by Dr. Lori Verderame
Love is one reason why Gold Victorian Jewelry remains so sought after on the antique jewelry market. Collectors love the gold pieces that Queen Victoria wore, promoted, and enjoyed throughout her long reign. The famous lovers of the 19th Century, HRH Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, marked occasions of their long union with pieces of jewelry.
Many collectors and resellers are looking for fine gold jewelry from the 19th Century at auctions, online and elsewhere. They are looking for jewelry pieces at thrift stores, yard sales, antiques shops, estate sales, too. These pieces are stunningly beautiful and highly sought after in today’s active jewelry market.
Some people shop by the design or look of a specific jeweled piece but it is wise to source pieces for your jewelry collection or resale outlet by considering karat weight. There are different karat fineness marks when it comes to gold jewelry –both vintage and antique. Karat fineness marks are not the same in every country around the globe. For instance, in the United States, 14 karat and 18 karat gold are used. In Great Britain, antique jewelry was often marked 15 karat gold. In Italy and in other countries a numerical mark or a karat fineness mark may be used like 18 karat or 750. The higher the karats, the higher the percentage of gold in a piece of jewelry. Review a list of gold jewelry karat marks.
If you are a collector or reseller of antique or vintage jewelry, you need to know the many different international gold purity marks that are found on both silver and gold jewelry. For silver marks, there are different marks to look for such as sterling, 925, 800, etc. These marks are discussed in my video on silver marks and on my articles about how to spot fine silver pieces including sterling silver and even silver plated pieces. When it comes to vintage jewelry fineness marks, the gold purity marks appear as numbers or as karat marks and these marks can indicate time period or age or a piece as well as indicate information about a jewelry piece’s overall market value.
International or Foreign Fineness Marks
While purity marks are important, recognizing international or foreign fineness marks will help treasure hunters find fine pieces of jewelry. For example, some pieces of jewelry that date to the mid to late 19th Century also known as the Victorian period. The Victorian period or the Victorian era is the time period which encompassed the years when HRH Queen Victoria reigned (circa 1837-1901). The jewelry fineness marks that were used in Great Britain then are not the same marks that are used in the United States of America during that time period. Today, foreign gold fineness marks differ from those used in the United States. Knowing the difference between these marks will be quite necessary if you want to collect antique or vintage pieces that are beautiful, unique, and valuable.
In the Victorian period, some gold pieces from Great Britain were often marked 15 karat gold or with the numbers 625. These marks indicated important information about jewelry pieces. In Great Britain, 15 karat and 625 are both purity marks that were widely used for fine jewelry dating back to the last two centuries, the 1800s and early 1900s. The 15 karat gold mark or the 625 numerical gold mark found on a piece of gold jewelry means that the piece is 62.5% pure gold or has a gold fineness of 15 karats. The 15 karat gold mark differs from the commonly used American gold fineness marks of 14 karat (14k) or 18 karat (18k) gold. These marks, while also purity or fineness marks, are different from the marks used in the United States and elsewhere.
Queen Victoria’s Love Affair with Jewels
Great Britain’s Queen Victoria had a famous love affair with jewels. In the late Victorian period or the late 1800s, the 15 karat gold jewelry fineness mark was widely used in Great Britain. A good example of the presence of the 15 karat gold mark can be found on this lovely gold double heart pin which is designed and enhanced with seed pearls. I appraised this double heart with seed pearls pin at one of my antiques appraisal events during my nationwide tour of Dr. Lori’s Antiques Appraisal Comedy Show. In fact, this special, unique, and beautiful gold pin was a gift from HRH Queen Victoria herself. The gold double heart pin was owned by a relative of a lady in waiting to HRH Queen Victoria in the late 1800s. The current owner brought the pin, originally gifted from the Queen to her relative, to my appraisal event and wanted to know the current value of the piece. The important provenance of this pin impacted value significantly for this gold and seed pearl pin. The pin was 15 karat gold as per the British gold standard and it was clearly marked. The pin was presented to me in its original jewelry box and it was a memorable appraisal from my antique appraisal event national tour.
