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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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Thank you, Christine 🙂