Vintage Jewelry Hardware: How to Date Your Jewelry based on Construction

My Classic Jewelry Vintage Jewelry Hardware

What is Vintage Jewelry Hardware?

Vintage jewelry hardware refers to the various types of clasps, pins, earring backs, rings, and other elements used to create jewelry. These are also called “findings.” Techniques and elements have evolved over time, so knowing the types of hardware used during various eras will help you to properly date your vintage and antique jewelry. This is especially important when the jewelry has no hallmarks or maker’s marks.

NOTE: This is the final article in my four-part series on how to identify and date vintage jewelry. You can read the other articles in this series here:
Part 1: Vintage Jewelry Marks: Help for Dating Your Vintage Jewelry
Part 2: Silver Jewelry Marks: Learn to Identify and Date Silver Jewelry
Part 3: Vintage Jewelry Patents: Find and Use them to Date Vintage Jewelry

So let’s get started learning about vintage jewelry hardware.

Vintage and Antique Brooch Clasps

The earliest type of brooch clasp is a simple hook, also known as the C-clasp, since the hook is shaped like the letter “C.” It was used well into the 1930s. On older brooches (around the turn of twentieth century) you’ll see that the pin extends well beyond the clasp. As time went on, the pins became shorter. Although mostly seen on older brooches, some inexpensive brooches are made with C-clasps even today.

The trombone clasp, patented in Europe in 1850, was named after the musical instrument as it had a tube with a round top. You would pull the top out to release the pin. These were used in the latter half of the 19th century into the 1950s, mostly by European jewelers.

Antique and Vintage Jewelry Hardware Brooch Clasps
Antique and Vintage Jewelry Brooch Clasps

The safety catch (also known as the “spring ring” clasp) was introduced in 1921. Improvements and modifications made throughout the 20th century. It eventually evolved into the modern locking clasps in use today. Safety pin clasps were also popular and were used from the late 1800s until the early 1900s, and are still used on some hand made pieces today. They are commonly found on hand made brooches from the mid-20th century era, such as painted wooden brooches from Russia or micro mosaic brooches from Italy.

Antique and Vintage Brooch Clasps
Antique and Vintage Brooches with C-clasp, Safety Pin Clasp, and Modern Clasp

Vintage and Antique Bracelet Clasps

The clasps used on bracelets depend on the type of bracelet. Wide bangles typically used secure hinges with tongue and groove type clasps (also known as box clasps), while more delicate link bracelets used ring clasps. Wider link bracelets set with stones would often have fancy decorated box clasps. The lobster claw clasp in use today is a fairly new design from the late 1970s, as is the toggle clasp.

The spring ring clasp, introduced in the early 20th century, is the most common vintage bracelet clasp. It has a spring inside the ring that allows it to open and snap closed. A variation of this is the sport ring clap, which works the same way, but instead of a nub, it has a ridged end used to open the ring.

Box, Spring Ring, and Sport Ring Bracelet Clasps
Box Clasp, Spring Ring Clasp, and Sport Ring Bracelet Clasps

Foldover clasps were used on both bracelets and necklaces. These could be either narrow or wide, depending on the width of the pieces. Pieces with stones would sometimes have foldover clasps that were decorated with matching stones.

The sister hook clasp was popular in the 1930s and 1940s. It had two scissor-like hooks that opened in the middle, then overlapped each other when closed. Early designs were rectangular in shape. Monet had a patented, rounded sister clasp used in its jewelry in the 1950s and 1960s.

Vintage Foldover and Sister Bracelet Clasps
Vintage Narrow and Wide Foldover Bracelet Clasps and Monet Patented Sister Clasp

In addition, there were some specialty clasps used, such as snap clasps, unique pin clasps found on wide link and bangle bracelets, and unique hook clasps.

