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Next hunt for signs of wear on high points and edges, determine whether a metal of a different color lies beneath the surface and generally study the construction (how stones are set, for example, and whether there's evidence of hand-craftsmanship vs stamping or casting).

The real fun begins when you turn the piece over, because you can learn an enormous amount from findings (called fittings, if they're custom-made for the jewel); often you can discover more from the back than the front. Is there clear evidence of replacement (blobs of solder or a soldering pad, obvious regilding, etc.)?

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If you're sure it's original, you've achieved tight circa dating already.

*crashing applause* Its scale and design will easily indicate whether the jewel should be termed Victorian, Edwardian or the era-spanning Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts.

If you see a "safety pin" type clasp, the jewel could conceivably be as old as its invention (mid-19th c., but general use of this clasp in jewelry wasn't made until the 1880s, continuing in the 1890s as the form of a small extra pin on a chain).

If you're sure it's original, you can be confident the jewel is Late Victorian. If it isn't original, you know when it was added to an older jewel.

If you're looking at a pinstem that's of modern length and apparently *hasn't* been snipped, the piece can't be older than the 1920s -- unless there are other indications of age and the pinstem has been replaced completely.

HINGES If you're looking at a hinge that's familiar from all your modern jewelry and is original, that doesn't mean a lot, actually.

However, it's still used occasionally (these days usually on inexpensive jewelry).

Evaluating it in concert with the hinge and pinstem is essential.

Most dealers will be more than happy to help you, and nothing beats Handling the Goods to get a proper feel for them.

Start by searching each piece closely for markings and make careful note of them (before you forget and must keep looking over and over, which gets to be a bore.

Hinges of this type have been in use since the 1890s, so you'll have to rely on other clues to get a more precise dating than 1890s to now.

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