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What Metal is My Jewelry Made From?

What Metal is My Jewelry Made From?

By Robert Underhill

         It is a standard practice for jewelry to be stamped or etched with markings indicating metal content. These stamps, hallmarks, and trademarks are usually located in inconspicuous areas on the jewelry so as not to detract from the design.  

How to Locate Markings and Stamps on Your Jewelry

·         Rings- Inside the ring you should be able to locate a mark or stamp indicating the karat, and the maker. The stamp is often located at 9:00 or 3:00 as you look through the ring. This location allows for ring sizing and is distant from where stones or designs that may be located.

·         Lite Chains and Link Bracelets- The end of a chain will often have a flattened ring with markings denoting the precious metal content. If the bracelet does not the Spring Ring, Lobster Claw, or Clasp should be marked.

·         Heavy Chains and Link Bracelets- The ends of larger link jewelry are often fitted with sleeve type connectors that meet the clasp. This fitting may be stamped with the karat and maker markings. If a hallmark is not present it may be on the clasp.

·         Solid and Bangle Bracelets- Solid Bracelets are typically stamped inside. Hinged slide bangles are stamped with metal purity stamps on the widest portion of the spring bar that slides in and out of the bracelet.

·         Pendants- There should be a karat stamp on the back of pendants which have a large enough surface to mark. You may also find the gold or karat marking on the bail or the loop supporting the pendant.

·         Pins & Brooches- Trademarks and stamps are usually located on the back or the pin itself. Occasionally you can see a karat marking on the edge of the brooch.

·         Stick Pins- The shaft of the pin or the back of the featured area will usually be stamped or marked with metal content. Do not be deceived by markings on the sliding clutch. They are often made from a lesser value metal.

·         Earrings- Hoops earrings are stamped at the hinge. Larger button and dangle earrings are typically stamped on the reverse side. For smaller earrings such as studs you may have to rely on the earring back. (This is not reliable as backs are interchangeable)

·         Watches- The case back and clasp should be clearly marked if there are precious metals present. When inspecting pocket watches the case back may have to be open to locate metal markings, maker, movement, and case numbers.

What Do the Markings on Jewelry Mean?

Now that you have located the stamps and markings on your jewelry, what do they mean? There are two dominant standards that you are likely to encounter when examining your jewelry. One is The Karat system that is used in The United States and Canada. The other is the Decimal system used throughout much of the rest of the world.

Karat Gold Stamps and Markings

 The Karat standard for marking and stamping gold is based on pure gold being equal to 24K. The number in front of “K” equals the number of parts out of 24 that are pure gold by weight.  Example 14K is made from 14 parts of pure gold that have been melted together with 10 parts of other alloys. 14+10=24

10K = 41.7% pure gold

14K = 58.5% pure gold

18K = 75%    pure gold

22K = 91.6% pure gold

24K = pure gold

Millesimal Gold Stamps and Markings

The Millesimal standard for marking and stamping gold is based on pure gold equal to 1000. Simply put, the 3 digit denotes the number of parts out of 1000 that are pure gold by weight.  Example 750 is made from 750 parts of pure gold that have been melted together with 250 parts of other alloys. 750+250=1000

333 = 33%     pure gold or 8K

417 = 41.7% pure gold or 10K

585 = 58.5% pure gold or 14K

750 = 75%     pure gold or 18k

833 = 83.3% pure gold or 20K

916 = 91.6% pure gold or 22K

999 = 99.9% pure gold/ fine gold

Platinum Stamps and Markings

Platinum used in jewelry is alloyed with other metals to give it properties that allow it to be fabricated by the jewelers who create it. The accepted standard for an item to be marked “Platinum” in jewelry is 95% pure.  Lower levels of platinum are sometimes used in jewelry making. When this is done the markings on that jewelry should indicate so.

Common Markings on Platinum include:

               Plat = 95%   pure platinum  

Plat 10% Irid = 90%   pure platinum 10% Iridium

                950 = 95%    pure platinum

                900 = 90%    pure platinum

                999 = 99.9% pure platinum

Silver Stamps and Markings

Because of its lower cost, silver is used in a wider range of products than gold or platinum. Silver is commonly used in items ranging in size from earrings to tea sets. In flatware and larger items the stamps, hallmarks, and trademarks should be visible in an inconspicuous area on the item. (Usually on the bottoms or inside concealed areas)

Common silver markings will be:

          Sterling = 92.5% pure

                 Ster = 92.5% pure

                  925 = 92.5% pure

                  999 = fine

     The 3 digit formula is used to denote the number of parts per thousand of pure silver by weight in an item.

Non Precious Jewelry Markings

Various other markings are used in jewelry to reveal lesser amounts of precious metals used in jewelry making. Here are a few of those marks:

         10KGF, 12KGF, 14KGF = Gold Filled

   10KYGF, 12KYGF, 14KYGF = Gold Clad

1/20 12kt GF, 1/20 14kt GF = 1/20th clad gold material of noted Karat.

                           10 or 14KHE = Heavy Electroplate

                            10 or 14K.P. = Karat Plate

                            10 or 14KGS = Gold Shell

                         10 0r 14KHGE = Heavy Gold Electroplate

                         10 0r 14KHGP = Heavy Gold Plate

        14, 18, or 24k Vermeil = Sterling with Gold gild

                              Silver Plate = Plated with Silver

Deceptive Jewelry Markings

      Throughout my 35 years of jewelry restoration I have encountered countless markings intended to deceive consumers. Most of the victims did not purchase from reputable jeweler, or acquired their items outside of the US.

         The most common deception is the stamping of a non-gold item. Anyone can buy a stamp with 14K or 18K on it and stamp away. If you are looking at jewelry from a dealer of unknown integrity look for trademarks. Karat stamps with company trademarks are not as common. FTC guidelines require that karat gold jewelry be marked with a registered trade mark next to the stamp. The trademark is used indicate who assumes responsibility for the assay.

          Many people assume that the presence of a stamp is a guarantee that the metal content is fact. When you are looking at jewelry be aware that clasps, earring backs, and chains may have been interchanged. This is typically not malicious. More often the change was made by the original owner as matter of convenience, or a jeweler during a repair procedure. In short don’t assume that a gold chain means a gold necklace, or that a gold clasp means a gold chain. The best way to accurately determine the precious metal content of jewelry is to bring it to a professional knowledgeable jeweler who will test the material properly.

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