Many people wonder how vintage jewelry collectors can tell how old a brooch is. Sometimes, there is no way to tell exactly how old a piece of jewelry is. But most of the time, you can tell how old a piece of jewelry is by looking at the findings and the fittings.
The fittings and findings are the hardware on the piece, or the way the piece is put together. They are the mechanisms used to place it on your shirt such as the pin, or the safety clasp. For a necklace, it is the shape of the spring clasp on the chain, or the bale on the pendant. For a brooch, it is the shape of the clasp. In particular for this piece, I will be looking at the clasp.
There are three stages to the clasp that can help you quickly date a piece to either the victorian, the edwardian, or the modern era. I consider the victorian era to be from 1870 to 1910, the edwardian era to be from 1890 to 1920, and the modern era to be from the mid 1920s to now. The earliest form of clasp on a brooch was the "C" clasp. It was called the "C" clasp because it is the shape of a "C" if you look at it from the side.
This victorian brooch as a "C" clasp which is the oldest form of clasp. It is still being used today, but modern "c" clasps look less well made. As you can see, there is very little to keep the pin from coming out of the hook and the brooch could easily fall off. Early attempts to fix this were a separate pin attached to the brooch by a chain.
In the 1890's a new safety clasp was invented which used a locking lever on the "C" clasp as shown in the next photo. The "c" clasp has a lever added to the front of it. When the lever is pushed up, it bars the pin from coming out of the "c". This was in common use from the 1890s to 1920. It is shown here on an edwardian era brooch. But this version of the safety clasp still did not provide enough protection from falling off.
The next evolution of the safety clasp is the "modern" version we see most often today. It has the rotating disk that secures the pin in place. The one shown on this art deco 1920s necklace is an early one with a flat bunny eared disk revolving around a tube. This safety clasp has been the most successful at preventing brooches from falling off.
The first clue in dating a brooch is to see whether it has a "C" clasp, or the early lever safety clasp. If it has either one of these clasps, then the brooch should be examined further because it has more value due to it's age. For additional information on these clasps please visit the "Jewelry Whatz It" site.