Vintage Jewelry Hardware Bracelet Clasps
Unique Vintage Jewelry Bracelet Clasps

Vintage and Antique Necklace Clasps

As with bracelets, commonly used vintage necklace clasps include ring clasps, foldover clasps, and box clasps. The hook and box clasp (also called “fish hook” clasp) was commonly used on pearl necklaces or necklaces with gemstone beads. Often oval shaped, the long hook was inserted and locked into place.

The Hook clasp (also called shepherd’s hook) was very popular in the 1950s and 1960s, when chunky multi-strand bead necklaces and sparkling rhinestone necklaces were very popular. Usually, the necklace had a chain that allowed the hook to use any of the chain links, making the necklace length adjustable. The S-hook clasp is a variation on the hook, with a rounded, S shape.

Barrel clasps were quite popular, and are still used today, so it’s important to note the age of the clasp. Older pieces will show some darkening of the metal, looking more like brass.

Vintage Jewelry Hardware Necklace Clasps
Vintage Jewelry Hardware Necklace Clasps

Vintage and Antique Earrings

Until the late 1800s the typical style of earring used fish hook or “shepherd’s hook” style ear wires for pierced ears. In 1898 the kidney wire was introduced. This was a more sturdy and secure fastener, as the wire was secured with a hook at the bottom of the earring. Both fish hooks and kidney wire earring backs are still in use today. Post earrings (also known as stud earrings) were also common at this time and normally the studs were threaded so that the backs of the earrings could be secured with screws.

Vintage Jewelry Hardware Earring Backs
Vintage Jewelry Hardware: Wire, Leverback, and Victorian Post Earrings

Hinged, or “leverback” ear wires have been in use since the 1880s, and are still quite popular today. Up until the 1890s all earrings were made for pierced ears. In 1894 the screw-back earring was invented, allowing women without pierced ears to wear earrings. The earring clip was patented in 1934 and by the 1940s became the preferred earring style for women without pierced ears. The clip mechanism has been improved over time and clip earrings are still quite popular today.

Vintage Jewelry Hardware: Earring Clasps
Vintage Jewelry Hardware: Leverback, Screwback, and Monet Specialty Earring Clips

Resources and Final Comments

I haven’t been able to locate a single web site with comprehensive information about vintage jewelry hardware. Rather, I’ve picked up bits and pieces of information from multiple sites. The Morning Glory Antiques Jewel Chat Findings page has some photos of basic antique and vintage jewelry findings. You can view it here: Morning Glory Antiques Jewel Chat Findings Page.

There are also a few vintage jewelry reference books that I can recommend:

Collecting Costume Jewelry 303Collecting Costume Jewelry 303: The Flip Side, Exploring Costume Jewelry from the Back, Identification and Value Guide
This wonderful and thorough reference book covers the collectible costume jewelry designs of 97 companies with over 1,200 photographs. The detailed close-up photos show hardware traits, construction elements, interesting stones, and signatures for each piece.
Jewelry Fixups: How to Clean, Repair, and Restore Your JewelryJewelry Fixups: How to Clean, Repair, and Restore Your Jewelry
An excellent reference for jewelry care and repair techniques, Jewelry Fixups also provides details about the construction and materials used in the jewelry designs of various eras. This information enables you to identify the age and composition of popular jewelry types and teaches you how to keep them looking like new. An essential reference for any jewelry owner.
Warman's Jewelry: Identification & Price GuideWarman’s Jewelry: Identification & Price Guide
This book offers significant historical information and lavish images of gorgeous jewelry. It covers both fine and costume jewelry from the 18th to 21st centuries. Eras include Late Georgian and Early, Mid, and Late Victorian. Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, and Edwardian. Includes manufacturer marks, historic time line, and glossary.

There are additional attributes that help to identify and date pieces. Other jewelry parts such as the metal, plating, stones, and bead characteristics can help determine the origin and age of jewelry. These are additional topics that I plan to write about in the future.

Please Comment, Share, and Connect

I hope this article has been helpful to you. I’d love to hear your comments or questions. Please click the comments link below this article to add your comments. To share this article, use the share buttons below. You can also use the Social Media buttons in the right sidebar to visit my pages.

