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Jewelry Glossary A to Z

A

A-jour setting: An open work setting where the bottom part of the stone can be seen, also a setting in which the metal has open work allowing light to pass through.

Aigrette: Often a jeweled hair ornament mounted in a shape resembling feathers, plumes, or a feather motif. Sometimes with an actual feather attached.

Alloy: A mixture of two or more metals.

Antique: Jewelry that is at least 100 years old.

Articulated: When something has segments connected by flexible joints.

Art Deco: A symmetrical, geometric style of jewelry dating from the 1920s through to the late 1930s. Typically crafted in platinum set with diamonds and brightly colored gemstones or uncommon semi-precious materials such as carnelian and onyx, the design period encompassed a number of divergent styles inspired by Asia, Egypt and Modern Art.

Art Nouveau: A free-flowing and​ sensuous ​style of jewelry popular from the 1880s​ until ​about ​1910.​ It often features nature-inspired​ motifs ​such as​ insects, animals​ and ​flowers​, as well as women with long, flowing hair, all frequently enhanced by delicate enamel ​and gemstones.

Asscher-Cut Diamond: Named after the diamond cutter Joseph Asscher, who developed the style in 1902. Diamonds cut this way are octagonal (a cut-corner square) with 74 facets, a small table and a high crown.

B

Baguette: French for “rod.” A step-cut used for narrow, rectangular faceted stones, mainly those of a small size.

Bail/Bale: The loop on a pendant through which the cord or a chain passes.

Bangle: A rigid, circular or oval bracelet, often hinged.

Baroque: A stylish South Sea or Japanese pearl with an asymmetrical shape that can range from teardrop to ovoid to even lumpy, as opposed to a spherical pearl which is prized for its perfect roundness. Baroque pearls can be natural or cultured in fresh or salt water. The most valuable cultured baroque pearls are created in Western Australia and Tahiti and are prized for their individual character and whimsy.

Baton: A stone cut into a long, narrow, stick-shaped rectangle. This cut is similar to a baguette.

Bezel: A metal rim which holds the stone in a piece of jewelry. This metal band has its top edges smoothed over to better hold the stone in place.

Bombe: When something has bulging sides.

Brilliant Cut: A circular gemstone cut, especially for diamonds or other transparent stones, with 57 or 58 facets. This cut returns the greatest amount of brilliancy, fire, and white light to the eye, making it an immensely popular cut. Also known as the Modern Brilliant Cut, the American Brilliant Cut, or the Ideal Cut.

Briolettes: A three-dimensional faceted pear or teardrop-shaped cut covered with small triangular facets.

Bypass: A style with open ends which cross each other parallel in the front, typically in a ring or bracelet.

Brooch: An ornamental piece of jewelry larger in scale than the ones referred to as “pins” that has a pin back for attaching it to clothing.

C

Cabochon: A gemstone with a polished dome top and a flat or slightly domed bottom, as opposed to a gemstone which has been cut with facets. The decision to cut gemstones as cabochons or with facets is made in order to optimize a stone’s natural beauty. Gemstones such as star sapphires, star rubies, and cats-eyes are always cut as cabochons in order to show their optical phenomena. Opaque gemstones such as turquoise are typically cut as cabochons as are other gemstones such as opals and moonstones, whereas diamonds are always faceted to maximize brilliance and light.

Calibre-cut: Typically small, fancy-cut faceted stones in the shape of rectangles, squares, oblongs or other specialty shapes cut to fit very closely together in a setting to create a design that often outlines or accents a larger motif. Calibre-cut comes from the word calibration which means to divide or mark with gradations. This style of stone cutting was made popular in the Art Deco period (1920-1935) when diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds and black onyx were laid closely side by side with no visible mounting to create a wash of color or contrast.

Cameo: A layered stone or shell in which the design is cut in relief where the main design is carved onto the top layer and the remainder is carved away to reveal the next layer using the natural colors of the stone or shell to produce the different shadings of the carving. This is done in shell, coral, lava and various stones.

Cameo Habille: A type of cameo depicting a carved head, or bust which wears a necklace, earrings or head ornament set with small stones. “Habille” literally means “dressed up” in French.

