Saturday, 3 September 2011

A Guide to Vintage Marcasite Jewellery


Today I want to chat about vintage silver marcasite jewellery, what it is, what to look for and how to care for it.

Firstly marcasite stones are actually made from iron pyrite, a natural mineral which is a hard stable material with a bright metallic lustre that can't be scratched easily. Confusingly there is a mineral called marcasite, but this has a softer structure that cracks and crumbles easily when worked. Perhaps it is this because of this confusion marcasite jewellery is a bit of a mystery to some and finds itself sandwiched uncomfortably between costume jewellery and precious
jewellery.

Marcasites have been used for jewellery since the time of the ancient Greeks but gained a more common use in the Georgian period of the 18th century when cut steel and marcasite were used as a diamond substitutes. Marcasite was a much better alternative as it had a brighter lustre and didn't rust like cut steel and like diamonds twinkled beautifully in the soft glow of candlelight.
The Victorian era saw a rise again in the popularity of marcasite jewellery when craftsmanship was of high quality but the cost of production was low. A lot of the reproduction marcasite jewellery you see today is based on Victorian designs.

The popularity and production was at it's peak during the first part of the 20th century and most of the antique and vintage marcasite you see today is from that era. There is a lovely variation styles available as Victorian and Edwardian designs were reused and then the the influence of the 1920-30's machine age gave us the clean lines of what we now know as Art Deco.

Antique and vintage marcasite jewellery is set in silver although you do get cheaper imitations from the 1950's-60's set in steel. It was made in various parts of the world, England, France, Germany, America, etc, so there are different silver hallmarks to be found. Most common are SILVER, STERLING, 935, 800, 835, and the tiny indistinct French stamp.


There is a lot of modern mass produced marcasite jewellery on the market masquerading as genuine vintage. Old marcasite jewellery is used as a mould for reproducing a period looking piece, some are poor quality and fairly easy to spot, but increasingly there is a lot of higher quality reproduction that can easily catch the buyer out.

If you want to be sure you are buying a genuine older piece have a really good look at it. Firstly have a look on the back, if the silver mark is 925 ( NB not 935) that is is almost certainly a fairly modern piece. Have a look at the way it is made, modern marcasite jewellery is often less finely crafted. If you have a magnifying glass or jewellers loop look at the setting of the stones. With the older jewellery the stones are glued and set with tiny pieces of silver curled over the stone to help hold it in place. With modern examples the stones are just stuck in rather than set and the little beads of silver that imitate the setting aren't actually holding the stone in place.

Whether you should attempt to clean vintage silver marcasite jewellery is a personal choice. For myself, I don't over clean old pieces as I think it takes away the warmth and character that distinguishes it from modern jewellery. I suggest if it is very black and tarnished use a silver jewellery cleaning cloth and gently take off the tarnish, if you go over the stone setting with the cloth be careful as you can easily flick out a marcasite. Never dunk the item in silver dip or liquid jewellery cleaner as it will quickly strip it right back to a bright cold silver and you may well lose or loosen the stones.

Most importantly, enjoy buying and wearing your vintage marcasite jewellery, I think it is incredibly underpriced considering the age of it and the craftsmanship that has gone into making it !

Carol x

P.S.  Thanks very much for all the comments on this post. 
Comments are now closed as of 22/03/17

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32 comments:

  1. Thank you for this tid bit of information. We have marcasite jewellery from my grandmothers bits, but I'm starting a collection of my own pieces, so you have helped me out greatly:)

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    1. You're welcome Paula, I'm thrilled to be of help :-)

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  2. Can you help me!? I have a marcasite set that I bought about 15 years ago - necklace and matching bracelet - marcasite x's and mother of pearl o's. The set is lovely - however I ruined it - by putting it in liquid silver cleaner for too long (misread the instructions!) The mother of pearl looks fine - but the metal looks a little coppery and dried out/chalky. The marcasite stones still sparkle and not many stones have been lost. Can this be repaired?

