Which Antique Chain Should I Buy? The Ultimate Guide to Antique Chains
It may seem paradoxical that antique chains are inherently timeless. That something created in the past can still so effortlessly resonate with modern style and dress. Dancing through time with plenty of grace and elegance, many antique chains are no different to the luxurious stylish necklaces we see on the catwalks.
You can just imagine an antique chain, no matter the style, poised upon Victorian or Georgian genltewoman's white frilled, high collar blouson shirt, with all its excess and fripperies. Yet, this same chain will easily glow and give a sense of luxury to the seamless tailored boxy white shirt that we often see today.
'The Queen's Latest Paris Fashions August 1893', c.1893, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
It can also be easy to overlook a chain in general, especially in contrast to a glittering pendant or a beautiful locket. In high street jewellery shops, a modern mass-produced chain is insouciant, only there to provide a function. The pendant or charm takes centre stage, and the chain itself is relegated to a utilitarian role rather than to add a further touch of glamour or elevate a piece. This is where an antique chain is different, completely in an entire league of their own. Unlike modern mass-produced jewellery, many antique jewellery pieces are one of a kind, and antique chains are no different. Antique chains and necklaces have their own subtle nuances, showing the individual flair of the Goldsmith or idiosyncratic style of the wearer.
So, what type of antique chain should you buy? From Gold fob chains to antique pocket watch chains, it won’t be surprising that there are many different types. Below, we have compiled together a comprehensive list of antique chains for you to peruse and help you decide.
What's more, we have added pictures from our website and links to help you visualise how these chains look. Simply click on the titles to see our current collections of these specific chains.There are plenty, so grab yourself a cup of tea before you dive in!
Antique Chain Styles
Anchor jewellery chains are distinctive due to their symmetrical oblong shaped links. Interestingly, anchor chains in jewellery are actually based upon the same styles and shapes used to create anchor chains in marine vessels and for machinery. In jewellery, anchor chains have evolved to accrue flatter links, more rounded links or more angular links.
Don’t get us started on Albert chains, as we could wax lyrical about these beauties for hours and hours! Also known as an antique pocket watch chain, Albert chains were a staple in a Victorian gentleman’s wardrobe. Pioneered by Prince Albert himself, Albert chains were originally used to suspend a man’s pocket watch in his waistcoat. They also often had a fob or watch key on the other end. Today, Albert chains are worn as necklaces, often consisting of T-bars, dog clips and large bolt rings.
As discussed in our Jewellery Influencer Through Time blog, Belcher chains are named after the Georgian Bristol born boxer Jem Belcher due their sturdy and ‘heavyweight’ nature. Consisting of thick rounded links, belcher chains are the perfect antique necklace for a distinctive and masculine look. Antique belcher chains can come in a variety of different sizes, from slimmer and smaller links to large ornate textured links.
With links that are akin to book binds, it is no wonder the original creators of this chain called it a book chain! Chunky and statement, antique book chains often consist of links that ‘fan out’ over the decolletage. Book chains are quintessentially antique in every way, and you will be pressed to find them in contemporary jewellery designs. We think book chains are the perfect and apt gift for both a literary and jewellery lover!
Box chains consist of square-shaped links that resemble a box. Perfect for an instantly elegant look, box chains have stunning movement, easily draping themselves over your decolletage. Typical of antique chains, some Victorian or Edwardian box chains will have pierced links, this is a prime example of how antique chains will have unique and idiosyncratic elements making them all the more special!
Antique 9ct Gold Albert Chain with T-Bar, faceted Belcher links and Dog Clips, Source - Lillicoco
A curb chain has uniform round or oval links that have been twisted and diamond cut so they lie flat against your neckline. Like belcher chains, curb chains have traditionally been associated with men’s jewellery, yet today they equally resonate with the modern woman.
Similar to a curb chain in design and shape, a figaro chain has flattened and slightly twisted links. Yet, unlike a curb chain, figaro chain links are not all strictly uniform in shape as typically they alternate between longer links and shorter links.
To an untrained eye, it can be easy to mistake a fox tail chain for a snake chain as they do look fairly similar and they are both fluid in movement. However, the fox tail chain consists of two rows of slanted oval links that are connected by flat rings running down the centre of the chain. The name for this chain comes from it’s appearance, as it resembles the hairs on a fox’s tail!
Using the art of filigree, a filigree chain typically consists of a lozenge, circular or oval shaped links that has intricate filigree patterns inside. This gives the necklace a delicate and lace-like appearance.
Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian goldsmiths loved making fancy chains. The name fancy chain is itself a blanket term to cover chains that have a variety of decorative elements. From flowers to hearts, pierced links to elaborate curls, there are a variety of eccentric components that form a fancy chain.
Antique 18ct Gold French Filigree Necklace, 15" (16g), Source - Lillicoco
A pendant chain and a trace chain are very similar, hence why we have grouped them together. A pendant chain and a trace chain are slim dainty chains that are perfectly suited to pendants as they possess thin oval links that can be strung through a variety of bales and jump rings.
A paperclip chain consists of interlocking links that are akin to paperclips. An elegant chain that beautifully flows down your neckline, the size of the paperclip links can vary depending on the chain itself, as some have larger gaps and others are more tightly interlinked.
A rope chain is designed to look like a typical strand of rope, with two or more chains spiralled together. We love the look of rope chains, especially when paired with Victorian Etruscan revival pieces! Plus, you cannot help but admire the craftsmanship these chains, especially as these were likely made by hand!
