Designer Jewelry Hallmark Certificates of Authenticity
April 19, 2009
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Certificates of Authenticity or COAs for all designers in jewelry are not completed unless purchased at a retail store for MSRP or retail price from a retail store. There usually is a portion to be completed by the retailer. You would have to buy it at a retail store that distributes COAs with their products or purchase a used item from someone that originally purchased at retail from a retailer that distributes COAs with their items, since not all of them do. They do not come into the store completed at the wholesale or distributor purchase level. Some retailers or wholesalers do not distribute these at all with their retail or wholesale jewelry, and some stores, like our local Bloomingdales, remove the tags for inventory purposes and provide a store receipt instead (this happened when I purchased Judith Ripka recently).
The COA provides information about hallmarks or metal content. A retailer or retail distributor might also provide a style number and serial numbers (if applicable after the retail purchase). Most stores in the USA will just sign them with their own store style number or inventory item number or the designer style number and date of purchase, it is really up to them if they use these or how they complete these. Some portions are pre-populated by the designer for their convenience in a fill in the blanks style. They are not usually completed when shopping online since there is no salesman involved. Saks.com comes to mind.
Unfortunately most American designers do not use individual serial numbers. In the USA since the turn of the century, it had been customary to list the metal content (for example 925 or Sterling, 585 or 14k or 750 or 18k) however even then, there are times when they fail to put it on the item, particularly on non-designer items. Most jewelers can test for metal content, particularly those that do repairs and appraisals and are not just a retail store.
European regulations are more stringent on markings and US regs did not follow suit until much much later but do only require metal content. The United Kingdom got the ball rolling in the 14th century by having maker's mark and stamps way ahead of Continental Europe. It is a complex but consistent system where you can track everything IF you know how. At least some of the jewelry made in France has the Made in France symbol on the back outside shank. Some USA customers mistakenly thought it a scratch or defect or feel it should have gone on the inside shank where the maker's mark & serial number is found (i.e. Mauboussin) Italian jewelry often states Italy or Made in Italy. Most American made jewelry is not stamped Made in the USA or USA. We have also seen Made in Thailand or Thailand, CHINA or Indonesia stamps on many pieces. With globalization, it is difficult to say what is made where only because of outsourcing of different parts of the production. Stones may be set in Thailand etc.
Some designers show the diamond ctw on the inside shank as well. Salavetti does so on the inside shank on couture pieces. Wouldn't that make life easier? Unfortunately it also increases production costs which means higher wholesale and retail costs which is why some designer jewelry is so expensive. Stamping pieces individually can really slow things down and adds to production costs. Consumer regulations that also raise costs which is why many manufacturers are opposed to laws. For example, New Mexico has its own laws regulating jewelry. It is illegal in New Mexico to sell jewelry as Native American when it is not and we understand that you can ask for proof if in doubt. Although it is certainly is easier to identify a piece by a registered serial number, clear maker's mark and consistent signage, it just costs us more in the end and those costs are passed on to the consumer.
Generally speaking, most designers use a registered hallmark or maker's mark with their name or abbreviation or even a picture or a symbol like a flower or an arrow. Craig Drake uses CD or a lightly stamped arrow that occasionally disappears from wear or cleaning. Some also include the symbols for the status of their hallmark either the copyright symbol or registered trademark. Again in the USA, they are not required to use a maker's mark or hallmark and some do not do this consistently (Michael Dawkins comes to mind - except for the QVC line oddly enough). If you do buy a designer item and it does not have a hallmark, we have done this with Judith Ripka and have sent it back to the designer and they have provided the stamp after authenticating free of charge. We have not had to do this in the past few years so please check with the designer's corporate office first. It is quite possible that you might incur a charge in the current economic climate.You can usually find customer service numbers and corporate office information through a google search .
Finally many Victorian pieces do not have stamps at all, again some do but it was not required or customary. If you purchase a piece that is an antique, you can have it is very easy to have it tested to be sure that it has the stated metal content when in doubt. You should have it appraised if you want to know the actual value by an appraiser that specializes in antiques or a particular period.
We are not retailers selling in a retail store nor are we affiliated or represent any designer that we sell, therefore we do not commit fraud by completing any Certificate of Authenticity that may come with our purchases. Always rememeber that a little knowledge is dangerous. Some people may have one or two older designer pieces not realizing that due to the cost increases in metal etc or simply changes in style, many pieces are now lighter or have a different design or thickness. Some designers used to like oxidized now finish with rhodium to help retard oxidation and give the appearance of white gold. They need to change things up a bit to differentiate styles as well.
Sometimes sales people give false information to get a sale or are only part-time or new to that department and do not have sufficient knowledge. However some are very knowledgeable because they understand that when selling on commission, it is best over time to be honest to develop relationships with their customers. If you go to a retail store, particularly if you tell them you bought an item on Ebay; you may get a different answer than if you say you received it as a gift or bought an item at an estate sale. When in doubt, best thing to do is follow corporate office method of authentification. You just have to tell them that you got a particular item as a gift and want to authenticate it. Some designers like Tiffany for example, provide a list of appraisers that they recommend to authenticate. They do not permit sales staff to authenticate because they may not be qualified to do so.
(Note: this information is subject to change since company policies, hallmarks or other designations or regulations may change or may have already changed. We cannot be responsible for any changes since the date of posting. Since we are not affiliated with any designer that we sell, with the exception of Lydia Lerner Designs, we have no control over any changes in corporate policies or any other matter) Please feel free to contact us with any questions. This is not legal advice. This is what we have learned from working in this business, sometimes the hard way.
Thanks for making it through and reading this guide. We hope you find it helpful and thanks for your business since 1998!
"Jewelry - the wearable investment®"