Jewelry Terminology

Glossary of Terms

Buying jewelry is best done when you are well informed. Following is a glossary of jewelry terms, types, and eras:

R = ruby | E = emerald | G = garnet | A = amethyst | R = ruby | D = diamond

AEI: Latin Letters symbolizing the sentiment of “Ever” or “Forever”.

AMBER: Lightweight fossilized sap, resin, or gum from ancient trees, which can be cut, etched, faceted, or carved. Amber can be translucent or opaque and range in color from shades of yellow, brown, and red to gray or green.

AMERICAN BRILLIANT CUT: The American brilliant cut is a method of cutting diamonds to mathematical perfection for greatest brilliancy and fire, today’s most popular cut for fine stones. It is employed in Europe as well as in the United States. Sometimes shortened to “American Cut”.

ART DECO: An angular style of jewelry dating from the 1920s through the mid to late 1930s, featuring jade, black onyx, and pave-set diamonds.

ART NOUVEAU: A free-flowing, curved, revolutionary style of jewelry popular from the 1890s until about 1910, featuring delicate enamels with precious and non-precious materials in the characteristic motifs of bats, morning glories, dragonflies, and women with long, flowing hair.

BAGUETTE: French for “rod”. A step cut used for rectangular stones, chiefly those of small size.

BOG OAK: Natural oak wood that has been darkened and hardened as a result of being immersed in the bogs of Ireland.

CABOCHON: An unfaceted stone with a smooth polished, domed top.

CAMEO: A stone or shell cut in relief, using the natural colors of the stone or shell to produce the different shadings of the carving. Opposite of intaglio. See INTAGLIO.

CANNETILLE: Metal jewelry made from fine wires, often in a pyramid or rosette motif.

CARAT: A unit of weight denoting the size of both uncut and cut gemstones. There should be 100 points to a carat (ct.). The newcomer to diamond buying should be careful not to become so influenced by carat size that he or she ignores or fails to recognize the importance of such points as clarity, color, and cut.

CASTELLANI, FORTUNATO PIO: A 19th-century Italian jeweler noted for his revival of Etruscan and Greek styles in jewelry. The pieces were sold as “Italian Archaeological Jewelry”.

CHAMPLEVE ENAMEL: A process in which the sections containing various colored enamels are carved out of the surface of the base, rather than formed by soldering thin strips of metal to the base, as in cloisonne enamel.

CHATELAINE: A decorative plaque with a hook attached at the rear, to be worn from a belt or sash around the waist. A series of plaques or chains suspended from it held purses, watches, keys, sewing utensils, note pads, pencils, button hooks, and other functional implements.

CIRCA (c. or ca.): Represents the approximate period of time in which an item was made.

CLOISONNE ENAMEL: A type of enamel-work in which thin strips of metal are soldered to the base of the piece to form the outlines of the design. Colored enamel is then placed in each section.

COLORED DIAMONDS: Diamonds are found in a variety of colors, generally very pale, including brown, green, pink, blue, red, and yellow. When these colors are intense and well balanced throughout the stone, premium value is likely to be attached. But a diamond of pastel color is not as desirable as a colorless or “white” diamond.

COLOR GRADE: The color quality of a diamond, expressed according to a scale of letters representing different grades of color. Crystal clear, or absolute lack of color, is the most desirable. These are often referred to as “white” diamonds.

COLORLESS: A diamond in which no trace of color can be detected. The ideal state for stones intended for the round brilliant cut. Truly colorless diamonds are worth a premium over others, assuming they are not severely flawed.

DISSOLVED HAIR: Human hair that has been chopped up and made into a paint or paste to be used for drawing pictures on ivory or porcelain plaques. The result is a fuzzy effect.

EGLOMAIZE: Reverse painting on glass.

ENAMEL: Powdered colored glass fused onto the surface of the piece of jewelry. The following types of enamel-work are illustrated and defined in this book: champleve, cloisonne, guilloche, Jaipur, plique-a-jour, and polychrome.

ETRUSCAN: A 19th-century Antique Revival style of jewelry resembling that which was produced in Tuscany, central Italy, during the 7th to 6th centuries B.C. by the ancient Etruscans. The work is characterized by minute beads of gold soldered onto a gold background and forming a pattern. See GRANULATION.

ETUI: A case hanging from a chatelaine that contains useful implements such as scissors, pencil, small spoon, pad, ear cup cleaner, toothpick, etc.

EUROPEAN CUT: Method of cutting that caries from the American brilliant approach in that proportions are worked out according to light falling directly from above on the crown.

FABERGE, PETER CARL (1846-1920): Jeweler to the Russian czar, famous for the gemstone Easter eggs made for the czar’s mother and wife.

FACET: Flat surface cut into a diamond. Correct positioning and angling of facets determines the amount of light that will reflect through the diamond.

FANCY DIAMOND: A colored diamond whose color is intense enough to be a plus rather than a minus. Faintly colored stones are invariably worth less than pure colorless ones.