A great chain for minimal and sophisticated wear, a snake chain is a smooth, slinky chain that has round metal plates that slightly curve in the middle. The links are tightly joined together into a flexible tube that lies flat on the collarbone. These links are often faceted, meaning they simply glow in the sunlight, and they are a great way to add a touch of sparkle without gemstones!
Trombone links are often used in Albert chains, bracelets and fancy chains, these are elongated slim rectangular links that, at times, may have ornate details.
Victorian 18ct Gold Fancy Link Necklace with Trombone Links and Knot Links, 22" (27.6g), Source - Lillicoco
Antique Chain Fasteners
One of the main reasons we love antique chains is the variety of fasteners. It is no secret that fasteners are integral to the story behind jewellery. One only has to take a look at Cartier’s signature love bracelet, which has to be fastened and unfastened with a tiny screw, to understand this.
Antique fasteners are also great collector’s pieces because they often have the hallmarks. Albeit a relatively mundane object overall, they can reveal a fascinating insight into the history of the piece. Below are the fasteners you can expect to find when browsing for antique chains online:
Although often seen in jewellery today, in antique jewellery, oversized, chunky and large dog clips were the norm. A distant cry from their mass produced smaller versions. In the Victorian era, the bigger the dog clip the better.
Widely used in Georgian and Victorian jewellery, you would be pressed to find a barrel clasp today. These are, as the name describes, a smooth cylindrical clasp. Sometimes, these clasps are decorated with pretty engraved details, from elaborate curls to whimsical florals, adding an ornate touch to the chain.
Antique 15ct Gold Rope Necklace with Engraved Barrel Clasp, 17" (13g), Source - Lillicoco
Typical in rivieres and gemstone bracelets, gemstone clasps are a form of hidden clasp. This is where there is no break in style across the necklace, and rather one of the gems has a clasp function inside the setting.
A very unusual and rare form of clasp, but nonetheless apparent in antique jewellery, screw clasps are where the necklace or bracelet can be opened by unscrewing a dog clip or spherical design. We love the combination of a mechanical element with a ‘hands-on’ approach.
Whether striped with Niello or crafted from frosted 15ct Gold, like dog clips, bolt rings are another typical clasp that you see in jewellery today. However, in the Victorian era, they were another chance for a jewellery designer's idiosyncratic taste to shine through. Many chunky chains and bracelets are fastened with statement oversized bolt rings, undoubtedly giving the piece a rebellious edge.
Chain Length’s Explained
If you are googling “what chain length should I buy?”, we completely understand. The length of the chain can really impact an outfit. From dramatic long guard chains to gracious collarbone-length chains, the length of a chain can affect how your face and neck is framed.
Unlike modern chains, as antique chains were hand-made, their lengths can vary and doesn’t always necessarily accord to standardised measurements. Yet, this adds to their one-of-a-kind charm!
What’s more, some necklaces like Rivieres and Albert chains are known for being short in length, between 14” to 17”.
Generally, the names for the jewellery chain lengths are:
- Collar, 12-13"
- Choker 14-16"
- Princess 18-20"
- Matinee 24 - 28"
- Opera 30"
- Lariat or Rope 45"+
In antique jewellery, there is also a type of chain called long-guard chains. These chains are, as the name suggests, exceptionally long, often being around 60"! These are named after the chains that royal and military Guards would wear in the 19th century which had a multiplicity of charms and fobs attached and were worn in layers.
Three Reasons Why You Should Buy An Antique Chain
We could come up with thousands of reasons as to why you should buy an antique chain. From being infinitely wearable to hardwearing, unique and possessing a story, the saying “they don’t make them like they used to” really holds weight when it comes to antique jewellery. Many old chains were handcrafted, rather than cast like modern mass produced jewellery we see today. Below are our top three:
They are crafted from solid Gold
It isn’t surprising that solid Gold chains aren’t the cheapest thing to buy. Modern solid Gold chains can be extremely expensive, so an antique chain is the perfect way to get that same level of quality for a fraction of the price. Many modern chains are Gold plated metal, even those that are made by designer labels. This is why, if you really want to invest in a luxurious piece that will last forever, an antique chain is perfect!
What’s more, in the cases of rare purities of Gold like 12ct Gold and 15ct Gold, antique chains are the perfect investment.
Victorian 15ct Gold Belcher Chain Necklace, 20" (34.3g), Source - Lillicoco
You can’t find the same richness of tone in modern jewellery
As Gold and Silver are natural materials, their tone changes over time depending on oxygen, pollution and preservation. Modern Gold jewellery is known for being brassier in tone than some pieces of antique jewellery, which can put some people off Gold jewellery altogether. However, antique Gold is known for possessing depth and richness standing it apart from modern pieces. Gold is a noble metal that doesn't "tarnish" in the same way that Silver does when exposed to oxygen. The same can be said for antique Silver. Antique Silver pieces accrue a gloss of patina, making the pieces darker and moodier, which many people like. This can be applied to modern jewellery through forced oxidisation. However, isn’t it so much nicer to think that this was done naturally through time?
They increase in value
Antique Gold chains, like most antique jewellery, increases in value as the years go by, especially if the piece remains in tip top condition. Unlike other investments that oscillate or deplete in monetary value, you can enjoy and wear your antique chain whilst also be safe in the knowledge that if you did want to sell your jewellery, that it will fetch a higher price tag.
Victorian 9ct Gold Book Chain Collar Necklace 16", Source - Lillicoco
We have a stunning array of antique Gold chains and antique Silver chains on our website. We handpick each and every one that is listed, so you will certainly find the beautiful chain you are looking for.
Love, Lillicoco xo