How to Buy Marcasite Vintage and Antique Jewelry

Marcasite brooch made from pyrite and silver

Marcasite jewelry is actually made from iron pyrite or ‘fool’s gold’.  There is a gemstone called marcasite which is normally considered unsuitable for jewelry making so this can result in some confusion when discussing marcasite jewelry.

When we say ‘marcasite’, we mean marcasite jewelry made with iron pyrite (you can assume this is the case just about everywhere that you see ‘marcasite’ referred to).

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Iron pyrite, used for making marcasite jewelry

Marcasite jewelry is nearly always made with silver settings. Marcasite jewelry was worn as early as 1700 or even before, but gained popularity particularly during the mid-Victorian era as it was appropriate for mourning wear.

It continued to be worn throughout the Art Deco period as a less expensive alternative to diamonds.   Even into the 1980s, it was considered appropriate jewelry for young women as it gave some glitter and glamor at a low cost.

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Marcasite Silver Bracelet

Things to Consider When Buying Old Marcasite Jewelry

1) Is it hallmarked? If it is a quality piece it should have a silver stamp of some kind. If it is not stamped as silver, the chances are it is not a quality piece.

2) Many pieces were made in Germany before the Second World War for export.  If it is marked GERMANY, it might well be prewar.

3) Marcasite jewelry is either set with prong or bead settings (just like gemstones) or glued pieces of pyrite.  The properly-set pieces are far superior to the glued. Setting the tiny pieces of pyrite by hand would have been time-consuming labor and gave much more durability.

4) In order to tell if the pieces are set or glued, examine closely with a jeweler’s loupe.  If you see any little overlapping claws or edges from the silver, it is set (unless the piece is cast and has just been made to appear as though it is set and is still actually glued, investigate thoroughly to check if the pieces are actually held in place by the overlaps or not).

5)) Pyrite for marcasite jewelry is usually cut in tiny pieces with a flat bottom, similar to a Dutch Rose Cut. Cut steel can also resemble marcasite jewelry and unfortunately most contemporary ‘marcasite’ jewelry is actually just cut steel or is glued in pieces of pyrite. To tell the difference between cut steel and pyrite, look at the back. Cut steel pieces will be attached with rivets on the back of the piece.

6) Are there any missing pieces of pyrite in the piece? If so, this can lower the value.

7) Also, remember that just because it is old it doesn’t mean it is high quality.  Many Victorian pieces were glued and also made with cut steel. However, if the pieces are set properly and not glued, the chances are it is quite old (although not necessarily of course).

Scallop Shaped Cut-Steel Brooch.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Scallop Shaped Cut-Steel Brooch: Reverse. Note the Pattern of Rivets Securing the Studs.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Today, old marcasite jewelry is considered collectible and is also very easy to wear and enjoy with contemporary looks.  I expect marcasite jewelry will always be popular.

 

The Art Deco Jewelry of the Paris Exhibition

The Art Deco Jewelry of the Paris Exhibition

The Paris 1925 Exhibition was an international exhibition devoted to the decorative arts. With it was born the spread of the movement which we now know as ‘Art Deco’.

STYLE MODERNE

The Paris Exhibition was France’s demonstration to the world that it continued to be the greatest nation as far as the applied arts were concerned and, in particular, fashion and luxury goods.

Britain and Italy also played leading roles at the exhibition. Germany and the USA were conspicuously absent.

Modernism and originality were emphasized. The term ‘Art Deco’, however, was not coined until the 1960s. At the time, people thought of the Art Deco style as simply ‘modern or contemporary’ style or ‘style moderne’.

DESIGNERS

  • Three design companies were prominent at the exhibit. These were: Cartier, Després and Van Cleef & Arpels. All of these companies are now considered defining forces behind the Art Deco style.
  • At the exhibit, Van Cleef & Arpels won a grand prix for a half-open rose in diamond-studded rubies and emeralds.
  • Cartier, however, had the highest status, showing their work separately from the other designers in the Pavillon de l’Élégance, instead of in the main Grand Palais.
  • Other companies were Fouquet, Chaumet, Dusausoy, Lacloche Frères, Linseler & Machack, Boivin, Mauboussin, Mellerio and Ostertag.
  • Jewelry artists included Raymond Templier, Paul-Émile Brant, and Gérard.

