What is Antique Gold Jewellery?
It is likely that you have heard the term “it’s worth the weight in Gold”, but if something is really precious then it's likely worth more than that, it’s worth its weight in antique Gold. But what exactly is antique Gold? If you are wondering whether to invest in a modern Gold vs antique Gold, our antique Gold jewellery guide will help you make your decision. From antique Gold hallmarks to the different Gold purities and antique Gold colours, here is our extensive guide to glittering, gorgeous and great Gold.
What is Antique Gold?
Admired by Kings and Queens for thousands of years, the history of Gold is incredibly prolific. Whether shaped into an ancient Gold torque or antique Gold ring, Gold is arguably the most decorated of the chemical elements. But what is different from the Gold crafted thousands of years ago, hundreds of years ago and the Gold produced today?
For a piece to be a genuine piece of antique Gold jewellery it has to be over 100 years old. So, currently, any Gold piece that's from 1921 or older is an authentic antique.
In its purest form, Gold is known as 24ct Gold, but this is far too soft for it to be worn. For Gold jewellery to be wearable it needs to be mixed with different metal alloys. These can range from Zinc to Silver and Copper. Most modern Gold jewellery is standardised carats of 18ct Gold, 14ct Gold and 9ct Gold, with 9ct Gold being cheaper and more durable than 14ct Gold.
However you can find antique 15ct Gold and antique 12ct Gold. Both 15ct Gold and 12ct Gold were discontinued in England in 1932. So, if you come across a tested and hallmarked 15ct Gold or 12ct Gold piece you know that you have a genuine old Gold article on your hands!
Much like modern Gold, antique Gold can also be found in varying colours like Yellow Gold, White Gold and Rose Gold. However, these colours are very different to modern Yellow Gold or modern Rose Gold. Today there is a standardised procedure for creating these specific colours and tones, whereas, back in the Victorian era, the Gold was a literal melting pot of different alloys.
For example, this gorgeous antique 9ct Rose Gold Albert chain is a much warmer tone of Gold with an amber copper-like finish. This is very different to a contemporary Rose Gold chain which is far more “pink” in colour due to the standard alloy ratio of 43% Copper, 37% Gold and 20% Silver. So, even though we say that a piece is Victorian Rose Gold, you must expect a very different hue to contemporary Rose Gold pieces.
Is Antique Gold Real Gold?
Yes, antique Gold is real Gold! However, much of antique Gold isn’t hallmarked, which is why many believe that antique Gold isn’t “real’ Gold, this naturally leads us onto our next point:
Is Antique Gold Always Marked?
So, this is a tricky one as antique Gold isn’t always hallmarked, but this doesn’t mean that antique Gold isn’t real solid Gold. As illustrated in our “what makes a piece of jewellery antique” blog, British jewellery hallmarking is a 700 year old practise, but one that wasn’t officially a legal requirement until 1973. So, it was up to the jeweller’s discretion during the Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco eras to have a piece hallmarked.
In fact, it is common practise for 90% of antique jewellery to not have hallmarks. Not to mention, if the jewel was really old, the sight of hallmarks would be even rarer!
During the 18th to early 20th century jewellery hallmarking was costly, so for many jewellers it just wasn’t worth it - especially if they were working on a purely commission basis.
So, how can we tell if a piece is antique if it's not hallmarked? First and foremost, if the piece tests as 15ct Gold or 12ct Gold, we are very confident that the piece is antique. And, the Gold is darker, warmer or more buttery in tone, then it also is probably antique Gold. Not to mention, if the piece is overtly Victorian, Edwardian or Georgian in style then again, we can be very confident that we are dealing with the genuine article!
What are the different types of antique Gold?
It’s not just the purities of antique Gold that you need to be aware of, but you also should know a little bit about the different types of antique Gold jewellery terms and techniques. For example, what is the difference between rolled Gold, Gold cased and Gold plated (with the latter being more widely used in contemporary jewellery).
Gold filled jewellery are pieces crafted from a layer of solid Gold mechanically bonded to a base of Sterling Silver or base Metal. The solid Gold layer usually accounts for at least 5% of the item’s total weight.
Can you tell if a piece of jewellery is Gold filled? By eye, the Gold filled jewellery will have the same or similar appearance of high carat Gold (18ct to 22ct), but only through accurate metal testing will you be able to tell if it is.
Below is an antique 15ct Gold Filled pocket watch. It is common-place for pocket watches not to be solid Gold as they need to be crafted from stronger metals to work and function day to day. The 15ct Gold filled gives it the appearance of a warmer richer hue, without sacrificing the watches' inner mechanics.
The best thing is that Gold filled jewellery is very wearable, with the Gold layer lasting over from 10 to 30 years depending on how often you wear the piece. This is because Gold filled jewellery is 5 to 10 times thicker than Gold plated jewellery.
So we have learnt about Gold filled, but what is Gold plated? Gold plated jewellery is where a thin layer of Gold is deposited over the surface of another metal through electrochemical plating. This is usually either Copper or Silver, with the latter being known as “Silver Gilt” in the jewellery industry.