It was a good example of the style of the Victorians and it referenced the preferred taste in Victorian jewelry with an emphasis on romance and symbols of love like the intertwined double hearts. The seed pearls reference purity and love for their white color and diminutive size. In the Victoria era, such small pins would be worn on the center of a collar or as an accent piece on a formal dress. Gifts of jewelry were often exchanged between the royals. Specifically, HRH Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were both jewelry lovers and after Prince Albert’s death, not only did the Queen wear black in mourning but she also wore jewels to continue the couple’s enjoyment of the objects. The Queen was arguably the one person who made the greatest impact on the history of jewelry. She was a great influencer of fine jewelry and had many piece custom made including tiaras, necklaces, bracelets, pendants, pins, etc. She was also responsible for wearing some of the world’s most famous mourning jewelry pieces in materials such as gold, onyx, pearls, diamonds, etc.
Changing Gold Standards
Today, we have experienced the changing of the gold standards. Now, it is more difficult to find pieces of 15 karat gold jewelry on the market when seeking out vintage and antique jewelry pieces in all styles and designs. While they do appear on the market and online occasionally, they are not common finds. Why? Because 15 karat gold is a gold purity standard that was discontinued in 1932. So, if you find a piece of 15 karat gold jewelry then you must know by its mark that it dates prior to 1932. The 15 karat gold standard was used in Great Britain from circa 1854 until 1932, during the royal reigns of HRH Queen Victoria (1837-1901), HRH King Edward VII (1901-1910), and HRH King George V (1910-1936). In addition to 15 karat gold, another legal gold standard was used: 12 karat gold or 50% gold content. In 1932, both 12 karat and 15 karat gold standards were replaced with 14 karat gold in Great Britain.
In the early 1930s, 14 karat gold became the gold standard for jewelry. There were a few good reasons for the switch from 15 karat gold to 14 karat gold. One of the main reasons had to do with cost and durability. In fact, 14 karat gold is somewhat more durable or sturdy for everyday jewelry wear than 15 karat gold. It was during the 19th Century that HRH Queen Victoria made every day jewelry wear a trend. Fine jewels were not only reserved for special occasions like golden or diamond jubilees, coronations, or weddings, but rather, fine jewelry became a mainstay for more casual and regular wear. While every day pieces of jewelry differed from pieces worn on special occasions, the fact that jewelry was worn on a regular basis was a new and culturally significant trend. As a result, more jewelry was made and worn like the double heart pin that I appraised and discussed earlier.
From Karat to Color
In addition to the need for greater durability in jewelry for every day wear, everything from karat to color was fair game in the history of gold Victorian jewelry. For instance, the introduction of 14 karat gold as the gold standard was also important from a design standpoint. For design purposes, many jewelry collectors were more attracted to 14 karat gold jewelry pieces for its distinct color as well as for its durable nature.
There are differences between the color of 14 karat and 15 karat gold jewelry. A piece of 14 karat gold jewelry is pale gold in color whereas a piece of 15 karat gold can look slightly mossy green. This mossy green hue that can be found in 15 karat gold jewelry pieces is not as desirable or as pretty as the golden color featured in pieces of 14 karat gold jewelry. The reason for this slight color difference is that a piece of 15 karat gold jewelry has approximately 4% more pure gold content than 14 karat gold. This difference impacts the overall color of 14 karat gold which many collectors prefer.
When it comes to gold jewelry of the Victorian era, the purity or fineness mark makes a big difference as does the history of HRH Queen Victoria’s interest in jewels and jewelry collecting. When looking for such pieces of 15 karat gold jewelry, look for the gold mark of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. If you are mainly interested in Victorian gold jewelry, then seek out jewelry pieces that were designed with love in mind and with exquisite materials such as diamonds, gold, and pearls.