MATERIALS

  • Platinum and chromium-plated metal made a strong appearance in keeping with the theme of ‘modernism’.
  • Other popular materials included rubies, onyx, lacquered silver, jade, enamel, rock crystal, gold, lapis lazuli, and diamonds.
  • Flattened silver necklaces were presented by Després. 
  • Emeralds were showcased in the form of a spectacular shoulder necklace by Cartier with a matching diadem and brooch. It incorporated three enormous Mughal emeralds. It remained unsold as it seemed it was too lavish to be worn by anyone.
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The Cartier Timken necklace, designed in 1925. It is one of the most important examples of Cartier jewelry from the Art Deco era. It is set with three rare Mughal emeralds carved on the front and  back, weighing 71.91ct, 30.27ct and 29.21ct, sapphire beads, buff-top cabochon sapphires, emerald beads, and diamonds

MONOCHROME AND PAVÉ

  • Black and white jewelry were prevalent, in particular Cartier pieces of pavé diamonds and dyed onyx.
  • This showcasing of pavé went on to greatly influence costume jewelry styles.
  • Monochrome styles continue to be strongly associated with Art Deco.
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Art Deco Theatre Bag. Elder and Bloom.

ISLAMIC INFLUENCES

  • Stars and geometrical themes were featured.

CARVED GEMSTONES

  • Baskets of fruits and flowers made from carved gemstones dazzled the exhibition visitors.

EGYPTIAN INFLUENCES

  • Falcons, lotus flowers, snakes, and winged female figures were showcased.
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Art Deco Snake Bangle. Elder and Bloom.

CHINESE INFLUENCES

  • Dragons, chimeras, Buddhas, and pagodas made a strong appearance.
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Art Deco Theatre Bag with Chinese Motifs. Elder and Bloom.

IN CONCLUSION

The Paris 1925 Exposition has gone on to be considered the apex of Art Deco style and has forever brought French design to the forefront of the applied arts.

How marvelous it must have been for those who love beauty and style to stroll past those dazzling exhibitions!

Because of the 1925 Paris Exposition, Art Deco design spread throughout the world and has continued in its immense popularity to this day with no sign of abatement.

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The Difference Between Bakelite and Catalin Vintage Jewelry

The Difference Between Bakelite and Catalin Vintage Jewelry

One of the great misnomers in vintage and antique jewelry sales is ‘Bakelite’. Nearly all jewelry that we refer to as Bakelite jewelry is actually Catalin, a similar but different type of early plastic.

This can be confusing but is more easily be understood if you think of the term ‘Bakelite’, when it refers to jewelry, as simply being another term for ‘Catalin’. 

Most dealers, when they sell Catalin jewelry,  call it ‘Bakelite’ because otherwise, the customer may not know what it is.

Bakelite

  • Bakelite was a type of early plastic first developed in 1907 by the Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland in Yonkers, New York.
  • It was used in a wide variety of products, ranging from radios to household appliances and industrial parts but was rarely used for jewelry.
  • It was produced in the 1950s.

Catalin

  • Catalin was developed and trademarked in 1927 by the American Catalin Corporation when they acquired the patents for Bakelite.
  • Catalin contains no fillers and is transparent and almost colorless.
  • It can be carved and faceted.
  • It has a wide variety of applications, including jewelry.
  • The Catalin Corporation introduced 15 colors, including clear, opaque, and marbled versions.
  • Catalin jewelry was produced from 1927 until the end of World War II.
  • Production ended because every piece had to be cast and polished by hand which proved to be too expensive.

Final words

Made only between the years of 1927 until approximately 1945, Catalin / Bakelite jewelry is very much associated with the Art Deco era. Iconic and characterful, it is surprisingly pleasant to wear and has a truly addictive quality. It has unexpected nuance and charm.

Two pieces striking each other – for example, when two bangles are worn – make a delicious ‘clunking’ sound. The colors and styles are vast and gorgeous.

Often the styles are completely one of a kind, especially when hand-carved. For all of these reasons and more, it is no wonder that Catalin / Bakelite jewelry is becoming increasingly sought after and is considered a collector’s item.

The tests for Bakelite and Catalin are the same.

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Bakelite (Catalin) bangle. Elder and Bloom.

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Bakelite / Catalin bangle. Elder and Bloom.

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