Identifying and appraising antique jewelry is a difficult task. Even a close examination by an expert can fail to identify replacement components or even fakes. This is why having a traceable historical record is so important to accurately identifying genuine pieces of antique jewelry. There are certain indicators you can look for to help you identify a piece of antique jewelry, allowing you to get started on your research of the piece's history.
Purchase a 10-power magnification jeweler's loupe, because this is the level of magnification used for grading. Jewelers suggests a triplet loupe (with three lenses) for the best clarity. Place your elbows on a firm surface to keep your hands steady while examining your jewelry. Turn the jewelry, not the loupe, as you examine the piece. Use your jeweler's loupe to look for signs of repairs by finding places where seams or replacement metals are visible.
Research hallmarks and other jeweler's marks. According to the Antique Jewelry Investor, hallmarks are stamps that identify the specific content of precious metals. Additional marks can include signatures or initials from the jeweler, as well as marks that designate the area of origin and serial numbers for tax and insurance purposes. Use your loupe to look for any marks on the jewelry. Find books that identify hallmarks at the library or bookstore and research the markings on jewelry you want to identify.
Research the history of the piece of jewelry in question. Follow up on any information that accompanies the piece from the seller or family members that gave or sold you the piece. Try to find pictures or descriptions of the piece in the historical record by searching insurance files. Search for owners or close relatives of each individual who owned the piece for verification of its authenticity. Look for changes in stones and components; this can affect the value and authenticity of the piece.
Choose a time period you are particularly interested in and study the characteristics of antique jewelry from that time period. Become an expert in jewelry from your chosen time period. Develop an understanding of common styles and prevalent designers for the period. This knowledge will help you recognize jeweler's marks as well as what to look for in identifying replicas. Create a notebook with pictures of hallmarks and period pieces to carry with you for quick reference at estate auctions and antique jewelry stores.