A Glossary of Jewellery Terms
The world of jewellery is home to many words and terms that enthusiasts and connoisseurs will be familiar with but which may baffle the uninitiated. Here then to help you tell your carat from your cut is our handy glossary of jewellery terms.
Acrostic is a word usually reserved for poems, but can be applied to other areas- including jewellery!
An acrostic poem is a poem in which the first letter of each line spells out a word or message to the reader. In the same way a piece of acrostic jewellery uses the first letter of each gemstone present to spell out the message!
For instance, popular acrostic rings from the Victorian and Edwardian eras spell out the word "DEAREST" (Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire, Tourmaline), "ADORE" (Amethyst, Diamond, Opal, Ruby, Emerald) or as shown in the image "BELOVED".
Refers to an optical phenomenon. It's the special shine or "glow" that we find in certain gemstones, most notably Moonstones.
(It can also be found in other gemstones such as Agates, and Rose Quartz but is not always present).
Aesthetic is a word to describe a look, style or type of beauty. It can also be used to describe the underlying principles of an Artist or an Artistic Movement.
For instance, instead of saying "This necklace is beautiful", we might say "this necklace gives great aesthetic pleasure".
Or, instead of saying "This locket looks Victorian", we might say "this locket has a Victorian aesthetic".
Aestheticism is a 19th Century Movement that wanted to emphasise the visual (or aesthetic!) value of Art. It focussed on the beauty of nature and the innate visual elements of a composition - whether in furniture, material, wallpaper, or jewellery.
Aestheticism was heavily influenced by Japanese Art, with birds, butterflies, peacocks, storks, trees, bamboo, simplistic Japanese-style landscapes and leaves becoming popular motifs.
(Please also see Victorian Aesthetic).
Proserpine, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1877 - Source the Tate.
The word antique refers to something that is 100 years old, or more. (If something is 99 and a half years old, it is not yet antique!)
An alloy describes the combination of two or more metals in jewellery. For example, 9ct gold being combined with varying amounts of other metals such as silver - the naturally occurring form of which is known as Electrum.
"Austro-Hungarian" refers to the Austro-Hungarian Empire- a dual monarchy that combined to rule Austria and Hungary from 1867 to 1910.
Austro-Hungarian Map, Source - Wikimedia Commons
The Art Deco era takes its name from "Arts Décoratifs", an international exhibition of modern decorative and industrial Art that was held in Paris in 1925.
There is much discussion over the definitive dates of the Art Deco era. Some say anything from 1920's onwards is Art Deco, with sticklers saying it's not until 1925 that the era formerly begins.
Similarly, some say the Art Deco spans ar into the 1930's, with the influence still being seen in Art, Architecture and jewellery all the way up to the 1940's, with others seeing 1935 as a firm end to the Era.
Back and Front
"Back and front" refers to items of jewellery that are made up of parts solid precious metal and parts of other metals. Back and front lockets, for instance, are usually made of a solid Gold (or Silver) panel on each side, with metal hinges, sides and frames.
Back and front Gold and back and front Silver lockets were especially popular during the Victorian and Edwardian era. The reason why so many of these exist in such fantastic condition today is that they, ingeniously, combine the strength and durability of Steel or other base metal with the beauty of Silver and Gold!
Baroque style jewellery boasts characteristics popularised following the peak of the Renaissance from the 15th to early 18th centuries. These characteristics include floral motifs, flowing lines and an obsession with symmetry.
The Crucifixition Pendant, c.16th Century, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
"Baroque" is also a term used to describe Pearls with an irregular or non-spherical shape.
Pendant in the form of Sea Monster (with a Baroque Pearl), Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bezel settings (or "rubbed-over" settings as they are sometimes known) are gemstones settings here a rim of metal folds over the top of the gem to keep it in place.
Antique 18ct Moss Agate Ring (great example of a Bezel setting), Source - Lillicoco
Black diamonds come in two forms – natural black diamonds and enhanced black diamonds, the latter of which are significantly more affordable than the former. Finding natural black diamonds is a hard and expensive task.
A book-chain is a special kind of necklace that was first seen in the 1800's during the reign of the Victorians. Book-chain links have a unique and quite identifiable look to them, usually with rectangular or simple, geometric links that are flat and lay close to the neck, often resembling the shape of an open book- hence the name!
A bolt-ring is a type of fastening often used to close necklaces and bracelets. They can be made from many metals, including Steel, Silver, Platinum and Gold and feature a simple spring-loaded bolt that keeps the ring closed when pressure is not being applied to keep it closed.
