Whether you're interested in fine jewelry or fun costume pieces, you'll notice that nearly every item in your jewelry collection has markings on it. These markings indicate important information about your piece, so it's helpful to understand what they mean. From metal content to manufacturer, your jewelry markings can give you a clue about the value and history of your favorite pieces.
Many jewelry marks represent the metal content of the piece. This is important because silver-plated and sterling silver items look virtually identical to the untrained eye. Understanding the metal content of your piece can help you make sure you get the quality for which you're paying.
Typically, you'll find metal content stamps near the clasp on necklaces and bracelets, on the inside surface of rings, and on 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, this is not always the case. In fact, according to the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, which is the legal compliance authority for the jewelry business, the standard is actually a little less clear. These are the legal requirements:
- 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 on 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.
Types of Metal Markings
You may notice the following metal stamps or markings on your jewelry:
|Marking||What It Means|
|A number, followed by "k" or "karat"||The item is gold. The purity of the gold 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.|
|"Vermeil"||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 percent 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 percent platinum.|
|"Pall" or "palladium"||This item is made of at least 95 percent 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 the piece of jewelry. Often, this mark is near the metal content stamp.
There are thousands of different jewelry companies, so there are nearly endless variations to the maker's marks you may encounter. If you're unsure what company the mark represents, look it up in one of the following resources:
- 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.
- Illusion Jewels has a wealth of information about identifying costume jewelry based on trademarks.
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 look of the piece. This patent represents the number the company received when they registered their design with the United States government.
You can use the patent number to find out more about the company or about the piece. Simply look up the number online at the US Patent and Trademark Office. You'll receive information about the person or company who filed the patent, when it was filed, and sometimes drawings or details about the design.
Engravings and Monograms
While many jewelry marks are present at the time the jewelry is manufactured, that's not always the case. Sometimes, the person who buys the jewelry may request that the piece be 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.
Learn More About Your Jewelry
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.