Carat: ​Carat with a C is t​he ​measurement by which the weight ​of​ gemstones ​is described. One carat weighs 100 points. Thus a half carat diamond is equal to 50 points. Expressed another way, a 25 point stone is 1/4 of a carat.

Carbuncle: Today, this term is used to refer to a cabochon cut garnet although historically a carbuncle was a generic turn for any cabochon cut red gemstone.

Cartouche: Typically an oval or oblong figure, as in Egyptian hieroglyphics, this ornamental tablet is used in decoration or for engraving and is usually symmetrical.

Celtic Knot: Also known as “entrelac”, this is an intricate interlaced motif common in ancient Celtic jewelry and in the British Arts and Crafts movement.

Channel Setting: A setting where rectangular or square stones of the same size and shape are held in place by a strip of metal at the top and bottom.

Chatelaine/Chatelain: A decorative plaque or ornamental clip with a hook attached at the rear, to be worn around the waist from which hang a variety of useful items or trinkets suspended by chains.

Choker: A short necklace of 15 inches that fits snugly around the neck.

Cipher: A monogram of letters, as on a signet ring.

Cloisonne Enamel: A type of enamelwork in which thin metal strips are soldered to the base of the piece creating cells or cloisons to form the outlines of the design. Colored enamel is then placed in each of these cells.

Contemporary: Contemporary Period jewelry refers to pieces created between roughly 1990 and the present and is the most recent period in jewelry history.

Cuff Bracelet: A rigid, open bracelet, usually wide with rounded ends.

Cultured Pearl: A man-made pearl. The pearls are produced by inserting an irritant into a mollusk.

Curb Link Chain: A chain in which the flattened oval links are twisted so that they lie flat.

Cushion Cut: A square or rectangular cut stone with rounded corners. Also called Antique Cut.

D

Demi-Parure: A matching set of jewelry consisting of only a few pieces, as opposed to a Parure (or full suite), such as a necklace with matching earrings or a bracelet with matching brooch, making only a partial suite.

Double Clip Brooch: A detachable pair of clips joined with a pinback mechanism. The brooch can be worn together or as two separate brooches.

E

Edwardian: Jewelry made during the reign of King Edward VII (1901-1910) of England. These pieces do not fall into the Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts movement categories and are typically lacy items crafted of platinum, with diamonds and other pale, feminine gemstones.

Embossing: This technique creates a raised decoration on metals by using punches and hammers on the reverse side to raise the design.

Emerald Cut: A square or rectangular cut stone with a square table and step cut sides.

Enamel: A pigmented glass-like material used in powdered form and fused onto the metal surface of a piece of jewelry.

Engraving: Using incised lines to create a design in a metal surface.

En Tremblant: A brooch or other ornament, typically a flower, which is mounted on a wire or spring which so that the piece trembles when the wearer moves.

Estate Jewelry: Jewelry which has been previously owned. It may or may not be vintage or antique.

Etching: The use of acids to create a design in glass or metal.

Eternity Ring: A ring, typically a wedding band, where stones are set all the way around.

Etruscan: A 19th Century reproduction style, termed Antique Revival, resembling that which was produced in Tuscany during the 7th to 6th Centuries B.C.E by the ancient Etruscan peoples. Usually made of gold and featuring the technique of granulation in which small beads of gold are soldered onto a gold background to create a pattern.

European Cut: A method of cutting stones which differs from the Brilliant Cut in that proportions are determined according to how light falls from directly above the crown.

F

Facet: Flat, plane cut polished surface of a stone. The amount of light that will reflect through the stone is determined by the positioning and angling of the facets.

Filigree: From the Latin word for thread. In jewelry-making, filigree is an “intricate, delicate and fanciful design” typically made from very fine strands of silver, platinum or gold. Filigree work is most often seen in the lace-like mounting surrounding the central stone or stones  in a ring or brooch and while it has been in use worldwide since 3000 B.C.E.  it was especially popular in fine jewelry making during first half of the 20th century.

Florentine Finish: Engraved cross-hatch lines on a metal which creates a textured surface.

Fob: A decorative ornament, signet or seal hung from a chain, usually worn with a watch.

