and in craft stores. 

So, if you like it, and the price it right, just go for it.

From What Would Rosa Parks Do? Facing Online Haters with Style

As I understand it, enamel is a kind of glass powder that's fused to metal in a firing process (similar to glazing in a kiln?). The heating process brings out its great colour. 

The enameling process has been around for a very long time, so you'll find it in lots of antique and vintage jewelry, from the extremely expensive, to the very cheap. You can find a lot of lovely, inexpensive enamel. Now that you know what it is, you'll see it all over the place, including in this post.

Circa 1930s or 40s. Note that this earring is a screw-back, so that's a clue as to when it was made.

A facet is a flat surface cut into gemstone or faux gemstone. A faceted stone has many flat surfaces ...

Circa 1990s. This is a good example of a revival piece, in this case Victorian revival. It's also not very well made. Note that the cheap rhinestones are glued into place.
... cut at precise angles to maximize its "light play": its flash, shine, and sparkle. If you've ever seen a diamond ring, you've seen a faceted stone. There are many different types of faceting, known as "cut," but it's only important to know about them if you're purchasing jewelry made with real gems.

Notice that all the rhinestones in this brooch are claw-set, making it better quality than the previous brooch.
Faceting is used a lot in costume jewelry, on both faux (usually rhinestone) and semi-precious stones. It's what gives your pieces a great deal of their cheerful, pretty sparkle.


"Faux" is French for "fake." (Any Canadian can tell you that.) It's most often used for "stones" that could, conceivably be mistaken for the real thing. So, for example, "faux sapphires" are just fake sapphires, "faux opals" are fake opals, etc. It's a way for sellers to be honest, while still sounding chic. 


Figural jewelry depicts the form of an animal or a human. That's about all there is to it. 

I have very little figural jewelry. I don't usually like pieces that depict animals, especially if they're cutesy wootsy. Cutesy jewelry makes me feel like I'm trying to be a child, and that doesn't appeal to me at all! But something really vicious like an alligator? Well, maybe. I wore this brooch ensemble on the first Women's March right after Trump was elected. The idea was that his crown of hubris was being devoured by a scary beast, and, presiding over all, a vaginal flower. (Yes, I do have an MA in English Literature. Why do you ask?)

Sarah Coventry
So, no cutesy animals, usually, but I did give in and get these deer to wear in Decembers.

I'm also not a fan of jewelry that depicts humans because those depictions are virtually always of beautiful, young, slim, white women, practically still girls, and the feminist in me rankles at that. We're people, not objects of art, and, until scantily clad men are as common in figural art as women? Not for me.

But I do like birds. 

(Also butterflies, because I inherited some from my grandmother.) 

Circa 1970s. This brooch is enamel.
I love and feed birds in real life. Their depictions in jewelry are symbolic of freedom for me ...

From What I Won't Wear, and What I Will Wear Instead
... which is why I often wear them when I'm feeling down. You can just make out a Coro bird at my throat there, so, in total, I'm wearing five birds, not to mention the birds on my dress.


Filigree is easy to recognize but a bit hard to define. Basically, it's twisted threads of metal, delicately interwoven and attached to stronger bits - creating an overall lacy, airy, complex look. I have no idea why, but I'm not a huge fan of filigree. My great aunt was though. I inherited several pieces from her, including this one ...

... and this one, both of which appear to be such good quality that I've checked and rechecked to see if they're gold or at least gold-fill, but they appear to simply be very good gold tone

Look closely. I'm wearing the brooch to hold my wrap skirt closed. From Gorgeous Golden Light: Loving Autumn. I recently looked at this piece again, and I think it might be Indian, and real gold.
Though I don't wear them often, I love to remember my aunt just by having them in my home. (You can see my great aunt at the end of The ABCs of Collecting Vintage Costume Jewelry: H - Z. These two posts are dedicated to her.)

The V shaped pin bar on the back of this brooch is a finding. If you find one simply glued onto a brooch, expect it to break eventually.

Findings are those little jewelry components (excluding beads, stones, etc) that come pre-made so jewelers can use them when constructing pieces. 

Findings include ready-made pins that can be glued on the backs of brooches, spacers between beads, claps, posts for earrings, etc. Craft stores are full of findings.

If you're a crafty person, you can buy vintage findings to repair broken jewelry, or to make your own. I, however, am not a crafty person - at all - so, for me, knowing about findings simply helps me date a piece and evaluate its quality. For example, sometimes I'll reject a piece which uses a finding when it would have been better quality if the jeweler had made the same component by hand. (I'll show you an example in my section on guilloche.)

The earrings and rings are fine jewelry. The necklace is costume jewelry. (I designed the earrings and my wedding rings.) From Spring Flowers, Diamonds, and Real Women in the 1930s

Fine jewelry is made with real, precious (and semi-precious) gemstones and precious metals. This is where you find diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, gold, platinum, and the like. Antique fine jewelry can also include silver, but it seldom does anymore. 

