Identifying Costume Jewelry Fakes and Reproductions
As the popularity of classic costume jewelry has increased, so too have the fakes and reproductions. Many fakes are difficult to detect because they are made from new molds taken from vintage originals and many have forged marks of vintage makers such as Eisenberg, Trifari, Boucher, Hobé and others. The best way to avoid the new pieces is with a careful examination of how a suspect piece is constructed, its size and the technique used to mark the piece.
Most differences between reproductions and originals exist because originals were essentially handmade one at a time and reproductions are mass produced. The clearest evidence of these differences is in the construction of the mountings and settings. The mounting is the entire metal portion in which the stones are displayed; the setting is the specific portion of the mounting which actually holds the stone.
Mountings of inexpensive reproduction costume jewelry are usually molded, or cast, as one single piece (Fig. 1). The majority of vintage original pre-1940s mountings are generally made of multiple separate pieces carefully soldered together. On the backs of new mountings, metal appears to flow in wide flat continuous channels from setting to setting. There is little space between settings; the mounting has little depth from front to back. About 90 percent of all reproduction mountings are single piece castings.
Typically, settings in old mountings are individually soldered to the mounting, not cast as a single piece with the mounting. From the back side, each settings is distinct from other settings, they do not appear to be joined by a channel of flowing metal. Since each setting can be individually placed, the depth of old mountings front to back is usually greater than new mountings. The distinct space apparent between settings also generally gives vintage mountings a lighter, airier look. About 95 percent of vintage mountings pieces are assembled from multiple pieces soldered together.
Prongs—the slender tabs of metal in a setting which grip the stone—are also generally different between new and old mountings (Fig. 2). Prongs on most reproductions are wider, thicker and longer than prongs on vintage costume jewelry. New prongs are cast as a part of the entire one-piece mounting and must be made larger to survive being removed from the mold. The longer new prongs frequently come up over the girdle, or horizontal center, of the stone and extend into the table, or flat surface at the top of the stone. Prongs in original settings are generally only long enough to secure the stone to the mounting. Old prongs rarely extend much beyond the girdle. Long wide prongs are illogical because they hide the stone. The entire purpose of the mounting is to display stones, not hide them.
Straight or upright prongs that have never been bent also indicate a new mounting. Bending prongs in new settings takes too long for mass production. It's quicker to simply glue the stones in the settings rather than bend the prongs over. Stones in any reasonably well-made vintage mounting will be held by bent prongs, not glue.
Another frequent warning sign of new construction is size. Many reproductions are made in new molds and are substantially larger than originals. A fake lyre bird, for example, is almost twice the size of the vintage original lyre bird made by Trifari. The fake is marked “Trifari” and could easily be confused for old without checking the measurements of the original. Size can also be helpful in separating modern legitimately made costume jewelry from vintage counterparts. Christmas tree pins made prior to the 1940s, for example, are relatively large, usually 3" to 4". The majority of Christmas tree pins on the market today have been made since 1950 and are half that size. The Christmas trees made by Eisenberg in the 1980s, for example, are each under 2". Unlike general construction techniques which can be broadly applied, size is specific to each piece. You'll need to refer to a reference book on costume jewelry to make individual comparisons
Generally, authentic marks in vintage costume jewelry are die stamped. The great majority of fake marks aremolded or cast, not stamped. Molded marks are never as clean and sharp as stamped marks. Many new molded marks appear in a recessed bar or block. Vintage die stamped marks are never found in similar recessed blocks. Some forged marks, as well as authentic marks, are applied as raised tags. Marks in raised tags may or may not be old; marks in the recessed blocks are virtually always new. Consult a reference book to verify whether any questionable mark was in fact applied in the form represented by the seller.
Keep in mind that years ago small unknown companies often copied popular designs from the larger better known makers. You could find a cheap copy made in the 1930s as well as a deliberate fake made last year. Copies and knockoffs made 60 years ago or yesterday can generally both be detected using the tests and guidelines discussed here.
Mark Chervenka for Ruby Lane