Foil: A thick or thin layer or coating used on the back of stones which is sometimes colored to improve their color and brilliance, typically used in closed back settings.

Foliate: A leaf or plant design.

Forging: The heating and hammering which shapes metal.

Four C’s: A term used to describe the important characteristics which determine a diamond’s value: clarity, color, carat, and cut.

G

Gadrooning: Oval beading which is used on the border or edge of a piece of jewelry for embellishment.

Girandole: Chandelier, brooch or earring style in which three pear-shaped pendant stones hang from a large central stone or motif.

Girdle: The widest part of a stone, the part usually grasped by the setting.

Graduated: Arranged in ascending or descending order of size.

Granulation: Ancient decorative technique of placing small spheres of gold to a gold surface forming a pattern without visible solder. Commonly used in Etruscan jewelry.

Gypsy Setting: A type of setting in which the stone mounting is placed into the metal so that the table or uppermost part of the stone is level with the metal surface. Also called a Star Setting when lines are engraved around the stone.

H

Hallmark: The ​tiny ​letters, numbers and/or very specific symbols stamped on silver, gold or platinum jewelry ​and objects​ indicating the ​purity of the material (for example, the marks 18K or 750 for 18K gold) as well as the signature, name, initials or emblem of the ​maker, ​the ​country of origin, ​and/​or ​the ​date​ of manufacture​. The dictionary of hallmarks is many volumes, long and complex, varies by country and goes back centuries. It is a veritable treasure trove of the history of fine craftsmanship right up to the present day.

Hammered Finish: A faceted finish achieved by hammering the metal.

I

Inlay: When polished gemstones are set inside metal to be flush with the surface of the metal. Mother of pearl is often used in this setting.

Intaglio: An engraved stone, the opposite of a cameo, with a recessed design cut below the surface of the stone. Intaglio designs are common for signet rings and fob seals.

Invisible Setting: A type of Channel Setting using specially cut square or rectangular colored gemstones (usually rubies or sapphires) which slide into metal tracks and fit closely together in rows with no metal visible from the front of the piece.

J

Jabot Pin: A type of stick pin with ornamental elements at both ends of a long pinstem.

Japonaiserie: Decorative elements in a Japanese style.

Jewelry/Jewellry: The one “l” indicates the American spelling; the double “l” indicates the British and Australian spelling.

K

Karat: Karat with a K is the measurement by which the purity of gold is expressed. Pure, unalloyed gold is called 24 karats, but when other metals such as nickel or copper are added to pure gold in order to increase its strength or resilience, or to affect color, such as to make yellow gold into rose ( achieved by the addition of copper) the pure gold content decreases proportionally. For example, 24k gold is pure gold. 18k is 18/24ths pure gold (3/4) which means 75% pure gold and 25% other metal. 14k gold is 14/24ths pure gold, so it is comprised of a little more than half pure gold and a little less than half of another metal. The international hallmark for 18k gold is understandably, 750, representing its 75% pure gold content. The international mark for 14k gold is slightly more complicated: 585, representing a gold content of just over 50%. Easy once you know it!

L

Lava: Lava found at Pompeii from Mt. Vesuvius, Italy, was primarily carved into cameos or intaglios and sold as souvenirs, especially in the 19th Century. Lava ranges in color from creamy to a dark brown, white to charcoal. The softness of the stone makes it ideal for carving.

Lavaliere: Also written as “Lavalliere,” or “Lavalier.” A light necklace from which hangs a gemstone, pendant or pendants (done in gemstones). This style was popular at the turn of the century, where one typical style had a baroque pearl appendage.

Line Bracelet:  As it sounds, a ​narrow, ​flexible​,​ straight line of diamonds or other gemstones, that may be of identical or graduated sizes. If graduated, the largest stones are in the center, tapering from larger to smaller at the ends.

Locket: A pendant or brooch with a hinge and cover which can contain a photograph or a lock of hair.

Lorgnettes: A pair of glasses or spectacles with a handle attached that is usually suspended from a chain necklace.

Lozenge: A four-sided shape with corners at the compass points, an example would be the diamond shape on playing cards.