This ring is also a good example of both filigree, and of cabachon. From Fat Shaming, Victim Blaming, and How Disability Twitter Made Me Feel Like a Superhero
Basically, this is the expensive stuff. But it can sometimes show up in thrift stores, or at garage sales, etc. If you see a number followed by "k" stamped anywhere discreet on a piece, it's gold, so take a closer look. (It could also be gold fill, but that has an extra marking to go with it.) I got this carnelian and gold ring for $5!!

An unfoiled brooch, circa 1960s
Foiled and Unfoiled

Unfoiled stones (faux or otherwise) ...

... are set with no metal behind them ...

... allowing natural light to shine through them.

From How My Insurance Company Used Rape Culture to (Almost) Defeat Me
If the stones are larger, this also allows some transparency so that whatever is behind them - a coat, a patterned print, etc - will affect their appearance. 

From How My Insurance Company Used Rape Culture to (Almost) Defeat Me
Whether or not you like that is totally a matter of personal preference. 

You saw the front of this brooch in the section on aurora.
You won't find that this happens with smaller, unfoiled stones.

Conversely, foiled stones (faux or otherwise) ...

... have shiny metal placed behind them ...

... to enhance their sparkle and shine, and to eliminate any transparency. I wanted to show you this particular, foiled brooch because it's an example of what happens when the foil tarnishes, chips, or is otherwise damaged. I don't see this very often, but it's something to watch out for.

Just from what I've seen as an avid collector, in costume jewelry, foiled stones are more popular than unfoiled ones.

Fresh Water Pearls

Yes, they're real pearls. No, they're not very valuable. Fresh water pearls are just what they sound like: pearls grown in fresh water. You can find them in many shapes and many pastel colours. I think they're beautiful. I love the subtle colour play on their surfaces, even on the white ones. They just look yummy, don't they?

This vintage, fresh water pearl necklace was a gift from a wonderful neighbour who got me through some tough times. She even rescued me from spiders on many occasions. 

I didn't go into this in the section on claps, but this is a box clasp. They were invented around 1910, and are especially common on pearl necklaces.
Though I love the pearls themselves, I love their silver, box clasp even more.

Fruit Salad

Oh how I wish I owned a real, fruit salad piece to show you but, alas, alack, they are quite rare, and, if a seller knows what she's got, very expensive. A real fruit salad piece by Trifari can go for a few thousand dollars!

circa 1930s
This dress clip is the closest I've come to owning a fruit salad piece. I think it's plastic. The real deal, however, was made with jewel-toned glass, molded into fruit, leaf, and flower shapes, and was popular in the 1930s and 40s. They were initially designed by Trifari to look like Cartier's Tutti Frutti, fine gem collection, and they did a good job of it. Of course, there were soon lots of imitators, and their pieces can be great too.

This brooch is a much later piece, and is definitely not Fruit Salad, but the vibrant, ruby red, glass centre ...

... can give you a little sense of what to expect from a Fruit Salad piece. 


Well, you know what glass is, of course. 

Sarah Coventry
Glass is a key component in a lot of costume jewelry, often taking the place of real gems, especially deeply coloured gems. Many rhinestones are made of glass. Enamel is made of glass powder. Molded glass can be absolutely scrumptious. Glass beads are ubiquitous. Murano glass is dreamy .... And on it goes. 

From Thanksgiving: A Study in Orange
Don't ever turn your nose up at a piece just because it has glass components. Glass is a good thing, certainly often better than plastic.

An uncharacteristically clear, helpful, gold fill marking on my grandmother's bracelet. I looked up the company name, HD, but I forget already. Sorry.
Gold Filled

Gold filled jewelry is made of a non-precious metal but then covered with a generous layer (or layers) of real gold, well bonded to the underlying metal. Unlike gold plate, which is very thin, and not well bonded to the metal, gold fill is unlikely to rub off, and will maintain its real gold finish for a lifetime ...

The top bracelet is gold filled. From Gorgeous Golden Light: Loving Autumn
... or more! My grandmother probably got this gold filled bracelet in the 1950s or 60s, and, as you can see, it's maintained its gold surface beautifully. 

I love gold filled jewelry. It's got all the warmth and glow of real gold, at a fraction of the price. Though you may have to pay more for gold fill than for gold tone, I'm always surprised by how inexpensive gold filled jewelry is. I keep expecting collectors and sellers to catch on, and for prices to rise accordingly.

As with most informational markings on jewelry, gold filled stamps can often be tiny and very difficult to read. (Thus my constant suggestion that collectors own loupes.) You'll very often see a "1/20" stamp, meaning that the piece is 5% gold. After that, you're likely to see a karat stamp, in this case, "12k," meaning that the gold is 12 karat. Therefore, you know that this piece is 5%, 12 karat gold. (For more on gold karats, click here.)

"Bal-Ron" is the name of the company that made this piece. Therefore, this piece is "signed."
So is this one, marked on the back of a brooch ...

I could be wrong, but it looks like M&S was the marking for Marks and Spencer
... and one, on the head of a screw-back earringThese last two markings are typical of 1940s, gold fill markings. Gold fill was very much in vogue in the 1940s, so it's pretty easy to find gold filled pieces from the time, at quite reasonable prices.

