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How to Identify Unique & Potentially Valuable Estate Jewelry

Pawn shops can be great sources for estate jewelry, and sometimes you can find real treasures that are both unique and valuable. In order to identify the most uncommon pieces, you must know what to look for. The next time you're at a pawn shop, here's what to look for to identify unusual and potentially valuable pieces of estate jewelry.


The most unique pieces of estate jewelry tend to be older, and older pieces of jewelry usually have a "patina." Patina is wear that comes with age and use. On metal jewelry, it may be caused by a buildup of polish, dirt and oils that develop over time, or by chemical changes that result from the metal being in contact with the air.
Unlike some other types of wear, patina doesn't detract from an item's value. Instead, it adds to the value. Patina serves as evidence that the piece is truly older and therefore less likely to be mass-produced. It also adds a charm or character to the piece.
When at a pawn shop, don't shy away from any estate jewelry that has a beautiful patina. These pieces are frequently beautiful, and they usually haven't been restored. They're still original, which might make them more valuable.

Gold Quality Marks

Estate jewelry made from gold usually bears a mark that shows the gold's purity level. This mark may be a two-digit number followed by "k" (e.g. "14k") or a three-digit number (e.g. 585), depending on where the piece was made.
Most gold jewelry made in the United States is marked according to karats, which are abbreviated with "k." A single karat is equal to 1/24, or 4.17 percent. Thus, a 24k gold piece would theoretically be pure gold. In reality, it's impossible to have truly pure gold. A piece may be 99.99 percent gold, though. Some of the most common karat abbreviations are:
  • 10k, which is 41.7 percent gold
  • 12k, which is 50 percent gold
  • 14k, which is 58.3 percent gold
  • 18k, which is 75 percent gold
  •  22k, which is 91.7 percent gold
Much of the gold jewelry made in Europe is marked according to parts-per-thousand. The number of gold parts-per-thousand is inscribed using a three-digit number. Thus, a piece marked with "585" would have 585 gold parts per thousand total parts. It'd be 58.5 percent gold. Some common three-digit markings are:
  • 333, which is 33.3 percent gold
  • 417, which is the same as 10k
  • 585, which is almost the same as 14k
  • 917, which is the same as 22k
As you look at gold jewelry, pay attention to the gold purity level. On older pieces that have a patina, it's not always possible to tell with your plain eye how much gold is in a piece of jewelry. These numbers provide a reliable reference, though.

Jeweler's Mark

Jewelers are required by law today to inscribe the pieces they make with an identifying mark. Many well-regarded jewelers had been doing this long before the practice became law, though. Jewelers in the United States, Europe and elsewhere often marked the pieces they made in the same way an artist would sign their work.
There are a couple of reasons to look for these marks on pieces of jewelry. First, old estate jewelry that was made before jewelers had to mark their pieces but still bears a jeweler's mark will likely be a high-quality piece. Second, a jeweler's mark can often be used to determine when and where a piece was made, which may help establish value or add to the piece's story.
If you'd like high-quality, unique estate jewelry, contact us at Gardena Jewelry & Loan Company.