Up Buying Ordering FAQ Products

horizontal rule

Table of Contents

bulletWhy isn't my jewelry marked?
bulletWhat does 14K, 18K, etc. mean?
bulletWhat does 585, 750, etc. mean?
bulletWhat is my jewelry worth?
bulletHow can I learn more about jewelry ?

horizontal rule


The following answers are as candid and truthful as possible. They are based upon thousands of buying experiences and many years as antique and jewelry dealers.

14K opal and diamond pendantYou want to sell your goods; then you want accurate and timely answers from veteran dealers who study the market and are considered experts in their fields. There are many, many honest, ethical and knowledgeable dealers that buy jewelry. Whether you sell to them or us is not the primary consideration as far as we're concerned. The most important factor is that you receive fair and relevant value for your items within a comfortable transaction.

Back to Top

horizontal rule

Why isn't my jewelry marked?

There are several reasons your jewelry shows no quality mark (14K, 18K, etc.):

It may have worn off over the years. This is especially true of rings of high karat gold which is quite a bit softer than the lower karats. Necklaces often have worn clasps which render the mark unreadable, or which were replaced with unmarked ones.

Brooches were often just marked on the pin shank or catch which may have been replaced due to wear.

The item may have been repaired and the original mark was removed or destroyed. Rings that have been resized or reshanked often lose their mark or stamp of quality.

It may have been custom made by a jeweler who didn't have a registered trademark and therefore couldn't legally add a quality mark.

Some pieces are of such construction, or so delicate, that there just is no way to stamp them. Sometimes, a tiny plate with the stamped mark is soldered on.

Maybe it isn't made of precious metals.

Actually, the law doesn't require a mark at all. The legal requirement is that if manufacturers quality mark items of jewelry, they must also include their registered trademark. 

A quality mark, or the absence of one, should not be the sole determinant of an item's metal content. There are chemical and electronic tests that can determine the karat value to within a few percent. Most dealers have one or both of these test capabilities on hand. However, nothing beats experience for that initial inclination and impression.

Back to Top

horizontal rule

What does 14K, 18K, etc. mean?

24K is pure gold. The number in front of the K is the number of parts of gold out of 24 that are in the alloy. 14K is 14 parts of gold and 10 parts of another metal; 18K is 18 parts gold and 6 parts another metal.  The other metal could be copper, silver, nickel, etc. The amount and type of metal determines, to a large extent, the color of the final alloy. Pink gold has much copper, green gold has silver, white gold has a large amount of nickel.

Whatever the karat, the magic number is 24. See next answer for percentage amounts.

Back to Top

horizontal rule

What does 585, 750, etc. mean?

These are percentages of gold content. They often are the only marks on items of European or Asian origin. Sometimes they'll have the karat equivalent stamped alongside: 585 (or 583) is equal to 14K, 750 is 18K, 417 is 10K, 333 is 8K, etc.

There are countries that do not use the 24K system. Their numbers have different values and require a bit more study than the basic information we have presented here. However, 90 percent of the jewelry you would normally encounter will be marked with the US type standard. This is because jewelry that is imported here will have the 24K system markings. 

Back to Top

horizontal rule

What is my jewelry worth?

Some folks are disappointed when they go to sell their jewelry and , after 3 or 4 dealers have discussed price with them, feel that they're being cheated. Why?

They have an outside idea what their jewelry is worth. Often a friend will look at it and pronounce that "you should get at least $650.00 for this." When people tell us this we advise them to offer it to their friend for half that amount and the friend can make a little profit. Guess what? The friend has no money; the friend was only guessing; the friend doesn't want to buy it and make money off it. What it really condenses to is that the friend really has no idea at all what it's worth on the secondary market.

They saw one just like it at the mall and offer it to the dealer for 10-20% less. Most people in this business have access to trade shows and publications where they can buy the same item, new, for 50% or less of the retail price. Why would any dealer buy a used one for more than a new one?

They have an appraisal in hand and feel that this is the price they should receive. We then ask them what we could sell it for if we paid them the appraisal price. Once we show them that we sell at about half of appraised value, most will enter into a meaningful discussion. Some get angry at the messenger, vowing to "find someone who knows what they're doing!" Some return to deal; others don't, and probably sell at less than we would have paid rather than admit that perhaps we were right.

Back to Top

horizontal rule

How can I learn more about jewelry?

Study! Study! Study! Visit your library and search out those books that contain material commensurate with the level of learning you're comfortable with (I know, I know, don't end a sentence with a preposition). After you find a few books that meet your requirements, go to your favorite book store and buy one or two. We realize that books are expensive, but so is ignorance. Having your own book makes it quite convenient to study at your leisure, not at the library's.

Visit antique shows. Most larger ones will have several dealers that, if not specializing in jewelry, will at least have a selection of several dozen pieces. Ask a few questions; but remember, the dealer isn't your teacher. He/she is there to sell and buy, not to become your mentor. Most are friendly and will show you a few pieces as examples; however, please don't take up an inordinate amount of time. There are, after all, people behind you that probably want to buy.

Some jewelry stores will have either an estate jewelry section, or will have a scheduled estate jewelry sale. The sales are usually conducted by outside companies that travel from store to store. Their stock is pretty comprehensive and their knowledge is first rate. Many will even buy your jewelry on the spot.

Some folks balk at spending $25.00 for a book, or paying $5.00-10.00 for admission to a show. Well, the heck with you! If you're too cheap to invest a few bucks and depend only on the good will of some dealer to get your information, you'll usually get what you pay for. Every dealer has paid his/her dues for education. Every one, without exception, has many examples of mistakes they've made while building up their business. They've paid for their education; you pay for yours. 

If you do have the good fortune to come across a dealer who is knowledgeable and doesn't mind answering all your questions, buy something from her every now and then. 

We have spent many thousands for our gemologist education and many more thousands to equip our lab. We have met quite a few people who would never dream of asking a Proctologist for a free exam; yet they don't hesitate to show that part of their anatomy while insisting upon a free verbal appraisal: "It'll only take a minute; it doesn't cost you anything." Aside from their cheapness, what they don't seem to understand is that any information imparted by any expert implies a certain level of responsibility for their words. That's why experts charge for their knowledge; be it in goods or service.

We're not talking about folks who have a genuine desire to sell their items. This is always a give and take situation until both of you arrive at a mutually satisfactory price. That's probably the most exciting part of any dealer's day: making the deal.

Lalique pin, frosted glass and brass, ca.1930So, spend a few hours, spend a few bucks. These are the most practical and accurate methods to learn about anything.

Back to Top

horizontal rule

We'll be adding more Q&A in the future. Meanwhile, if there are any questions you'd like to see here, let us know. We'll print those that have sufficient general interest to be of value to most of our customers.


Copyright 2000 Lee Ryan Antiques & Jewelry. All rights reserved.
Revised: May 27, 2015 .


Up Buying Ordering FAQ Products

Questions?  don@jewelry-antiques.com

Last updated on 20 Aug 10                       http://www.rubylane.com/shops/estatejewelry