Burnishing refers to the technique used to polish metal by creating friction. A burnisher is a piece of metal with a handle that is run across metal to polish it.
A cabochon is a gem that has been polished as opposed to faceted. They are usually round or oval-shaped gemstones (although they can also be other more unusual shapes such as marquise or pear-shaped) and have a flat faceted bottom and a domed or rounded-off top.
Georgian 12ct Gold Garnet Cabochon Necklace, Source - Lillicoco
Cameo refers to a type of engraving that creates artefacts or items of jewellery with a raised design or motif.
Wedgewood Cameo, c.1780-1800, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Carat is a unit of mass that is used in the jewellery industry to describe the weight of gemstones and diamonds. One carat is equivalent to 200 milligrams.
Carat is also term used to signify the purity of Gold, and is often seen in its abbreviated form "ct".
24ct Gold is pure Gold in its natural form with no additional alloys added and 22ct Gold is very pure Gold that's soft and malleable and has a bright yellow lustre. 18ct Gold Gold is a high purity metal found in quality jewellery, but it can be yellow, rose or white.
Carats or "finenesses" of Gold vary throughout the world, and have varied throughout history according to the trends, fashions and materials available at the time.
9ct Gold and 10ct Gold is very popular in Britain and USA, whilst 14ct Gold is popular throughout Europe. Some Gold carats were available in historical times but are no longer manufactured, such as 12ct Gold and 15ct Gold and
Ceylon is a term used to describe a gemstones' provenance as Ceylon or Sri-lankan. Ceylon is the British Colonial name of Sri-Lanka, where may of the earths finest gemstones derive. Gems of fine Ceylon quality include Ceylon Sapphires and Ceylon Moonstones.
Art Nouveau Ceylon Moonstone and Demantoid Garnet Pendant, Source - Lillicoco
Cuts describe the specific shape of a gemstone, such as pear, square, oval, round, heart, octagon, amongst many others.
"Duty" is an old-fashioned British word for tax. Duty was paid to the King or Queen on all precious metals (of Silver and Gold) assayed in Great Britain from 2nd December 1784 to 30th April 1830.
(Please note, although many items from this time period may have a duty mark present, not all antique items are hallmarked at all, and this is not necessarily a reflection of their provenance or quality! )
The Edwardian era is the period in British history that Kind Edward reigned the throne, from 1901-1910.
King Edward VII, Albumen Print, 9th August 1902, Source - The National Portrait Gallery
Enamel is the material produced when coloured powdered glass paste is fused onto metal to create a decorative surface resonant of glass. Enamelling is an old, well-established technique within the jewellery industry.
Antique Enamel Pansy Brooch - Source Pinterest.
A facet is a side or face of a gem where it has been cut.
Gemstones are faceted, or "cut" with special instruments to change their shape and give them a more sparkly or alluring appearance.
Filigree is an ornamental type of metalwork that's often used in jewellery. We see it used throughout the Edwardian era, Art Deco era, and beyond and has a delicate or fairy look about it.
Sometimes thin strands of metal are used to create an openwork design or lattice, whilst other craftsmen use tools to saw into a sheet of metal, and remove sections of it to create a scrolled or decorative pattern. Both of these methods can be used to create filigree work.
The term fineness describes the amount of gold or silver found in a metal alloy. The fineness of a piece of jewellery is usually expressed in per thousand.
A diamond that is flawless is void of blemishes and inclusions when looking under a 10x magnification. A flawless diamond is considered the highest grading in terms of the clarity of the diamond.
The Graff Venus, Flawless 118.88 carat heart shape Diamond - Source Graff
The Georgian era was a period in British history that begun in the year 1714 and ended in the year 1837. It spans a time where the Kings George I, George II, George III, and the short reign of George IV,(between 1830 and 1887).
"Giardinetti" is an Italian word meaning "gardens" and describes a type of jewellery given to important women in society during the early to 18th Century and often depicted beautiful flowers, leaves or fruit made from Rubies, Diamond, Emeralds and other precious gems.
A girandole is a term used to describe a decorative branched candlestick or light fitting, often resembling a much larger chandelier. They came into use in the mid 17th Century and were typically made and displayed in pairs.
Similarly, in jewellery terms, a girandole refers to a type of earring that was first seen as far back as 1660, but came into popularity in the 18th Century. A girandole earrings are composed of delicate construction, with three pear-shaped pendants.
A piece of jewellery's hallmark describes the mark that has been stamped on it as a guarantee of the item’s authenticity. The mark comprises of four components, the sponsor mark, standard mark, Assay Office mark and the date letter.