Thank you, Christine 🙂

Pamala Mys

Christine, I was impressed with the information you provided. I had purchased a pair of earrings and they had a clasp I haven’t seen but one other time. It is simaler to an oval shape. Split at top section of oval. The strange part is one side (front hook) is straight. The back half of clasp, how I see a tpye of safety latch. Anyway I would like to know and learn more about jewelry. Can’t wear it (allergic to most metals) so I’d like to know more about collections, buying, selling, gifts, or just decorations. I’d like to know how to spot something. vintage or fack. You have peaked my interest more than before reading your article. I sometimes ramble and get lost in the thinking of it. Anyway these earring clasps are different. The back piece has an opening for the front piece to go in thus securing it better. I was wonder wher I could find pictures of all different styles. Thank you for letting me ramble on, too. Very interesting.

Di MacDonald

Very informative and loaded with tons of valuable information for future use! Thank you so much for leading the path for some of us who are learning! I’ll be looking for other articles.

Jean Johnson

Do you know of somebody who repairs Italian micro-bead jewelry? I have an Italian micro-bead bracelet that my father gave to my mom during WWII. It is one of the very few things she had left that he gave her, so I would like to have it restored. Can you direct me to anybody who might have the resources (missing beads and one missing pin)to restore it? Thank you.

Christine

Sorry, Jean. Don’t know of anyone who repairs micro-bead jewelry. You might want to try Etsy – there are a lot of craft people there who work with jewelry. Good Luck, Christine 🙂

Joanne Sherman

Hello,

Recently purchased a Czech necklace and did not know it came from a smokers home. How do you clean the smell? The piece has intricate detail and has gold/brass metal and some rhinestones without prongs.

Thank you for the time.

Joanne SHerman

Kathy

I have some old pins from 1930’s I think. Belonged to New York lady. No markings but brass. One is a bear claw with mink inside middle with pearl inset. Can’t find any pics like it. Your information is very good for me as a beginner in her sixties. Such beautiful designs.

Misty P.

Thank you again Christine for sharing your well researched useful information with us. I find it very helpful that you also show photos along with the information, making it much easier to learn about the different jewelry styles and eras.
Much appreciated. 🙂

~Misty P.

Tammie Sparks

A Wealth of Information I am anxious to start using. The Photos Really do Help with Identifying. Thank You for all Your Research Efforts.
Tammie

Christina

I thought your article was very informative. It was interesting to learn about all the different closures, and I will try to keep that in mind next time I go antique shopping. However I was hoping to learn about unique closures. I have a bracelet with a heart and rod closure that I have googled to death and can’t find anything similar.

Julia

Christina, I too have a bracelet with a heart and rod closure. It large pale gold pearls and i purchased it from China close to 10 years ago. Hope this helps!

jackie harrison

very informative but still can’t identify what I have Brooch with ladie’s face and on back number 22 and a crest with a crown on top. In the crest CM and bottom HR. Any idea or a good reference to further research? Thank u!

Hilario

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Billie Burk

How have I not found your blog before. So far I am loving it. Wish I could stay longer buy I have to go for now. I promise I will be back. Once I get back to see more, I would like to post a blog reviewing and linking and singing praises to you for a job well done. I have been in the vintage jewelry collecting, admiring, selling, buying, wearing world for at least ten years. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of good places on the Net with good information. This is put together very well. It’s easy to understand and the pictures are great! Very informative! I especially am impressed with the depth of the posts. Thank You!

Kitty

Hi Christine,

Can you tell me when the bracelet in the picture for the Wide Bracelet Pin Clasp dates from? My parents bought a silver bracelet for me in an antique shop in a small town in Germany. It looks super old and I am really wondering when it could be from. Your picture was the only one I have been able to find that looks like the clasp on my bracelet!

Thanks 🙂

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