FLAW: A blemish or imperfection, either on the surface of a diamond or in the interior. This may be in the form of a scratch, feathering, carbon spots, etc. Neither bad color, proportion, nor cut is technically considered a flaw.

FLAWLESS: The highest clarity grade for a diamond.

FOUR C’s: Common trade term to collectively describe the major considerations in a diamond’s value: clarity, color, carat, and cut.

GOLD-FILLED: Gold-filled articles are similar to gold-plated; they have an exterior of gold and a core of base metal, usually copper. The difference is in the method of application. Plated objects are shaped and then bullion-coated by electroplating, in which the soft gold takes the object’s form. Gold-filled merchandise is made sheets of metal to which the outer covering of gold has been applied before the object is shaped.

G.P.: When found on an article that appears made of gold, these letters indicate that the gold is merely surface plating (gold-plated).

GRANULATION: Minute metal beads, usually, used to decorate jewelry. See ETRUSCAN.

GUILLOCHE ENAMEL: A translucent polychrome enamel placed on top of a geometric engraved pattern on the jewelry or watchcase.

GUTTA-PERCHA: A plastic or rubber-like substance produced from the natural fluids of certain Malaysian trees. When first introduced in the 19th century, all forms of jewelry were produced from gutta-percha as a novelty. It is dark brown in color and very brittle.

HAIR: Jewelry woven from human hair, made either as a romantic token for a loved one or from the hair of a deceased friend or family member as a sentimental remembrance. Jewelry is also woven from horsehair and elephant hair.

HALLMARK: A mark found on gold and silver articles, frequently indicating the maker, country of origin, date, and fineness of the metal. The origin of the word hallmark dates to the later Middle Ages of England, when silversmiths were members of the Guildhall.

HARDNESS: In gemology, the resistance of a substance to surface scratching. It does not relate in any respect to ability to escape other kinds of injury such as crushing or breaking. Diamond is the hardest mineral substance, with a rating of 10 on the Mohs scale; talc is the softest, with a rating of 1 on the Mohs scale. Diamonds can be scratched only by other diamonds. They can, however, be cut and cleaved apart with conventional tools.

HC: An abbreviation representing a hunting case or hunter watch, which is a watch with a cover on both sides.

IMPERFECTION: A flaw or blemish, caused by nature or man, on the outer surface or the stone’s interior. Poor color or an unskilled cut is not classified as an imperfection, though it will, of course, play a role in value determination.

INCLUSION: Any substance visible within a gemstone, including fragments of a gemstone itself or tiny crystals. These entrapped “prisoners” influence value, which may be more or less depending on their number and size. If not too centrally situated, it may be possible, in cutting, to remove them from a rough stone. Cuts designed to rid a stone of inclusions generally involve considerable loss of carat weight.

INDIAN PITCH: A plaque made by pouring green glass onto gold foil that has been cut out in a mold of hunting scene motifs. After the glass is set, it is polished until the glass is level with the gold foil, forming a silhouette effect. Popular after Queen Victoria became empress of India in 1876.

INTAGLIO: An engraved stone in which the design is carved into the surface of the stone so that the rim is the highest portion. The opposite of a cameo. See CAMEO.

JAIPUR ENAMEL: Named after a region of India that is the center of the jewelry industry. It is characterized by brightly colored enamels on both the front and back.

JAMES TASSIE: A London jewelers who developed a secret paste around 1766 with which he produced paste or glass replica intaglio gemstones from wax models. Commonly called “Tassies” on today’s market.

JET: Hard coal, mined at Whitby, England, highly polished and carved. Primarily sold as memorial jewelry.

K: An abbreviation representing the word karat, which signifies the fineness of the gold content of an item. See KARAT.

KARAT: The method by which fineness of gold is expressed. Pure unalloyed gold is 24 karat. As an alloy metal is added (usually copper), the karat value declines: 22K, 20K, 18K, and so on. The lowest grade of gold to carry a karat mark in the United States is 10K, or, in Great Britain, 9K. Most gold coins are 20K or 21K. Jewelry is commonly 9K to 18K. The word karat derives from the carob bean, used as a measure of weight in the ancient world. When spelled “carat”, it refers to the weight of a precious gem and has nothing to do with the fineness of a metal in the United States.

LALIQUE, RENE JULES (1860-1945): Leading French jeweler connected with the Art Nouveau movement.

LAVA: Lava found at Pompeii, Italy, was primarily carved as cameos, ranging in color from cream to dark brown and white to charcoal. It is very soft and therefore permits a skilled artisan to carve fine detail with high relief.

LOUPE: A magnifying glass, either of the folding pocket variety or mounted in an eyepiece. Though a magnifier of any strength can be sold as a loupe, a “jeweler’s loupe” refers to a glass of 10x power.