Art Deco 18ct Gold Signet Ring, Source - Lillicoco
An ideal-cut is a diamond which features a series of mirrors and prisms. Such mirrors and prisms affect the way the light is returned out of the top of the diamond, rather than the bottom or side.
Knotting describes the technique of tying small knots between each pearl to prevent them from rubbing together causing an item of pearl jewellery like a necklace to break.
Rare German Amethyst Knotted Necklace, Source - Lillicoco
Mother-of-pearl is the name given to a gemstone that is made of pearl oyster. Also known as nacre, mother-of-pearl is an iridescent layer of material, which makes up the lining of mollusks and is most commonly found in pearl oysters.
Antique 18ct Gold Enamel and Mother of Pearl Collar Studs, Source - Lillicoco
"Navette" is a French word meaning "little boat", and refers to the elegant marquise or boat shape seen in many rings from the Victorian era.
A nickel in jewellery terminology refers to a metal that’s regularly used in fashion jewellery and occasionally in gold jewellery as an alloy. Some recommend avoiding jewellery made from nickel due to the material being associated with allergic reactions.
Patina is the word used to describe the effect of a piece of jewellery aging naturally. Patina is usually caused by oxidation. The aging effect includes tiny scratches emerging on the surface of the jewellery that are almost invisible. Such scratches eventually form together to create a lustrous, desirable finish.
Victorian Silver Paste Heart Pendant (a fabulous example of Silver Patina!), Source - Lillicoco
A pendeloque is a special type of earring consisting of a smaller round or pear-shaped stone at the top and a larger, often more elaborate pear-shaped drop at the bottom.
Pearlescent refers to the appearance of a gemstone that is not necessarily a pearl. A pearlescent finish is typically of an illusory depth and appears to possess multiple layers of semi-transparent coatings.
Quartz is one of our planet’s most abundant of minerals. This hard material consists of silica and oxygen atoms. There are different varieties of quartz, including ametrine, rose quartz, amethyst, rock crystal and more.
Quartz crystal, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Rose cuts are an antique gem cut, one of the oldest cuts that we know of. The first rose cuts are thought to have emerged in the 1500s, and feature a flat bottom facet and many angular facets. They're often described as like a faceted cabochon.
Victorian Rose Cut Diamond Drop Earrings, Source - Lillicoco
The process of rolled gold was formed in the 19th century and involves a sheet of gold being laminated onto a base metal. The layers are then heated under pressure until they fuse together. The fused metal is then rolled into a thin sheet which is used to make jewellery.
Sterling is a British term used to denote fine quality Silver with fineness (or purity) or 925 parts pure Silver per thousand or higher.
Setting in jewellery terminology refers to the way in which a gemstone is held in a piece of jewellery. Channel, bezel and prong are all different types of setting.
Toi et Moi
"Toi et moi" literally translates from French as "you and me". It is often used to reference an item of jewellery where two gemstones are united symbolically, such as in a toi et moi Diamond engagement ring.
"Victorian era" refers to anything that relates to the reign of the Queen Victoria- for instance a Victorian locket is a locket that was made during her reign.
Although Queen Victoria was born on 24th May 1819, her reign began on 20th June 1819 and ended when she died in 1901.
Portrait of Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, c.1859, Source - Wikimedia Commons
The term "Victorian Aesthetic" refers to the style and look that was popular during Victorian era.
Queen Victoria was very influential in terms of dictating what styles of clothes and jewellery would be popular throughout her reign, and her reign coincided with a wider movement, both in Art and wider culture in 19th Century England, called "Aestheticism".
In jewellery Aesthetic Movement motifs from the natural world such as birds, bees, butterflies, Japaneses-style minimal landscapes and trees were combined with striking geometric shapes and patterns such as stars, studs, stripes, zig-zags and paisley.
The majority of jewellery from the Victorian Aesthetic era is made in high purity Sterling Silver, some with accents of Yellow, Rose or sometimes Green Gold as stylized flowers and foliage, with the best examples dating circa 1880-1890.
Vintage is commonly known as anything over 20 years of age. It can be used to refer to clothing, furniture, jewellery and many other collectors items.
White gold is a popular type of gold, which is made by combining pure gold with an alloy of other white or light-coloured metals, such as Zinc, Palladium, Platinum and sometimes Nickel. White Gold is then plated (or covered) with Rhodium to improve the striking bright white colour and polish.
(*Nickel is not used in jewellery from the UK as 1/10 people are allergic to it!)
White Gold was invented in Germany the 19th Century, and became very popular in the mid 1920's as a lower-cost substitute for Platinum.