Costume Jewelry: Confusing Fakes and Copies IIBy

Costume Jewelry: Confusing Fakes and Copies

The so-called jelly belly fakes have now been joined by another generation of fraud costume jewelry which includes imitation enamel pieces. This article will examine this group of impostors and list the features you need to identify and avoid them.

Almost all the major differences between the new and pieces shown in this article are due to old pieces being essentially handmade and the reproductions being mass produced as rapidly as possible. All the new items shown, for example are molded, or cast, as one piece. Vintage 1920-1940 originals almost always are made of a number of die struck pieces soldered together (see Figs. 14-17). Once you know the signs of hand work, detecting the mass produced fakes is relatively easy. Here are the main features to look at.

Enamel Work

The new pins shown in Figs. 1 & 2 are extensively "enameled". It is relatively easy to identify these pieces as fakes with a simple 10X loupe. The telltale clue is the obvious brush strokes (Figs. 4 & 5).

True enamel was applied as a powder then fired at high temperatures which melted the powder into a smooth glass-like coating. No brush marks are ever found in fired enamel. The fakes are simply cold painted with ordinary paints and a brush.

In addition to looking for brush marks in enamel work, closely inspect all chips and scratches. True enamels were applied over a dark dull primer or undercoating. Chips in true enamel almost always show the dull under coating below. The new "enamels" do not have the undercoating. Chips or scratches in the new nonenamel paint show the shiny metal surface below (Fig. 3).

Prongs & Mountings

Generally speaking, new prongs are wider, thicker and longer than 1920-1940 originals. The new prongs are molded as part of the entire piece and must be made larger to survive being removed from the mold. New prongs in Fig. 7, for example, come up over the top of the stone. Original prongs hide less of the stone and are generally only long enough to secure the stone to the mounting. Unbent prongs also indicate a fake (Fig. 6).


Virtually all authentic marks are die stamped into the metal. All the new marks are molded into the new piece when it is cast. The most obvious clue of a cast mark is a bar or box surrounding the name (Fig. 9). This feature would never be found on vintage originals. Generally, stamped marks are always much sharper and cleaner than the cast marks (Figs. 10-11).

There is a huge variety of marks used by various vintage companies. The Eisenberg mark in both Fig. 12 and Fig. 13 is correct. However, the mark was used in different ways during different time periods. You cannot use marks for dating unless you know when and how original marks were applied. That is why marks alone are not a reliable indicator of age.

Black Light

If you only occasionally buy costume jewelry, a black light inspection may be the easiest overall test to catch the majority of fakes in this article. The fake Eisenberg tag in Fig. 12, for example is glued, not soldered. This is an obvious clue to a fake but almost impossible to detect with the eye alone.

To the eye, the prongs in Fig. 6 look convincing until the black light shows the large stones are glued. Once your attention is called to the glue, closer inspection reveals the reproduction prongs are for show only, they have no real function.

Black light is also of some use in identifying the new enamel. Almost all true enamel looks the same color under black light as in normal light. Many new colors will turn black or very dull under black light.

Special Cases

Most reference books on costume jewelry show at least some 1920-1940 Christmas trees which can sell for $100-$500. The two trees in Fig. 18 are legitimate Eisenberg's an unsuspecting buyer bought as vintage pieces. How can these pieces be identified as modern?

First, Christmas trees prior to 1940 are quite large, usually 3" to 4". The vast majority of trees on the market today have been made since 1950 and are half that size. The trees shown are each under 2". The next fact to consider: Eisenberg didn't make Christmas trees until the 1980s. Despite the authentic mark from a legitimate maker, these pieces were not the ca. 1930s originals the seller claimed.

Checklist for Costume Jewelry

Original vintage factory and designer names are almost always die stamped, not cast. Use a reference book to compare what authentic marks were used and how they were applied. Never base age on marks alone. Most fake and reproduction mountings are one-piece castings; originals are mostly assembled from many parts soldered together. Use a black light to check for glued stones and glue used in assembly. Don't rely on a single test for age–use several tests.


Fig. 1


Fig. 2

Figs. 1 & 2 Two new fake pins sold to a Midwestern dealer as an "estate lot". Jester face with fake enamel marked Staret. Bird pin, fake enamel, marked Coro. Both pieces are cast fakes.


Fig. 3 Bare metal (often shiny) shows through chips and scratches in new "enamel". Chips on old enamel show a dull colored primer paint underneath. You would virtually never expect to see shiny metal through a chip or scratch in old enamel.


Fig. 4 Brush marks are common in new "enamel" but never found in true old enamel.


Fig. 5 Crude brush marks in "enamel" are an obvious warning of a fake.


Fig. 6 These new prongs are not bent over (stones are glued). Old prongs are functional; unbent prongs are one sign of a fake.


Fig. 7 Many prongs on new cast jewelry are wider, thicker and longer than original prongs. The new prongs shown above extend almost to the top of the stone. Compare these to the original prongs shown in Fig. 8.


Fig. 8 Old prongs are typically just long enough to hold the stones in place. The exact proportions will vary, but prongs are generally a good indication of age. The longer, wider and thicker, the more likely the piece is a modern copy or fake.


Fig. 9 Any name that appears set into a bar or block (white arrow) is virtually guaranteed to be a fake. Such names are cast (molded); almost all old factory and studio names are stamped into the metal.


Fig. 10 New cast Coro name. Very indistinct, lacks sharp detail. Typical of new fake marks.


Fig. 11 Old factory and studio names were virutally always die stamped producing sharp crisp marks.


Fig. 12 This stamped tag is a fake. How can you tell? It is glued on, not soldered on. The glue may fool the eye but it fluoresces under black light.


Fig. 13 The fake mark Fig. 12 is close to this original. Never use marks alone as your only test of age. Know the years different marks were used and how they were applied.


Fig. 14


Fig. 15

New: cast in one piece

Figs. 14 & 15 Typical cast fake. Thick, wide, long prongs; heavy design. Little space between settings. The back (Fig. 15) shows how the cast metal runs continuously from setting to setting. Flat with little depth front to back. Shown actual size. About 90% of new fakes are single piece castings.


Fig. 16


Fig. 17

Old: pieces soldered together

Figs. 16 & 17 Typical good quality vintage costume jewelry pin, ca. 1920-1940. Individual mountings soldered to wires, wires joined to central large spray. Good depth front to back, lighter less heavy looking than cast piece above. Much less metal used than fake piece in Figs. 14-15 above. Shown actual size. About 95% of vintage pieces are soldered together.


Fig. 18 These legitimate Eisenberg Christmas trees were sold as vintage costume jewelry. How can they be dated? Pre-World War II trees are large, 3" to 4" tall. These 1980s products are well under 2".

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