In comparison to other forms of Gold plating, “Gold Plate” is far thinner, less durable and cheaper to make. This process was first invented in the 1840s, but it is still widely used today. Essentially, if you are buying a cheap piece of Gold-coloured jewellery, it is likely that it is crafted from Gold plate.
Gold plating can often be confused with Gold vermeil. Gold plating is only 0.5 microns thick, whereas Gold vermeil is often 2.5 microns thick. You will learn more about Gold vermeil below.
Rolled Gold is an almost exclusive antique jewellery definition for a style of Gold plating that was first invented in Birmingham in 1785 and then patented in England in 1817. This allowed for Gold jewellery to be accessible to the wider Victorian public, allowing jewellers to craft a variety of designs without the high price.
Rolled Gold is made by a layer of Gold being mechanically bonded to brass or copper. Like Gold filled jewellery, Rolled Gold jewellery is around 5% of the total item weight.
Rolled Gold is a much thicker layer of Gold than Gold plating. In fact, rolled Gold is actually 100x thicker than Gold plated piece, allowing them to be far more durable and saturated in colour.
As you can imagine, rolled Gold jewellery was very popular in the Victorian era, but it also surged in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s for more utilitarian items. However, as jewellery making techniques sophisticated rolled Gold fell out of popularity, with Gold plating and Gold vermeil becoming standard within the jewellery industry.
We have lots of antique Gold cased pieces in our collection, this is because like rolled Gold, Gold cased jewellery was super popular in the Georgian and Victorian eras, especially for pieces like fobs, small charms, watches, seals and keys.
In fact, Gold casing and rolled Gold terms are often interchanged. However, Gold casing is far more well-known within the jewellery industry, which is why is it used more regularly. Like rolled Gold jewellery, Gold cased jewellery is a long-lasting form of Gold plating, and is usually done on a Silver base. So, if you buy a piece of antique Gold cased jewellery, you can be confident that this jewel won’t tarnish easily, will last for many seasons and is just life-proof!
A lesser known style of antique Gold plating, Gold FIX is an exclusively French jewellery technique whereby a thick layer of 18ct Gold plate is fused to brass.
This was very popular in the Art Nouveau era and much like other Gold plating techniques has fallen out of fashion - making them all the more rare and desirable today.
Common place in antique lockets, Gold front and back is an antique Gold jewellery style where both the front and the back of the locket is crafted from solid Gold, with the frames and locket hinge crafted from base metal. Not only does this make the antique locket more affordable, but it also means that it is very durable - so you can be confident that it will look just as good in many years time.
Despite being very popular in fashion jewellery today, Gold Vermeil is actually a Gold plate technique developed in 18th century France. one of the best value for money Gold-tone jewels, as it promises longevity and a delightful colour of Gold. Vermeil is also regulated meaning that it has to be over 10ct Gold, but it is usually, either 14ct or 18ct Gold plate, over Sterling Silver base and being 2.5 microns thick.
In the 18th century, Gold vermeil was produced using fire-gilding, which largely used mercury. Today, you will be happy to know that mercury is no longer used in the creation. In 19th century England, two gentleman known as George and Henry Elkington were able to develop and patent a new way of metals known as electroplating.
If you are looking for affordable Gold fashion jewellery, then you have likely found Gold gilt. Gold gilt is a thin layer of Gold that can be applied during electroplating, chemical gilding or hand applied. In antique jewellery, this can be found in utilitarian pieces, small pendants and fobs.
But of course, if you want the genuine article, the creme de la creme of luxury jewellery - you will want solid Gold antique jewellery. Whilst we do have a myriad of Gold cased and Gold front and back pieces in our collection, a large majority of our pieces are crafted from solid antique and vintage Gold.
So if you are looking for beautiful antique Gold jewellery that is not only rare, but at great market value, then you have come to the right place.
Gold Pinchbeck is an alloy of brass, copper and zinc, designed to look just like bright and beautiful antique Gold, but with a slightly brassier finish. In fact, pinchbeck is an antique specialty and is rarely seen today. A Gold acid tester will be able to tell if your piece is pinchbeck, as it will froth bright green!
The name "pinch" is intentional, as wealthy Georgians and Victorians would have pieces crafted in this far cheaper metal just incase they were robbed on their travels!
Metal-Core Gold Jewellery
Metal-core Gold jewellery is similar to Gold cased and rolled Gold, but is far thicker and more durable. For instance a bangle may be called "9ct Gold Metal Core" meaning that a thick shell of 9ct Gold is bonded to either a jeweller's alloy or base metal. This "shell" is 1/5th of the overall piece, meaning that its four times thicker than rolled Gold! Metal-core jewellery is most often found in Victorian to mid 20th century bangles.
Another commonplace antique Gold technique, "bloomed" Gold is essentially a solid Gold piece with a fine layer of a higher carat Gold added on top. This higher carat gives the piece a deeply saturated tone but without the higher price tag.