Buying a piece of antique jewelry can be daunting sometimes, but knowing the worth of the piece can help you decide. Ultimately, I believe you should just love it - regardless. This guide is more for the level headed individual (that of which I am not). So, one criteria to help you decide is it's 'weight in gold' - literally. Knowing the different gold karats is important when you're considering buying a piece of jewelry. The karat of an item can help you determine its quality and value. Yet you should never buy jewelry for just the resale value. The resale value of jewelry can be much like art.
Pure gold is referred to as 24 karat (and spelled CARAT outside of the US and Canada). Pure gold is rarely used as it is extremely soft. 24 karat means that it is 100 percent gold. As the percentage drops the gold is mixed with other alloys (when two metals are mixed, it is then referred to as an alloy).
♛ 22 karat - 916 (91.6%)
♛ 20 karat - 833 (83.3%
♛ 18 karat - 750 (75%)
♛ 14 karat - 585 (58.8%)
♛ 10 karat - 417 (41.7)
♛ 9 karat - 375 (37.5)
Pieces from the UK and Europe will have several stamps or markings. These stamps all represent different things. The first stamp in a series is oftern the Maker's Mark. It is a unique stamp placed on jewelry and watches to ensure the authenticity. These stamps are typically made up of the makers initials or another unique symbol. Identifying this mark is the first step in determining the value of a piece of jewelry. In addition to the Maker's Marks, some countries require hallmarks, which are given by the country where the manufacturing took place. In addition is another stamp or stamps indicting the metal content, and the last stamp is typicaly the date it was made. There are many referrences on line to help you decifer these stamps. Collector Kate Miller-Wilson has written a great article on ways to get your item appraised for free. The Jewellery Muse and have some great information regarding hallmarks as well.
Alloy Mark 750 / 18 karat Your choice in karat is a very personal thing. Many older pieces of jewelry have a lower karat to make it more affordable. Centuries ago only the elite upper class could afford jewelry at all. Lowering the karat made it more accessible. The lower the karat the less brillent the yellow will be in the piece. In addition it is the other metals contained in gold that can often cause an irritation and leave a mark on the skin. Someone who has an allergy will find relief when they wear a highrer grade of gold. European gold often has soft rose hint, much different then the U.S. rose gold. Rose gold is created by mixing the gold alloy with cooper and silver. The different combinations of the alloy amounts create the different hues.
Many antique pieces will be Gold Filled. Gold filled is a process where heat and pressure are applied to bond the gold alloy to one or both surfaces of a brass core (or silver). Gold-filled contains 5% or 1/20 gold alloy by weight. This 5% must also be described by the karatage of the gold on the surface. So pieces made with a 14k gold layer are labled 14/20 GF. and 12k is labeled 12/20 GF.. Many quality antique pieces are gold fill, these pieces can last 100 years or longer if care is taken.
Rolled Gold Thin sheets of gold are fused to a brass core to make rolled-gold. However, rolled gold is only required to be 1/40 gold by weight, making the gold content much lower than gold-filled. Vermeil The item has a silver core with a gold plating. The process of creating gold vermeil involves electrolysis. The term is regulated by the industry and it must meet certain standards such as a silver base of 92.2 percent, a layer of 2.5 microns of gold and gold purity must be a minimum of 10 karats Gold-plated or gold Electroplate The piece is made of base metal and the gold is bonded the the base by an electrical current. This thin coating is unmeasurable. Gold Pinchbeck Pinchbeck is is a form of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc mixed in proportions so it closely resemble gold in appearance.
The bracelet to the left is a piece we purchased that was 'pinchbeck'. As you can see it really does look gold! Regardless, it was a beautiful, full of detail and totally unique.