Family heirlooms can have a lot of sentimental value, particularly when there’s a backstory about your relatives or ancestors. Any piece of jewelry that was formerly owned by another person is called ‘estate jewelry,’ and since you aren’t the one who purchased it, you can’t be entirely sure of its value without seeing a jewelry appraiser. These questions can give you a better idea of the authenticity of your jewelry.
How big is it?
So, you’ve found a huge diamond ring in your grandmother’s attic. That could be real…right? Unfortunately, it’s probably not. Most genuine gemstones are fairly small, so the bigger the jewel, the less likely it is to be valuable. While you may come across a genuine stunner once in a while, a small pair of earrings is more likely to be the authentic than a huge ring. After all, if your grandmother did own a huge diamond ring, would she really keep it in a box in the attic?
How heavy is it?
Real gold is surprisingly heavy! If you’ve ever visited a jewelry store and held some of the larger pieces, you’ll have a good idea of how much your estate jewelry should weigh. Remember, if something looks and feels lightweight, plasticky, or poorly made, then it probably is.
Are there any inclusions?
Play jewelry appraiser by buying your own handheld magnifying glass so you can closely examine gemstones. Genuine gemstones have tiny imperfections, known as inclusions. Genuine gemstones have tiny imperfections, known as inclusions, which can look like little feathers, crystals, or dark spots inside the stone. Fake or costume jewelry is often made from glass, which will have very few inclusions, apart from perhaps a few tiny gas bubbles. If a close inspection shows what appears to be a ‘perfect’ gemstone, chances are it was made that way in a factory.
Are there hallmarks?
This isn’t a tried and true method, because counterfeiters can put stamps on fake jewelry, but look for any indication of a company hallmark. Many gold and silver items are stamped to indicate the company or jeweler who created it. Gold may be marked with a three digit number that represents purity/gold percentage. For example, a gold pendant marked 916 is 91.6% gold, or 22 carats. Of course, a hallmark may wear away over time, so this isn’t the best method for antique jewelry. Newer pieces, though, should still have this indicator.
Have you ever seen anything like it?
If you come across something unusual, your best bet is to get it appraised. Many jewelers make unique, one-off pieces that can be quite valuable. Even if it does turn out to be made from synthetic or simulated materials, it could be worth something simply because it’s unusual. At the very least, you’ll be more informed about your jewelry.
One of the most frequently suggested tests for ‘real’ jewelry involves checking to see if it’s magnetic. While pure silver and gold are not magnetic, most jewelry is not made from the pure metal. Other elements are often mixed in for durability; after all, a solid gold pendant would be so soft that it would be easily distorted. If a piece of jewelry is attracted to a magnet, then it certainly is not pure gold; however, if it’s not attracted, that doesn’t necessarily indicate that it IS gold or silver (it could be aluminum, for example.) The only surefire way to tell if a piece of jewelry is worth anything is to speak with a jewelry appraiser. He or she will have the necessary tools to conduct a thorough and accurate test.
If you do find out that an item you thought was real is in fact fake, don’t despair. Estate jewelry often has an interesting story and/or sentimental value. Think of the previous owners and the different occasions they may have had to wear this jewelry. Monetary worth isn’t the only kind of value.
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