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    1. Sorry to hear about your marcasite set!
      From what you describe I don't think any jeweller would attempt to bring it back to life and if they did it would be time consuming and therefore costly....You could try to resurrect it yourself by using a silver cloth to polish the metal, although I have my doubts as to whether it is silver as you describe a coppery colour....It could just have been silver plated. You can buy marcasite stones from jewellery suppliers, or rescue the ones that have dropped to the bottom of the dip....to stick them in use GS Hydro cement (ebay) Only use teeny, tiny amounts so that it dries quickly.....
      Sorry not to be the bearer of good news :-(
      Carol x

      P.S. Throw the silver dip away, it is leathal stuff...a jewellers cloth is all you need :-)

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  3. Hello. I have a part silver marcasite necklace and brooch. On the reverse it says 835 and there`s a symbol which I would be grateful for your help in identifying. It is a T with a line across the middle. At each end the line goes through a C but it is reversed on the left side. I hope you can understand this !!! I might be looking at it upside down though.
    Thanking you Caroline

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  4. Hi Caroline,
    Sorry to take so long getting back to you! Life is wall to wall busy these days....
    I have found a website with a mark similar to the one you describe, they attribute the mark to the T & C shop Chicogo . Here are a couple of links :
    http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/The_T.C._Shop_Jewelry_Maker%27s_Mark
    http://www.smpub.com/ubb/Forum10/HTML/000561.html
    Hope this helps :-)
    Carol x

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  5. Hi Carol,

    Very interesting blog!
    And I ADORE your sitting Scottie dog! Simply precious.
    Since I just found your site, I am unsure if I must register somewhere or not? Please advise. (The "Sign out" click box worries me a bit since I never "signed in"!)
    Here is a link to a piece that I have photographed and posted on my flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118861483@N04/14520870881/
    There are several photos of it. There are no markings on it at all that I can find . . .
    The cool thing about it is that the initials can be arranged in several ways inside the frame.
    Any thoughts about the vintage of this piece? Art Deco comes to mind because of the geometric lines, but I'm just guessing.
    Also, any idea of value? Or who I could contact or where I could go to get a ballpark valuation?
    Thanks for any help you can provide.
    Cheryl

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  6. Hi Cheryl,

    Thanks! I'm not sure about the signing? I think it must be to do with signing into Google as there is no registration or signing in to read the blog page.
    I'm sorry but I can't look at your item as I don't use flickr and have no need to sign up. Do you have it on an FB page?
    Best,
    Carol.

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  7. Hi there

    Really interesting article, love knowing the history of items, thanks for sharing!

    I've been specialising in Antique Lighting since 1991 and really enjoyed this article.

    Great work and keep it up!

    Love Jill xx

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  8. Hi Carol, I have a marcasite bow brooch which is engraved with 'No 267' Would you please tell me what that number means as it is none of the numbers you have listed.
    Thank you. Karen

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  9. Karen, I think it will almost definately be a design number.
    Thanks, Carol.

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  10. Thank you Carol,

    Does that mean it might be more valuable? I am wanting to sell a few pieces.
    Thank you once more,
    Karen

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  11. No not really Karen... It needs to have a silver mark ie 800, 925,935, Sterling or SILVER. Usually when marcasite isn't marked with a silver mark it is base metal which has been rhodium plated and of little value. If you have a lot of pieces you could take them to your local auction house. Auctioneers often have valuation days so you can get advice about whether your items have any value :-)
    Hope that helps, Carol.

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  12. Thank you Carol. It's good to have as much information as possible before selling.Yes, I do have a lot of jewelry from both sides of the family and I have sons, no girls! I will take your advice and find someone to value it. Your advice was most helpful. Thank you once more. Take care,
    Karen

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  13. Hello! I saw a beautiful pair of vintage sterling & marcasite earrings on a website that I can tell was (unfortunately) dipped in silver polish. I can deal with the loss of patina on the silver but I'm concerned that the silver polish has ruined the sparkle of the marcasite stones. Since I can't inspect them in person I'm wondering if you know how much marcasite is affected by polish. Thanks for your help.

