Unmarked jewelry has a stigma for obvious reasons; antique jewelry has its share of unknowns. But often a good piece is turned down when a precious metals purity mark is not in sight. A fine gold bar pin can be dismissed when there is no stamped 14k or 585 on the back. A gorgeous Etruscan Revival locket is overlooked, or a jaw-dropping enameled 18k gold Persian necklace pushed aside in pursuit of a marked, “safer” buy.
Buyers shy away from unmarked jewelry, assuming the worst. Two exciting possibilities with unmarked jewelry are its age and its rarity.
One possibility is that a piece of jewelry is unmarked because it is an antique. In the first quarter of the 1900s, the practice of marking metal purities on jewelry in the United States began to rise. Now it is a standard in the industry. Many antique pieces of American jewelry have had their metal purity marked on them at a later date than when they were made.
It is not a problem that your antique jewelry is unmarked, though it would be good for you to know the purity of your gold or silver. You can have your item tested. A nitric acid test is accurate and, if done correctly, will not harm your jewelry.
It is also possible that your unmarked item is a handmade item not intended for resale. In this case, you may have a truly unique piece.
Another possibility with an unmarked piece of antique jewelry is what is commonly referred to in the industry as a put-together. A classic example of this is men’s cufflinks as earrings. One cufflink would be lost, so the remaining cufflink would be broken into two halves, the center links removed, and backs added to make earrings.
Victorian brooches, pins, and pendants are also common candidates for being unmarked.
Something to consider the next time you are out on the hunt for your next jewelry find.