Is It Vintage Jewelry? What Metal Is It Made Of? How Do You Determine That?


Selro Bracelet


Your Vintage Jewelry Questions Answered

This vintage jewelry information page features questions commonly asked by customers and visitors to our site. Have a question you want answered? Use the form at the bottom of this page to contact us! Unfortunately we can not respond to all the questions we receive but we will chose the most frequently asked ones to feature here.

1. Question: What is Vintage?

“I heard someone say that vintage is the term for items 20 years old. Is this correct?”

Answer: Generally speaking, vintage, when dealing with non-consumable goods, means:

: a period of origin or manufacture <a piano of 1845 vintage>


: length of existence :  age



When dealing with costume jewelry, the term “vintage” usually applies to an item that is 20+ years old.



Kramer brooch

Vintage 1960’s Kramer King Neptune Brooch


2. Question: Determining Metals Used in Vintage Costume Jewelry.

How do you determine if something is pot metal, base metal, nickel silver or white metal? Is rhodium always identified by the shine?”

Answer: Many times a metal can be determined by experience. This means that it is important to view, hold, and feel as many pieces of jewelry as you can and the differences will become apparent by inspection alone. It’s similar to being able to anything with any level of accuracy. The more experience you have with it, the better your guess will be.

Base Metal is a a general term for any metal that is not considered precious, such as copper, tin, or zinc.

White Metal is “any of several light-colored alloys used as a base for plated silverware, ornaments or novelties, as well as any of several lead-based or tin-based alloys used for things like bearings, jewellery, miniature figures, fusible plugs, some medals and metal type. Some of the metals that make up a white metal alloy are antimony, tin, lead, cadmium, bismuth, and zinc. Not all of these metals are found in all white metal alloys but are mixed to achieve a desired goal or need.” *Source:


Potmetal brooch
Little Nemo Pot Metal Brooch

Pot Metal An inexpensive alloy of poor quality, usually containing lead, used especially in making castings: cheap jewelry made from plated pot metal. Pot metal is a heavy, thicker metal that looks somewhat like pewter. It is often referred to as “base metal” or “white metal’ and was used on jewelry in the early 20th century.

Nickel Silver A silvery, hard, corrosion-resistant, ductile, malleable alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel, used in tableware and as a structural material for hospital and restaurant equipment. Also called German silver. *Source:

Nickel Silver or German Silver was invented in the early 19th century. It does not contain any silver at all. It is used in costume jewelry as a substitute for silver and is often plated with silver. If you see the mark EPNS on jewelry it means that it is Electroplated Nickel Silver.


Rhodium plated
Rhodium Plated Necklace Back By Boucher

Rhodium A hard, durable, silvery-white metallic element that is used to form high-temperature alloys with platinum and is plated on other metals to produce a durable corrosion-resistant coating. *Source:

Rhodium is a very smooth, shiny, silver colored metal that does not tarnish like silver.


3. Question: Gold-toned Metal and Vermeil

“I have been using the term “goldtone” when I don’t know what the finish is. I have pins which are marked “sterling” but have a gold finish. Is that vermeil?”

Answer: It is important that you use the term “gold-toned” when describing a gold colored metal if you are not sure what the gold is. If an item is marked sterling and has a gold color to it, it most likely is gilded in gold.

Vermeil Definition: Some sources that the term “vermeil” applies to items which are gilded silver, bronze, or copper. However, it most commonly applies to gilded silver.

It makes sense that if your item is marked sterling but has a gold finish, it is probably gold plated, washed, or filled. Gold plated items are not always marked as such but an experienced eye can spot it by color. The necklace below is gold over sterling silver but is only marked for silver content along with the designer’s name.


But what are the differences between Gold Plated, Gold Washed and Gold Filled?

Gold Plated items have layer of gold that is less than 1/20th of the total weight.

Gold Filled items must have a layer of gold that is at least 1/20th of the total weight of the entire article.

Gold Wash is a very thin coating of gold that is applied to the base metal.

You can read more about these terms here.


Vermeil Necklace

Gold Plate Over Sterling Silver Necklace by Bond Boyd of Canada.

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and we will add them to our list of
possible questions to answer on our website!
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