Faux Friday: Gold Content

May 28, 2010

Gold and silver were marked with the same standard until 1798, when the introduction of 18 carat gold required standard gold marking. However, 22 carat was stamped with the same marks as sterling silver until 1844. The demand for cheaper gold watch cases in America saw 9, 12 and 15 carat added to the marks in 1854. This means that by 1854, there were marks for 9, 12, 15, 18 and 22 carat. 14 carat was introduced in 1932, replacing 15 and 12 carat, creating the current four standards: 9, 14, 18 and 22.

Gold marking is a difficult standard to follow, as (pre 1906) some countries did not stamp and quite often, pieces are unstamped regardless of territory. Most commonly, the US used 10K, 14K and 18K marks; many memorial pieces were 9 carat, given their popularity and ubiquitous nature post 1854. In Europe, marks are generally for the fineness of the metal and the following carat indicators are not exactly accurate representations of the numbers: 750 / 18 carat, 375 / 9 carat and 625 / 15 carat.

Pinchbeck, a form of brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) is a very popular material used in mourning pieces from the middle of the 19th century. Be sure that when buying a piece it is not for its gold content in these cases. Often, the clasps are marked, with other fittings pinchbeck.

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