M

Mabe Pearl: A pearl with a flat mother-of-pearl bottom and a rounded top.

Marquise Cut: An oval or elliptical gemstone cut which has pointed ends. Also called a Navette shape.

Matte: Refers to a dull, non-reflective rather than polished metal finish.

Memento Mori: Latin for “Remember you must die.” A style of Victorian jewelry utilizing grim motifs such as coffins and skeletons and such materials as onyx. This jewelry is meant to be worn as a reminder of one’s mortality and also as a remembrance of the deceased. Similar to mourning jewelry.

Melee: A small diamond, usually under 0.20 carats.

Micro-Mosaic: Decorations made out of extremely small pieces of stone, glass or other materials which are called tesserae.

Mid-Century: Mid-century refers to the design years between 1950 and 1970 when prosperity and optimism were returning following the war years. Yellow gold, which was ubiquitous during the 1940’s, remained popular in the mid-century period, but the re-introduction of platinum was seen in high-end jeweled creations by Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier and particularly, Harry Winston. The cultured pearl industry surged in the 1950’s and pearls’ popularity was aided by movie and television actresses such as Grace Kelly, Donna Read, Lucille Ball and Jane Wyatt (Father Knows Best). Colored stones such as rubies, emeralds and sapphires were now also more available to jewelers and were used in diverse designs than ranged from simple classics to the avant garde to extremely lavish pieces.

Millegrain: A setting in which the metal holding the stone is composed of tiny grains or beads, it is also a decorative technique.

Modern: Modern jewelry was created roughly between 1965 and 1990. Designs from this period tend to be big and bold, often featuring highly textured gold or abstract motifs.

Mosaic: A piece of jewelry where the pattern is formed by the inlaying of various colored stones or glass (tesserae) to create a pattern or image. When done in the miniature, it is called Micro-Mosaic.

Mother-of-Pearl: The iridescent inside lining of mollusks.

Mourning Jewelry: Jewelry worn in memory of a deceased person by friends and relatives. This jewelry, similar to Memento Mori, was often black and sometimes contained the hair of the deceased.

N

Necklace Lengths: Choker – 15 inches; Princess – 18 inches; Matinee – 22 inches; Opera – 30 inches; Rope – 60 inches long.

Negligee: A pendant or necklace with two drops suspended unevenly.

O

Old European Cut: Gemstones cut in this style have a smaller table than the round brilliant and the overall depth is greater. This style of cutting was popular in the 19th Century and is the direct predecessor to the modern round Brilliant Cut. Similar to the Old Mine Cut.

Old Mine Cut: An 18th, 19th and early 20th century diamond​ shape​, typically cushion or asymmetrical, marked by ​a ​small table​​, ​a ​high crown​ and​ ​a large culet​. Culets ​are the small flat facet​s​ at the bottom of a stone​ which appear to the untrained eye as a hole in the middle of the stone. B​efore the advent of modern machinery which allows for the precise faceting we see today, old mine cut diamonds were polished into shape, rather than cut.

Omega Backs: Earring backs shaped similarly to the Greek letter omega. Often found in clip back earrings but sometimes also combined with a post.

Open Back Setting: The same thing as an a-jour setting, this mounting permits light to pass through a transparent or translucent stone.

P

Parure: A French word used to describe ​a​ set​,​ or suite, of jewelry consisting of a ​matching ​necklace, earrings, brooch​, ring ​and bracelet.

Patina: A color change or oxidization on the surface of a metal resulting from age, and exposure to the atmosphere.

Pave Setting: A style of setting in which the stones are set as close together as possible to cover the entire field of the setting for a cobblestone (or “paved”) effect where the setting does not show.

Pendant: (Noun) An ornament suspended from a necklace, chain or cord.

Pendent: (Adjective) Something which is hanging, or suspended.

Pietra Dura: A mosaic crafted from stone and gemstones. Also know as Petra Dura.

Platinum: A rare, heavy silver/white metallic element that is usually alloyed with other metals for use in making fine pieces of jewelry. Because of its weight, color, shine and rarity it is a popular metal in jewelry. Especially popular in Edwardian jewelry.

