by Dr. Lori Verderame
When it comes to costume jewelry, there are more fakes than you can imagine. Costume jewelry pieces, while not on the same level as fine jewelry pieces, are in high demand and are regularly fakes. Can you identify costume jewelry fakes? Many costume jewelry pieces have been faked since the late 20th Century in an effort to try to look like the real thing. Use a loupe, preferably at least a 10x magnification type or greater, to look closely at each piece of costume jewelry. See my loupe recommendations. In many cases, the magnification will be all you will need to spot the fake. Look for poor quality materials, low level workmanship, heavy handed details. Here are three tips to help you spot a fake piece of costume jewelry. I also have more how to tell fake costume jewelry tips in another article.
Shiny or Dull Enamels
Enamel work on costume jewelry is one of the easiest ways to identify costume jewelry fakes. Just like when you are reviewing and assessing a piece of fine art, like a painting, brushstrokes will tell the real story and reveal the information you need in order to tell a real from a fake. If the brushstrokes on a piece of enameled costume jewelry are obvious, muddy, and sloppy, you have a fake. Fake pieces of costume jewelry have cold painted colors applied and are not heated or fired. The reason why enamel work should not show obvious brushstrokes is because well done enamel is applied as a powder substance and fired at a high temperature. The high heat melts the powder into a glassy, smooth coating that is attractive to the eye and does not show individual brushstrokes. If the enamel is fired, brushstrokes are not visible. Fine enamels are typically applied with a powder over a dull primer or an undercoat and then fired.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. Damage will tell you a lot about how a piece was made. If you recognize any damage, even minor chipping or cracks, that can tell much about how a piece of costume jewelry is made. Scratches, abrasions, chips and other types of damage or losses will reveal the authenticity of a piece of costume jewelry. If you have a chip in the enamel of your piece then the dull undercoating will show through. This is a simple way to tell real from fake enameling on costume jewelry. Fake enamel work has no undercoating and its brushstrokes will be visible too. If a piece of costume jewelry with enamel work is scratched, lost, chipped, or worn away over time and you can see a shiny metal surface underneath the colorful enameling or enamel style brushstroke then you have a fake piece of costume jewelry. The enamel has revealed that the piece of costume jewelry is fake. If it’s old and real costume jewelry from before World War II era, then the enamel will not look like brushstrokes. If it is fake enamel, then brushstrokes will be obvious and shiny metal will show through underneath the scratched or chipped enameled surface.
Like a magnifying or magnification loupe instrument, a black light will reveal little known information that will be lost to the naked eye too. See my recommendations for black lights. For instance, if you look at a piece of costume jewelry with enamel work, you will see that real enamel work on an authentic piece of vintage costume jewelry will show up under black light as the same color as the enamel work looks in natural light. So if it is real enamel work, the black light will reveal the same colors as in natural light. So, that’s easy. If you have a piece of fake enameled costume jewelry then it will turn dull black under black light.
A Matter of Size
Knowing how big or small a piece of costume jewelry was originally can help you identify costume jewelry fakes. Fake pieces of costume jewelry such as pins and brooches are usually big, brash, and less detailed overall than pieces of real costume jewelry. For example, in the early 1900s, before the 1940s, seasonal and holiday pins and brooches were larger than those made after World War II. Some pins and brooches made by quality designers in the early 1900s measured 2 to 4 inches.
Some of the more common types of large-scale costume jewelry pins were Easter basket brooches and Christmas tree pins measuring more than 2 inches to 4 inches in size. By mid-century, such figural holiday brooches were reduced in size to smaller than 2 inches. If your piece is too big or not made highlighting the piece’s details, then you probably have spotted a fake. So, small is not all when it comes to identifying a fake piece of costume jewelry. The issue of size when it comes to costume jewelry design is not a commonly known fact in the costume jewelry arena. Such information will help you to recognize the valuable pieces and avoid the fakes and frauds.
New, larger molds are used now. These new fake molds are based on original vintage molds for popular design pieces of bygone eras. The designs are very familiar and thus desirable yet the new production methods are turning out fakes. The fakes, of course, are remastering the best-known designer pieces like those by Trifari, Coro, Eisenberg and others. Why would they fake something that isn’t well known? They wouldn’t.
Famous Costume Jewelry Fakes
While most mountings for fake costume jewelry pieces are cast as a single piece, remember that real costume jewelry pieces have mountings that are made of various parts soldered together. Yet, when you have a multi-part soldered mounting and you thing you have a real piece of costume jewelry, remember to check the maker’s or designer’s name too. There are fakes in that area of costume jewelry design too. Here’s how to tell if you have one of the most famous fakes:
The Trifari mark is rarely marked on an authentic piece of costume jewelry alone. What does that mean? Real Trifari pieces do not have the designer name Trifari without something else accompanying it. There are many Trifari fakes, too many fakes, in fact but the Trifari name on a true piece of Trifari costume jewelry will have a copyright symbol with it or a crown emblem above the T in Trifari, etc. Trifari designs are forged regularly and sometimes the metal work will be the dead giveaway of a fake Trifari piece of costume jewelry. Look for a quality piece with the vintage die-stamped designer name and you have a real piece of costume jewelry. Some Trifari pieces have a small number on it. This is a good sign of an authentic Trifari piece of costume jewelry. And, likewise, on some Eisenberg pieces, there are single numbers in the mold indicating a manufacturing code which points to the fact that a particular piece of costume jewelry is the real deal.
The items on the back of a piece of costume jewelry is a treasure trove of information if you are trying to distinguish a real from a fake piece of costume jewelry. Good pieces of costume jewelry have well cut or faceted faux stones or glass pieces, facets are rarely irregular, settings are of good quality, the vermeil coating is thick. Despite these tips, a maker’s name can still be faked. Why? It starts back in the early 1900s, when many authentic makers were using many different marks to identify their costume jewelry pieces. Maker’s names were changed to highlight a new line or to modernize their look and logo. Costume jewelry design companies changed their designs of their necklaces, bracelets, and pins in an effort to keep up with the times. They also tried to keep up to date with their maker’s marks and tried to make them look more modern too.
Costume Jewelry wasn’t always garish or flashy. In fact, if you see a piece of costume jewelry that looks poorly detailed, heavy handed, oversized, or cheap looking, you probably have a fake. Other tips to spot a fake are overly bright plating, the use of plastic stones substituted for glass or crystal and a raised oval element on the back of a piece of costume jewelry with the maker’s name on it.
In addition to the designer names and logos or marks found on the back of costume jewelry designs, the forms or figures of prominent costume jewelry designs are also helpful when trying to identify costume jewelry fakes. Quality is the first thing that will tell you if you have a real piece of costume jewelry or a fake. Look at the materials, the settings, the prongs, the mountings, and the attractive stone elements to see if you have a fake or not. Copies of vintage designs are all over the place now—at thrift stores, online auctions, estate sales, yard sales–but the quality is what sets them apart.
For instance, some companies did not manufacture some of the most common style of pins, brooches, bracelets or necklaces. Some people are surprised to learn that Hobe and Boucher did not make the popular jelly belly pins when their competitors did. Jelly belly pins had a clear piece of lucite in the center of a figural form pin secured in various ways, typically with a small counter-set screw. While copies are common, if a certain manufacturer didn’t make a pin of a particular style, then you’ve got a fake on your hands. Avoid bright plating, crude and non-detailed designs, and lack of details overall. Look for the tell tale signs of the fakes that are waiting for you in the world of costume jewelry. Read more how to tell fake costume jewelry tips in another article.