How you do like my slightly morbid article title? Makes you wonder a little bit, doesn't it? When you think of things that stand the test of time you probably envision stuff like the pyramids and the Statue of David. But what if your jewelry was one of those things? Picture this, a robot archeologist unearthing your favorite ring, dusting it off and holding it up to it's big, shiny robot eyeball. Ah yes, science fiction and jewelry are a match made in heaven. (see photo evidence below). But I digress... The only way to ensure your jewelry lives on through the ages is to buy the good stuff. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a purveyor of "the good stuff", (maybe a little) but I truly think that anyone who fancies themselves a collector shouldn't waste their time or money on something that won't last.
I'm going to share with you a few of my favorite tips for snagging the aforementioned "good stuff", and how to spot the impostors.
This first tip is for when you are holding a piece of jewelry in your hand at the mall, an antique shop, a craft fair, etc. I call it the weight test. Does the piece feel substantial for it's size? If it's solid precious metal, it should feel heavy. If it doesn't feel dense, it is likely an alloy metal that's merely plated in precious metal (or worse, an alloy plated in another alloy). This is one of the reasons I constantly advocate for buying handmade jewelry; artisan jewelers just don't mess around with cheap crappy metals like nickel (no thanks) or tin (hard pass). These alloys are typically used in mass production to cut costs waaay down. They're light, and cheap, and when the plating starts to wear off, they can even react with your skin in not-so-pleasant ways (again, no thanks.) See below for buttery solid gold deliciousness that won't fade with time.
A hollow interior is another reason a piece might be marked as solid silver or gold but doesn't weigh very much. This is fairly common with fine jewelry because a big chonky piece of gold costs a small fortune; by making the piece hollow, material costs can be cut by more than half. There is nothing wrong with hollow jewelry, some even prefer it for comfort's sake (think big earrings). But if we're hoping for post-apocalyptic survival, I'm afraid hollow jewelry won't quite hack it. The thin walls of most hollow jewelry makes it susceptible to dents, holes, and ultimately being crushed beyond recognition by cyborg footfall. Those'r the breaks, I'm afraid.
I'd like to circle back to plating for one sec to clear something up. Is all plating is bad news? Of course not! Plating is a very effective way to get the look of solid gold with a much lower cost. But keep your expectations in check, since plated jewelry can't take too much wear and tear. Your best bet for plating is to look for vermeil. Vermeil is the best of both words, offering a much thicker and longer lasting layer of gold over top of sterling silver. Since sterling is also a precious metal, vermeil is basically a precious metal sandwich. Doesn't that sound delightful? Pro tip: to identify gold vermeil, the piece should be heavy like solid gold, but actually marked 925 to indicate the purity of the base metal.
And with that we're going to segue seamlessly into the next tip; look for stamps and hallmarks! If someone is telling you a piece of jewelry is made of sterling silver, or gold, or whatever, it will be marked as such. It may be itty bitty, or super faint, or in a weird spot, but it will be there somewhere. And if you were wondering, it's illegal to intentionally mark jewelry incorrectly, so if it's marked at all, it's safe to say it's legitimate. Now with pendants and charms, if you can't find a mark on the main body of the piece, check out the attached jump rings, clasps, and chain caps, which often have the metal purity stamped there.
Next tip, remember that silver and gold are colors. You're probably thinking, what the heck does that mean? I'll tell you. Just because something is marketed as "gold jewelry" or "silver jewelry" doesn't mean it's made of actual gold or silver. It's a shady way to make money, but TONS of jewelry brands use this trick to rope in buyers who may not know any better. Gold is a color, conveniently so is silver. A ring that is gold in color could technically be marketed as a "gold ring". It could be an alloy that looks like gold. It could be plated in a microscopic amount of real gold. It could be painted gold, for Pete's sake. Makes you cringe a little bit, doesn't it? The lesson here is to read the description and materials on absolutely everything before you buy. If it's gold plated, the seller is obligated to tell you what the base metal is, (and if they don't/won't tell you, run away). If it's solid gold, the karat will be clearly stated (10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, etc). For silver jewelry, there are only two purities used for jewelry making, sterling (.925) and fine (.999). If neither word "sterling" or "fine" precedes the word "silver", it isn't real silver. Be careful here because lots of types of metals look like silver.
Lastly, use your common sense. Reputable sellers and makers will have their sh*t together. They will look like a competent business, their products will be professionally displayed, and they will be transparent about their sourcing and production. Most importantly, their pricing will reflect the quality of the jewelry, not only in the materials but the craftsmanship. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Gold and silver are not cheap materials. If you see a solid gold ring for sale for a hundred bucks, there's something fishy going on. Gold is quite literally one of the most expensive materials on the planet, and it will be priced accordingly, if it's legit. Now go forth and buy awesome jewelry with confidence!