Plique-a-Jour Enamel: Transparent enamel that is placed between thin strips of metal to form a design similar to stained glass.

Prong Set: Stones are held in place by metal claws or prongs.

Provenance: The origin and history of a piece, including its former owners.

Q

Quatrefoil: A decorative motif having four lobes.

R

Relief: A design which is raised or standing out from the background.

Repousse : A raised design in metal. The technique involves the raising of a pattern by beating, punching or hammering from the reverse side. This is often called embossing.

Retro: Retro Jewelry was created roughly between 1935 and 1950. Multi-colored gold was often used, and pieces from this period were large in scale and often asymmetric. Popular motifs included ribbons, patriotic color schemes (sapphires, rubies and diamonds for red, white and blue), and military or weaponry-inspired design.

Rhodium: A white metallic element that is part of the platinum group. Because of its hard, reflective finish, it is often used as a plating for jewelry. Similar in look to both white gold and platinum.

Riviera/Riviere: A short style of necklace containing individually set stones of the same size or graduating in size. The stones are linked in a row without any other ornamentation.

Rondel/Rondelle: A thin metal ornament strung on a necklace between beads.

Rose-Cut: Rose cut diamonds enjoyed their greatest prominence in the 15th-18th centuries, long before modern diamond cutters had the machinery which enabled them to cut diamonds with multiple facets to capture maximum brilliance and light. Rose cuts appear almost crystal-like and typically have flat, versus pointed, bottoms, and large flat surface facets which create a charming, soft effect. Vintage rose cuts are in short supply as most were recut with extra facets over the centuries as brilliance and light became popular attributes. Rose cuts are enjoying a modern resurgence as collectors appreciate their hand-cut craftsmanship and old world feel.

Rose Gold: Gold of a pinkish color that has been alloyed with copper.

S

Sautoir: A French word used to describe a long necklace, often made of pearls or precious beads, typically suspending a tassel or other pendant​. The tassel or pendant is often detachable.
Scarab: An Egyptian symbol of immortality which is usually carved or molded in stone, clay or glass.

Scarf Pin: Also known as a “stick pin” or “tie pin,” this is a decorative pin with a long pinstem and an ornamental top meant to be inserted into a scarf, cravat, or necktie.

Seed Pearl: A natural, cultured or artificial pearl weighing less than one quarter of a grain.

Shank: The circle of metal that attaches to the decorative part of a ring and encircles the finger.

Signed: Marked, engraved, stamped or impressed with the name, initials, logo, or trademark of the maker, designer or manufacturer.

Signet Ring: A ring with a central plaque on which one’s initials, a seal, or a crest is engraved.

Slide: A movable element of a long chain which adjusts its opening. Collections of slides were later strung together and made into bracelets.

Solder: Metal alloy used to fuse pieces of metal together with the use of heat.

Solitaire: The mounting of a single stone, usually in a ring.

Spacer: An element used to separate pearls or beads.

Suite: Several pieces of jewelry similarly designed to be worn together as in a Parure.

Synthetic: A man-made material with the same physical, chemical and optical properties as the natural.

T

Table: The uppermost plane surface of a cut gemstone.

Tiffany Setting: A classic setting made famous, and exclusively, by Tiffany & Co. that typically features a round solitaire diamond, set with four or six prongs, the simple verticals extending from a slight knife edge band with the intention of maximizing brilliance and light.

Torsade: A multi-strand twisted short necklace, usually beads or pearls.

Trefoil: A decorative element having three lobes.

V

Vermeil: Silver which has been gilded with gold plate.

Victorian: Refers to the period of the reign of Queen Victoria of England (1837-1901).

Volute: An element which is the shape of a spiral, or snail shell-shaped.

W

White Gold: An alloy of gold with nickel, zinc, palladium or platinum which produces a silver-white color to imitate the more rare platinum.

Wirework: Twisted wire decorations.

Y

Yellow Gold: An alloy of gold with silver and copper which is the most common color of gold.

Z

Ziggurat: A stepped triangle or pyramid shape motif. From the Babylonian ziggurat pyramid tombs and temples. A motif seen in Art Deco jewelry design.

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