How to identify jewelry - fine vs fashion
Identifying Jewelry

If you enjoy auctions, garage sales, estate sales and flea markets you probably find yourself searching through the goods offered for gold and silver . . . most likely in the form of fine jewelry. After all, everyone likes to find a treasure at a bargain price. However, in order to find a treasure you must be able to recognize it. While there are some pieces of fashion, i.e. costume, jewelry that look quite nice and can pass for 'fine' gold jewelry - there are some ways to recognize the fine from the faux.


This should be the first thing you look for inside the band for rings, on the bale for pendants, on the clasp for necklaces and somewhere on the back of pins and brooches. Almost all fine jewelry will be marked with gold karat or silver content. An exception to this would be if a ring has been sized and the mark removed in the sizing process. In that case you look for other tell-tale signs of quality.

Watches may be marked on the back of the case or in some instances on the inside of the case. In this situation, you will need to have developed a sense of what real gold and silver look like.

To check a tarnished piece for probability of silver, rub you thumb across a flat place and see if the dark rubs off. This will not determine whether it is sterling or plated but only that the surface is a form of silver.

For gold marks (American and European) click here.

Gem Stones

Know your gem stones. While most diamonds are white, emeralds are green and rubies are red - not all sapphires are blue, not all garnets are red nor all zircons white. Take a little time to learn the gem families and get to know the less well known gems including tourmaline, sphene, onyx, pearls, opals, jade, alexandrite, aquamarine, tanzanite and peridot - to name a few. For more information on gemstones see our gem guide.

When looking at the stones in jewelry look for scratches on the face of the stone. Real gem stones will not have scratches. While glass stones will show edge wear, scratches to the flat face of the stone and in some cases will be cloudy or may have small bubbles.


There are several ways for stones to be set in jewelry.

Prong set stone

Prong set - use of prongs to hold stone in place (used for both fine and fashion).
Compression set stone

Compression set - stone is set into the metal of the piece so that the face of the stone is almost level with the mount.
Bezel set stone - sawtooth edge bezel

Bezel - gem/stone is surrounded by a solid piece of metal slightly 'folded' over onto the gem thus holding the gem or stone in place.
Stones with adhesive

Adhesive - stone is held in place by special adhesive (used for costume/fashion jewelry only).

Good rule of thumb, if the stones do not have prongs or a bezel - it is most likely a costume piece of jewelry.


Good jewelry - particularly rings - will have a mount that holds the gem stone up allowing light to shine through. In almost every case without exception a real gem stone will be set in a mount that has an open back to allow the light in. Jewelry that has a solid back - be it ring, pendant or brooch - has a high probability of being costume regardless of how good it looks.

One other thing to look for is to check for safety catches on jewelry. Bracelets may have secondary catches that lock after the initial catch to prevent loss. Watches may have chains, and necklaces may have other safety features at the clasp. This is not to say that all good jewelry will have these secondary catches - but some will.

There are some types of jewelry that will not have any catches or fasteners at all and still be gold or sterling - cuff bracelets are a good example.

Take a little time and examine good, quality jewelry at shops and stores. Observe the construction and get a feel for expensive jewelry. And, invest in a good 10x loupe. You'll find this to be well worth the investment when you find you're first treasure.

** User understands and accepts all policies associated with use of this procedure. View policies.

Return to Compendium Index   Return to Texas Antique Mall Home