Rolled gold was used a lot in Victorian jewelry, and is almost as good as gold fill. I have a section about it in part II of this series.

Now what about gold plate? It's not great. You won't often find older, gold plate pieces that are in good shape because the gold plate wears off much more easily. 

And don't even talk to me about vermeil, which is often used in new pieces these days. The gold plating of vermeil is practically just a dusting, and will wear off and/or tarnish quickly and easily. It's very pretty, but, if you do buy it, treat it with care, store it where it can't get scratched, and don't over-polish it.

Le Couturier (This was one of Boucher's companies, so marks it as designed by Boucher.)
Gold Tone 

Sometimes spelled "goldtone," "gold tone" is just another way of saying "fake gold." (And "silver tone" is another way of saying "fake silver.") If a seller refers to her piece as gold tone, she's not trying to trick you, she's just describing the colour of the metal. 

Usually, you can tell if a piece is gold tone and not real gold. It lacks the distinctive mellow, warm quality of real gold. But there's nothing wrong with it. It's costume. Most of my vintage pieces are gold or silver tone.

O.F. Hjortdahl 
Guilloche Enamel

Guilloche enamel combines two jewelry making techniques. First, guilloche is a "mechanical engraving technique" in which complex, delicate patterns are carved onto metal. The metal is then coated with a "translucent layer of enamel," creating a really beautiful effect. 

David Andersen. From Gay Pride: Charlotte Goes Camp
Sometimes, the enamel is a plain, single shade, so that the colour and the underlying guilloche are the "stars" of the pieces, as with these three butterflies that belonged to my grandmother. These three are at least 60 years old, probably older, and they haven't lost a bit of their vibrancy. (A quick polish would bring the shine of the silver back too.)

I'll admit that I bought this dress specifically to wear with this brooch. And blue isn't even my colour!

David Andersen and O.F. Hjortdahl 
Other times, rather than giving a guilloche piece a single, vibrant colour, details are added, like colour variations, or borders and hand painted flowers.

From Bodies as Bait: Betty, Veronica, and Me
I get constant compliments ...

... on my better guilloche enamel pieces ...

... and I can see why!

Because they're stunning, and because of their great craftsmanship, high end guilloche enamel can be expensive. My David Andersen butterflies go for about $100 a piece, often far more for the multi-coloured ones, though I got pretty good deals on the two that I bought for myself (the green one and the multi-coloured one). 

So what distinguishes high end guilloche enamel from the more affordable pieces? First of all, the Scandanavian designers are renowned for their quality, guilloche pieces. If you're lucky, the piece will be very clearly hallmarked with the designer's name and location. Here we have everything: DA for David Andersen; a 925 Sterling hallmark; Andersen's scales hallmark; the country where the piece was made; and, just in case, we didn't understand "925," a Sterling stamp as well. Such clarity is rare.

Far more commonly, you'll see something confounding like this. You've got your 925S for silver. And then you've got a teensy, tiny flower, the hallmark of the designer. I'm hopeless at hallmarks. 

In cases like these, you have to let the craftsmanship of the piece speak for itself. Personally, I don't think you could look at this and miss the fact that it's high quality. So, for $10, I snapped it up. Who wouldn't? 

I had to do a tonne of research before finding that this is the hallmark of the Scandinavian designer, O.F. Hjortdahl, and could easily go for as much as $300! Obviously, this was not research I could do while sitting in the thrift store. I knew I liked it. I knew it was good quality. I knew it was silver. I knew $10 was a good price. But I did not know just how good that price was till I got it home.

Lower quality guilloche can be very pretty too, so please do enjoy it, and enjoy the lower prices! 

What makes it lower quality? Take a look at the rest of the piece. Is it real silver, or a plain, base metal? Is the metal surface chipping? Does it look like it could bend too easily? Is the guilloche enamel itself chipping? Is it affixed to the larger piece as if its a separate, added finding

A cheaply made, but still pretty, (fake?) guilloche enamel, pill box
If you answered yes to these questions, the guilloche, or the enamel, or both, might be findings, component pieces bought in bulk and affixed to the larger piece, hopefully with prongs, but sometimes with glue. If you like them, and the price is right, go ahead and buy them. But don't pay too much, because they won't last forever.

A red cross pin, probably Canadian, probably from WWII. I wonder if it was damaged in the war itself.
One more note about guilloche enamel. It was often used for small, pins denoting everything from a curling club membership, to one's red cross status. Their quality can be really quite astonishing, and, because they're so niche, they tend to be less expensive than more decorative pieces of similar quality. I got a particularly good deal on this one: only $4! Of course, they're niche for a reason. I was so fascinated by it, I just had to have it. In fact, I was so very fascinated by it that I bought a few more, and made a video about them.

From Spring Flowers, Diamonds, and Real Women in the 1930s
And that's A-G! Read the second installment of The ABCs of Collecting Vintage Costume Jewelry, right here, on Sublime Mercies.

(I'm sharing this with High Latitude Style.)