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Boho Ivory & Bone Jewelry — How To Identify Ivory?

Went to a local antique store today, looking for jewelry. I ended up buying a ton of bohemian style ivory, amber, bone & horn pieces. Most will end up on my web site since eBay has now banned ivory from listings.

How can you identify ivory versus bone?

Ivory normally has a finer appearance than bone. It will have fewer marks and striations in the material. Sometimes with bone you can see with the naked eye some cracks, black lines, pits, etc. See the lines in the bone on the bottom bangle? Ivory would not have these lines.

If you look at ivory with a loupe, it may show a slight grain or cross-hatching in the material on back.

There is a “hot pin test” for ivory. True ivory is virtually impenetrable with heat and so will not be damaged by this test. Take a needle or a straightened-out safety pin and heat it until it is red-hot. In an unobtrusive spot on the piece, poke it. If the piece is true ivory, there will not be a hole and there will be a tiny mark. Smell the spot. It should smell like burnt protein (burnt hair). Bone is also resistant to heat, but not as much as ivory. It will not put out the same strong smell as ivory.

Bone is not free of grain and will have little “pock marks” in it where the marrow or blood was. You may have to use a loupe to see these pock marks.

Ivory can yellow over time.

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How To Identify The Silver Content of Silver Jewelry

The purpose of this blog entry is to help a buyer/collector identify the silver content of jewelry based on the silver marks present on the jewelry. It will be helpful for you to have a jeweler’s 10X magnification loupe on hand. These can actually be purchased right here on eBay and are very helpful for identifying jewelry marks.

My guide is quite simple. There are a couple of excellent web sites out there with a world of knowledge. If you Google “Silver Marks”, you’ll probably find some excellent resources.

First, look on the back of your jewelry for any silver stamps.

What is sterling silver? Sterling silver is silver that is 925/1000 parts silver. Pure silver is too soft for jewelry making so the highest silver content usually (but not always) found in silver jewelry is .925.

Since the early 1900s, American sterling jewelry has been required to have a sterling mark if it is truly sterling silver. In my experience, older sterling is stamped “STERLING” usually on the back of the piece of jewelry. Sometimes you might see a portion of the word, such as “STER”. This might be because the jewelry was stamped this way or it might have worn away over years of wear.
Newer sterling silver jewelry is often stamped “925”. Again, this stamp is meant to convey the silver content of the jewelry. I’ve also seen “SS” stamped on a few pieces, but this is rare.

I’ve seen a 950 mark on vintage jewelry once in a while. Usually, it’s been on Mexican sterling before WWII era. 950 silver does have a higher silver content than sterling but is not seen too often.

On older and antique jewelry, you might see a 900 stamp. This is meant to show that the jewelry is 900/1000 parts silver. Not quite as high a silver content as sterling. Coin silver can literally mean silver made from melted down coins.
Vintage Native American jewelry may often not have a silver content mark on it. Often this jewelry may have a silver content in the range of coin silver.

4. 800 SILVER
Sometimes, you’ll see an 800 stamp on a piece of vintage silver jewelry. This means that the content of the jewelry is 4/5 silver.
Many times, based on the style of the piece and the 800 stamp, this will point my jewelry research toward European jewelry or other foreign makers. I’ve seen vintage silver filigree jewelry with an 800 mark.

Commercial silver test kits are available for silver (and gold) jewelry. These are probably available on eBay. I personally do not use these. If I have a question about my vintage jewelry after I’ve exhausted my own research, I take a trip down to see my favorite jeweler for his advice.