If you're a card-carrying member of the 10-ring finger club, then you know your jewelry markings inside and out. But if you're new to the fine jewelry game, you might be noticing that nearly every item in your jewelry collection has markings on it.
Each marking indicates important information about the item, so it's useful to speak this pictograph language. From metal content to manufacturer, your jewelry markings can give you a clue about the kind of jewelry you love and just how much it's worth.
Common Metal Content Markings Found on Jewelry
Some of the most common jewelry marks represent the metal content of the piece. These nuances are super important because looks can be deceiving. For instance, silver-plated and sterling silver look almost identical to the untrained eye, with only differing hallmarks to make them distinct. Understanding the metal content of your piece can help you make sure you get the quality that you're paying for.
Typically, you'll find metal content stamps near the clasp on necklaces and bracelets, on the inside surface of rings, and the backs of earrings, pins, and brooches.
Legal Requirements for Metal Stamps on Jewelry
Although many people assume that jewelry manufacturers are required to stamp their pieces with metal content, that's not always the case. For example, jewelry made in the United Kingdom features assay marks that American jewelry isn't required to include.
As it stands, these are the current legal requirements for American jewelry:
- Jewelry manufacturers in the United States must inform the consumer about precious metal content, but the content doesn't actually have to be stamped on the piece. It can be on the appraisal accompanying the item, on a hang tag or packaging component, or the invoice or receipt for the purchase.
- If the manufacturer does stamp the piece with metal content, they are required to place their trademark or the retailer's trademark right next to the metal content stamp. Legally, this assures the consumer that the company making or selling the jewelry will stand behind the metal content they are identifying.
- There is no legal stamping requirement for non-precious metals, such as tungsten, stainless steel, and titanium.
Typical Metal Markings to Recognize
Unless you're getting into the jewelry trade, there's no need to know every single metal marking in the book. However, it can be helpful when thrifting or buying online to know the common metal marking symbols to look for.
These are some of the most common metal stamps or markings found on jewelry:
|What It Means
|A number, followed by "k" or "karat"
|The item is gold. The gold purity varies by the karat number, with "24k" being nearly solid gold and "10k" being 10/24 gold.
|"Gold-filled" or "GF"
|The piece is mostly made of base metal, but it has a sheet of gold on the surface.
|"Gold-plated" or "gold electroplate"
|The piece is made of base metal, and a very thin coating of gold has been applied to it.
|The item is sterling silver with a gold plating.
|"Sterling," ".925," or "925"
|The piece of jewelry is made of sterling silver, which means it must have 92.5% silver metal in it.
|"Silver-plated" or "silver electroplate"
|The item is base metal with a thin coating of silver on the surface.
|"Nickel silver" or "German silver"
|This item is silver in color, but it does not contain any silver metal.
|"Plat" or "platinum"
|This piece is at least 95% platinum.
|"Pall" or "palladium"
|This item is made of at least 95% palladium.
It's also common to see other marks on jewelry. You'll find pieces that have maker's marks or trademarks on them, identifying the company that either manufactured or sold those pieces. Often, this mark is near the metal content stamp. Which, makes them easy to find!
There are thousands of different jewelry companies, so there's no limit to the variations of maker's marks you may encounter. If you're unsure what company uses the marks you've found, try looking it up in one of these two resources:
- The Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks, and Maker's Marks. The Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks, and Maker's Marks is a great resource for identifying sterling silver and silver-plated jewelry from any era.
- Costume Jewelry Collectors International. Costume Jewelry Collectors International has a wealth of information about identifying costume jewelry based on trademarks on their website.
Some jewelry pieces, particularly items with unique structural qualities like Italian charm bracelets, may even have a patent number stamped somewhere on them. Typically, the patent number will be in an unobtrusive spot that won't interfere with the piece's overall design. This patent represents the number the company received when they registered their design with the United States government.
Unlike some government extensions, it's easy to use the patent number to find out more about the company or the piece. Simply look up the number online at the US Patent and Trademark Office. You can find out things like the person or company who filed the patent, when it was filed, and sometimes drawings or details about the design. It's an awesome (and free) way to know your jewelry on a deeper level.
Engravings and Monograms
While many jewelry marks are already present when the jewelry is being manufactured, some are added post-creation. Sometimes, the person who buys the jewelry requests to have it engraved or monogrammed. Typically, you'll find engravings on the back or underside of the jewelry, and they'll take the form of a message, name, or date.
Monograms may be anywhere on the piece, and they usually consist of two or three initials. These personal messages can offer clues about the past owners of vintage or antique jewelry, such as wedding dates, personal initials, and so on.
All That Glitters Isn't Gold
Whether you're trying to find out if your ring is gold or gold-plated or you're hoping to discover some of the history behind a beautiful antique brooch, understanding the markings on your jewelry can come in handy. With the help of a magnifying glass and a little research, you can learn more about almost any piece in your jewelry collection. And once you're fluent in jewelry marks, you can take your knowledge for a spin at your favorite thrift stores and antique shops.