MACARONI: A style of chatelaine composed of a series of long chains with a watch on one end and on the other end a series of charms, such as watch keys and seals.

MM (mm): Millimeter, representing a unit of measurement for a round object such as a pearl.

NICKEL SILVER: An alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc, also known as German Silver, first gaining popularity in the 1830s.

NUTMEG GRATER: A small box, made from the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century, with a removable grate under the lid for the grating of precious spices such as nutmeg.

OF: An abbreviation representing an open-face watch, which is a watch with a cover on the reverse and a crystal only over the face on the obverse.

OLD EUROPEAN CUT: Style of cutting popular in the 19th century, direct predecessor of the modern round brilliant cut. Old European cuts have a smaller table than the round brilliant cut, and overall depth is somewhat greater.

OLD MINE CUT: In general, a diamond cut into an early style of round cut, priori to the modern round brilliant cut. Apparently it was mistakenly believed that diamonds were once cut at the mines before wholesaling.

PARURE: A matching suite or set of jewelry usually including a necklace, pendant, brooch, earrings, and a bracelet.

PASTE: Colored or clean glass, often lead or flint glass, which is cut in the same fashion as gemstones. Antique paste jewelry was valued on its own merits and not as an imitation.

PAVE: Method of mounting small stones in a piece of jewelry to cover the entire field of the setting without the setting itself showing.

PINCHBECK: Christopher Pinchbeck, 1670-1732, was a London jeweler, watchmaker, and alchemist who invented a substitute for gold made from an alloy of copper and zinc.

PIQUE: Tortoise shell or ivory that has been inlaid with gold, silver, or mother-of-pearl.

PLATING: The covering of base metal articles with a layer of gold or silver, which may be of various thicknesses and grades. Presence of plating may be discovered by filing and using nitric acid or by subjecting the item to specific-gravity testing.

PLIQUE-A-JOUR ENAMEL: Transparent enamel placed between thin strips of metal that are soldered together to form the design, the end result of which is similar to stained glass. Plique-a-jour is distinguished from cloissone in that there is no base on which the strips of metal and enamel rest.

POLYCHROME ENAMEL: Enamel in various colors.

PRECIOUS METAL: The three primary precious metals are gold, silver, and platinum. All others (except derivatives of these three) are known technically as base metals. Of course, the preciousness of precious metals varies, as does the baseness of base metals.

PURITY: The proportion of precious metal versus base metal in an object. A purity of .900 would mean a metal content of 90% metal and 10% base metal alloy, or a ratio of 9 to 1.

REGARD: A sentimental piece of jewelry containing six gemstones, in which the first letter of each gemstone spells the word regard.

SAPPHIRE: A gemstone of corrundum found in a variety of colors. The red corrundum is called ruby.

SATSUMA: A Japanese ceramic overlaid with a glaze that forms hairline cracks. Over the glaze are figures, flowers, and decorations painted in polychrome enamel.

SCARAB: A representation of the ancient Egyptian Scaraboeus beetle, carved in either glazed pottery or in gemstones such as amethyst, carnelian, and lapis lazuli. Scarabs were customarily in swiveled mountings so that the intaglio carved on the reverse side could be viewed.

SCARF RING: An oval ring to hold a scarf at the neck. The most common style available is one that opens on a hinge and has a pointed spike in the inside center to hold the scarf. Hollow, oval and pressure-clip scarf rings can also be found in today’s market place.

SINGLE CUT: Simple style of cut employed on small stones, usually those intended to be used in mountings in conjuncture with a large central stone. Single cuts are circular at the girdle.

SYNTHETIC: An imitation, commercially made gemstone, which may be very like the natural in its properties and cutting potential. Synthetics are produced in a number of grades and vary considerably in price. All are detectable, using proper equipment.

TABLE: The uppermost plane surface of a cut gemstone. Like the other plane surfaces, the table is also a facet.

TAPERED BAGUETTE: Baguette-shaped cut with one end smaller than the other.

TIGER CLAW: Tiger claws from India were exported to England, mounted in precious metals, and worn as jewelry. Popular in the 1870s, particularly after Queen Victoria became empress of India in 1876.

TORTOISE SHELL: Jewelry carved, molded, inlaid, polished, welded, and cut from the hard protective outer covering of the Hawksbill turtle and the Loggerhead turtle in a blond, translucent amber or dark, opaque reddish amber color.

VICTORIAN: Referring to the period encompassing the reign of England’s Queen Victoria, 1837-1901. The Victorian era is generally broken down into three phases: early Victorian, mid-Victorian, and late Victorian.

VINIAGRETTE: A small box with a removable pierced grill under the lid in which a sponge or cotton saturated with spirits of ammonia or aromatic vinegar was kept. Popular from the late 18th century to the 19th century.

WATCHCOCK: The escapement covers in watches made in the late 18th century were highly engraved and cutout in animal, flower, and circular swirl motifs. During the 1870s these watches were junked, and jewelry was made from watchcocks.