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    1. Thanks for visiting my blog page! The marcasite stones shouldn't be affected by the silver dip/polish but the security of the setting may have been compromised. Most older marcasite jewellery is set with a combination of silver grain settings combined with being glued in. Dipping can make the stones fall out or become loose as the glue disintergrates, so I would be wary! If they haven't lost any stones now they may do in the future.

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  14. I appreciate your quick reply, Carol. Great to hear the stones are probably ok. Now I have to decide if I can check and reinforce the settings properly. Thank you for sharing your expertise!
    Nancy

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  15. I have a marcasite Celtic cross. It is stamped with 3 marks that I cannot read plus 'Irish sterling'. I'm guessing it's silver. A beautiful piece but is it silver?

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    1. Hi Simon, yes, it will be silver :-) It could be that the three marks are the silver fineness, ie 925 which is the standard for serling silver. This website may be of interest http://www.925-1000.com

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  16. Hi! Having so much fun since finding your site. My marcasite and green glass necklace say STERLING and ten LGW. Any thoughts on the LGW? Thank you!

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    1. Hi Monica, Thanks very much! I'm afraid I have no idea about the LGW...The Sterling stamp may indicate it is of American origin, but that is as much as I can say! The website I gave in the above comment may be worth trawling and you can post up to see if anyone on there can help :-) http://www.925-1000.com

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  17. Hi Carol,

    I've recently purchased a beautiful wind up marquesite watch. It's 17 Jewel but I'm struggling to read the stamps on back. I'm pretty sure it's say Str but what I think are numbers next to it are very hard to read. The first number I thought was a 3 but after reading your thread I'm thinking maybe a worn 8? Is it worth paying for a valuation do you think? I'm not thinking of selling but would love to know more about it more than anything

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    1. Hi,
      Either way Str, 925,935 or 835, it is classed as silver :-) In my opinion its not worth having a valuation done. Your best bet is to trawl the net, ie etsy etc to find examples along similar lines and base the value on what you find.
      If you can find a good jeweller who offers a repair service for watches (usually the independant family shops are best )you could pay the get it cleaned and serviced as they are usually full of debris and sweater fluff :-) Ask them to take a note of the hallmarking, maker mark etc when it is cleaned and they may also give a verbal opinion of value. Hope that helps! Carol.

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  18. Carol
    How do you clean Marcasite Jewelry? I purchased a beautiful but fragile necklace, I believe it is Silver plated Copper and it has tarnished and has a smell from years of not being cleaned. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks

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    1. Hi, thanks for your message! I think the best way is to use a silver cleaning cloth or jewellery cleaning cloth and just carefully with one finger in the cloth rub over the necklace. It should lift some of the tarnish, but maybe not all and obviously if there is any copper showing through it won't change that.
      The smell is harder to treat, you could clean the back with a damp cotton bud or slightly damp cloth and then dry it and then try storing it in a scented box ie lavender. The key thing is not to wet the front of the setting and if it is really fragile be very gentle!
      Carol.

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  19. Hi Carol

    I have a marcasite cross that was given to me along with a prayer and hymn book. I believe it to be 18th century. The hymn book has dates of where and when hymns were sung and go back to 1790’s. I have had it for over 60 years and love it.

    Sadley a stone has come out (but I still have it) my question is… do I have it glued back in or set back into the bit of bent claws.

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    1. Hi Marilyn,
      If the 18th century date you believe the cross to be is accurate it could be cut steel, not marcasite. However, as you say there are some claws as part of the setting, it will be marcasite, in which case it will probably be late 19th century early 20th century. Older marcasite was glued and set so the answer is a bit of both! Good luck that you have the original stone as it will make the repair invisible :-)

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  20. Hi! Carol,
    I have a lovely marcasite necklace and earring set. I was hoping you might be able to help me with the markings on the back.
    The earrings have sterling on them whilst the matching necklace has HP NI on the back. I have polished it with a jewelry cloth and it looks beautiful.

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    1. Hi, Sorry, In this case I have no idea who or what the marks are!

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